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Was 26/11 funded through a phone hacking racket?

Last updated on: November 28, 2011 15:04 IST

A phone hacking incident which led to the arrest of four persons in Philippines has left investigators worried. This is because it has been now found out that the phones were being hacked to fund terror operations. Vicky Nanjappa reports.

The accused hacked into AT&T phone systems, and later diverted money to Saudi-based groups, which financed terrorist activities.

Indian investigators would be interested in looking into this case since it would help solve one of the many mysteries in the 26/11 attacks. Investigators have not been able to definitively tell how the attack had been financed.

Each of those involved in the attack speak about the money that was given to them by both Lashkar-e-Tayiba and also the Inter-Services Intelligence, but none have been able to pin point how the money was raised.

It is obvious that some part of the money came through the circulation of fake currency and also the drug cartel run by Dawood Ibrahim. This money could have been used to carry out the training apart from other expenses incurred during the preparation of the attack.

However, 26/11 was a global operation where operatives from Italy, America and Canada were roped in. Even while looking at the David Headley aspect to the case, it is not clear where he got the funds from.

A couple of months after Headley was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were leads in Italy where two persons were arrested. The police were mum about their operation, but it was largely believed that they had been part of this attack.

Phone hacking is not exactly a new concept, but going by this case, it appears that terrorists have managed to succeed in this particular operation. It is believed that the money generated through this case is approximately $2 million (about Rs 10 crore).

Investigations showed that the hackers were working for one Muhammad Zamir, from Italy. Zamir was arrested in 2007 for running a call centre through which he was buying information on cell numbers from hackers. After his arrest, this call centre was taken over by a Saudi national who is now under scanner.

The hackers sell SIM cards which allows users to make calls through lines that have been hacked. Using the same number, the calls are then made by others; only to be billed to the original customer.

When a complaint is lodged about these fraudulent calls, the service provider reimburses the customer, which ends up with these terrorist groups which is eventually used to fund terror operations.

Phone hacking is a relatively new trend in India. In our country, SIM cards are often sold by unauthorised agents. Moreover, there are also plenty of private centres which collect phone numbers, which again could be used for the wrong purposes.

However what Indian investigators would be looking into immediately is if any of the funds used for the 26/11 operation was raised through phone hacking.

It would be too early to give a definitive picture, since the matter is still under investigation by the FBI which along with AT&T gave the tip off to the Philippines police in the first place.

National Investigating Agency officials who have been probing the Headley link to the case say that the funding of his operation is not clear.

"He keeps talking about money being handed over to him by Sajid Mir and other operatives, but has no know-how of how the money was raised. It is unlikely that funds raised through fake currency could have been used to fund Headley since this was one of the most secretive operations during the 26/11 attack," said an investigator.

The fake currency racket emerging out of Pakistan has its biggest market in India, so it is unlikely that they would have used such a well-known method to fund the Headley operation as the money trail is what normally leads up to the operation of a terrorist.
Vicky