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Azam Cheema stepped down 4 months before 26/11
Vicky Nanjappa | January 19, 2009 16:17 IST
Azam Cheema, who headed the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's [Images] operations in India (apart from Kashmir) till a few months ago, was not actively involved in the execution of the November 26 Mumbai terror attacks, Intelligence Bureau sources have told rediff.com
Cheema, who is also known as Babaji, headed the Dasta Mohammad bin Qasim, the wing that carries out deadly attacks in the country. The IB says there is an Interpol red corner notice against Cheema, who also figures in India's list of 40 most wanted.
Though Cheema's stamp can be found in virtually every Lashkar attack on India soil, IB intercepts suggest that diabetes put him out of full-fledged operations four months before the Mumbai attacks.
Cheema is said to have handed over the reins to Abu Qama, who the terrorists are said to have spoken when the siege was on in Mumbai's hotels.
Sources said Cheema was kept in the loop when the conspiracy was being planned. Based on statements by arrested terrorists Sabahuddin Ahmed and Fahim Ansari and other inputs, the IB says Cheema was in the loop at least till the time Lashkar operatives surveyed likely Mumbai targets.
Cheema, who hails from Pakistan, had planned the serial blasts on Mumbai's local trains on July 7, 2006. The chargesheet in that case names him as one of those absconding.
Intelligence sources said the attack on the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force camp in Uttar Pradesh's [Images] Rampur town on January 1, 2008, was among the last attacks that Cheema orchestrated on Indian soil.
During his interrogation Sabahuddin, who carried out the attack, said Cheema had kept in touch with them during that attack.
Sources quoted Sabahuddin as saying during his narcoanalysis as well as interrogation that he had met Cheema twice before he came to India to carry out the December 28, 2005, attack on the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru [Images], and the attack on the CRPF camp.
Both Sabahuddin and Ansari told their interrogators that Cheema handled a separate team that was in charge of India-based operations; he mostly interacted only with these individuals.
Cheema's new role, the IB sources added, would be restricted to overseeing recruitments and motivating the new recruits.