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26/11: How NIA plans to track down the mysterious Major Iqbal

June 17, 2011 14:10 IST
Even after Lashkar-e-Tayiba's David Headley identified his Inter-Services Intelligence handler Major Iqbal as Chaudhery Khan, mystery continues to shroud his presence. Hoping to get another access to Headley, the National Investigation Agency on the 26/11 money trail, is positive of hunting down the major. Vicky Nanjappa reports. 

Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Coleman Headley identified his Inter-Services Intelligence handler Major Iqbal as Chaudhery Khan, as the Pakistani-American testified during his accomplice Tahawwur Husain Rana's trial in the Chicago court. But even after Headley's confession Major Iqbal continues to remain a mystery figure and tracking him down seems to be a tough task for Indian agencies investigating the 26/11 case.

The Chicago court not only acquitted Rana for all charges relating to the Mumbai terror attacks but also turned a blind eye to the key role played by Major Iqbal in that terror strike, despite his name cropping up several times during Headley's testimony.

While Pakistan continues to deny the existence of Headley's ISI handler, the National Investigation Agency believes that clamping down on him will be crucial in the investigation. The money transaction between Headley and Major Iqbal will open a can of worms, say sources within the NIA.      

"The money trail in the 26/11 case is an important link. The cash used by Headley to conduct a recce of the targets in Mumbai throws light on how fake currency is being circulated to fund terror activities," says an NIA official, requesting anonymity.

Investigations show that it was Major Iqbal who gave Headley $25,000 (about Rs 11.23 lakhs) for his expenses in India and also fake currency of a similar sum to survey targets for the Mumbai terror attacks. The Taj Mahal Hotel and Trident Hotel, which were on LeT's hitlist were high-profile targets and Major Iqbal wanted to ensure that Hedley moved around with the elite as he went about his job.

Headley frequented Moskh, the high-profile gym in south Mumbai and interacted with its customers and trainers including filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt's son Rahul. He stayed at the Taj Hotel and led a lavish lifestyle in Mumbai, point out investigators.

All of this has cost him a lot of money, which was transferred to Headley through a hawala transaction. A certain amount of the money was handed over to him personally in Pakistan, while the rest delivered to him on his arrival in India, say insiders.

Headley was paid in dollars and did not have to go through the ordeal of exchanging the fake currency. The fake currency was transported to India from Pakistan and then exchanged by someone. This makes it obvious that there was another operative in India who helped Headley, say insiders.

Investigators suspect that this man could be a local who provided support to Headley. Several hawala operators and touts who exchange currency for terrorist operations are under NIA's scanner.     

This money trail will be crucial to prove Major Iqbal's existence and his role in the 26/11 case. Moreover, the investigators are also banking on the voice samples of the handlers, which Pakistan has promised to hand over to India to get to Major Iqbal.

Suspecting that Pakistan may go back on its word to hand over the voice sample, India may turn to the United States for help. India may approach a New York court to be a party to a lawsuit, filed by the family of 26/11 victims Rabbi Gavriel Noah Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, to declare Pakistan's spy agency as a terrorist group. If the NY court summons Major Iqbal, there will be added pressure on Pakistan to accept his existence, say sources.

The NIA is also exploring the option of interrogating Headley once again since the US has hinted at granting India access to the LeT operative. "This time around Headley will be grilled more thoroughly since he is the only one who can help investigators in nailing Major Iqbal and solving the 26/11 jigsaw," say investigators.
Vicky Nanjappa