The plan to assassinate Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina Wajed:

How LTTE deal was blocked, suicide bombers failed to explode

It was the arrest of Nepal-based Manoj Srivastav at the Kolkata airport that exploded the veil off a sinister plot to assassinate Hasina Wajed.

(@THE NEWSPAPER TODAY)

When 34-year-old Nepal-based Manoj Srivastav, an agent of the Pakistani secret service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was arrested en route Kathmandu from Mumbai at the Kolkata airport on May 18, the police did not even know what it had in its net.

Only after Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) officers started interrogating Srivastav following a lead from the executive diary confiscated from the ISI agent suggested a security disaster in India and the plot to assassinate then Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

In what RAW officials believe to be the third plot in three years to eliminate Prime Minister Hasina, the diary seized from Srivastav features in its "Done" column that the "residence and office site maps of BDPM (Bangladesh Prime Minister) delivered."

Officials also seized an "undelivered" site map of the Saharanpur military air base in Uttar Pradesh, one of the few air bases in India that store the most modern surface-to-surface missiles.

Srivastav also said the ISI "formed a task force consisting of Pakistani military officers and absconding killers of Hasinaís father (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) to assassinate Hasina prior to the polls in Bangladesh in October this year," a senior RAW official told TheNewspaperToday.

He said Srivastav was placed under surveillance after his mobile phone conversation with his Karachi-based ISI instructor, Ziauddin, was tapped.

Meanwhile, Jawadul Karim, press secretary to Sheikh Hasina, told TheNewspaperToday over the phone from Dhaka that "there has been a growing impetus to the conspiracy to kill the Bangladesh Prime Minister after the killers of Bangabandhu were convicted in court. We have been alerted about this recent discovery by the Indian government and the security cover around our Prime Minister has been tightened after that." Sheikh Hasina's father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was popularly known as Bangabandhu.

Over and above the alleged plot to assassinate Hasina, what has sent Indian intelligence officials and the home ministry into a tizzy is the revelation that Srivastav has "already delivered to ISI the site maps of 17 Indian military air bases from Ambala to Bagdogra."

Srivastav told his interrogators that the recent fire at the Indian Army's ammunition dump at Birdhwal, 20 km from Suratgarh town near the Pakistan border in Rajasthan, is the handiwork of the ISI. "He has also confessed that the ISI was instrumental in the destruction of nearly 900 tonne of ammunition worth Rs 1,200 crore at the Central Ammunition Depot in Bharatpur in April 2000 and almost 427 tonne of armament in a military depot near Pathankot in April this year," a senior interrogating officer told TheNewspaperToday.

"Nepal is gradually becoming a hot place for anti-India and anti-Bangladesh activities by the ISI. Srivastav's interrogation has revealed this yet again. His interrogation has further revealed that the plan of killing the Bangladesh Prime Minister was originally hatched at a place called Breda  in Holland," the RAW officer said. "There, the ISI arranged a meeting of some absconding convicts in the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman murder case and hatched this new conspiracy to eliminate her. In 1999, we had passed on to the Bangladesh government reports of a similar conspiracy by the same set of people to assassinate her," he told TheNewspaperToday.

Originally from Motihari in Bihar, Srivastav, a diploma-holder from NIIT, first set his foot in Nepal in 1993 to work as an instructor at the School of Vocational Guidance in Kathmandu. Then on the advice of Ashraf, an ISI recruiter based in Nepal, Srivastav launched his own computer peripherals export company called Ziptech in 1995. Ziptech was registered in Patna. Ashraf, who runs a travel agency on Durbar Marg in Kathmandu, later guided him into exporting computer software to Pakistan and arranged his payment in what is commonly called in intelligence parlance as "over-invoicing."

He was then assigned by Ziauddin to "infiltrate" the Indian Military Engineering Service (MES) contractors and get contracts to supply computer peripherals to the MES.

"Zuber, an officer of the ISIís operation cell, used to brief him in Nepal through the help of Qasim, an officer of the Pakistani High Commission in Kathmandu, who used to set up their meetings. We are now trying to ascertain the real name of Qasim, who seems to have worked with his pseudonym," a senior RAW officer said

The arrest of ISI agent Manoj Srivastav has blown the lid off a fresh plot to eliminate Sheikh Hasina in the   Netherlands after one meticulously drawn-up plan involving the LTTE, the militant outfit operating in Sri  Lanka, failed last year.

 The new strategy evolved at a meeting at Breda (see map), a small town in southern Holland on March 7 at a  restaurant owned by A.K.M. Mohiuddin (see Rogues' Gallery), an Army officer-turned-diplomat, who left his job in the  Bangladesh embassy in the Hague to escape arrest on the charge of taking part in the killing of Hasina's father,  Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.

 Senior Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence officials told TheNewspaperToday that a number of former  Bangladesh Army officers accused of killing Bangladesh's founder President Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in a coup  in 1975 were present at the Breda meeting to finalise the plot to kill Hasina before the parliamentary elections in  Bangladesh in October this year.

 A representative of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence,  Colonel Shoaib Nasir, attended the meeting and gave final  touches to the plot that reportedly planned to get a Palestinian  hitman, Abu Hamid, to do the job.

 The new strategy became necessary after a more devious  murder plot, which involved the use of LTTE suicide bombers to  kill Hasina, fell through last year just before the "hit" was  supposed to take place.

 THE KILLERS REGROUP
 The ISI's allies in this operation were the former Army officers  (see Rogues' Gallery) responsible for assassinating Sheikh Mujib  and his entire family--18 family members, including his  10-year-old son Sheikh Russel, except for his two daughters  who were abroad at that time.

 Hasina, after taking over as Prime Minister of Bangladesh,  reopened the case files some years back and a Bangladesh  court convicted most of them for life.

 Indian intelligence agencies say the failure to secure the release of those arrested and jailed like Lt. Col. Syed  Farook Rahman and Maj. Bazlul Huda prompted those who are still absconding to plan the "hit" on Hasina.

 But Western intelligence agencies, including the Dutch and Israeli outfits, kept a watch on Mohiuddin's  restaurant at Breda and picked up details of a secret meeting at the restaurant on March 7 earlier this year. Later,  they passed on the information to the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India.

 Lt. Col. Khondakar Abdur Rashid and some of his other associates who had participated in the 1975 coup that  led to Sheikh Mujib's assassination were present at the meeting.

 Also present was the colonel of ISI -- Shoaib Nasir. The Dutch intelligence and Mossad officers tapped his  conversation with the ISI chief of operations, Brigadier Riaz, on March 9.

 The intercept suggests that Nasir attended the Breda meeting where the plan to "hit" Sheikh Hasina was  finalised. Riaz is keen on finding out whether a mercenary based in Central Europe, apparently commissioned  for the "hit," is happy with the advance payment offered. To this, Nasir says, "More money would be required
 soon."

 Riaz says, "Money will not be a problem, but the task must be fulfilled." Nasir has been instructed to  return to Pakistan and another ISI operative, Jansher Malik, has been sent to Bangladesh under cover to  do a 'recce'."

 THE HASINA OFFENSIVE

 Investigations by TheNewspaperToday revealed that the "Netherlands plot" followed another abortive  plan triggered Hasina's crackdown--within four months of assuming power in 1996--on those  responsible for killing her father.

 Hasina's party, the Awami League, had for the first time won the elections in the country since the Army coup of  1975. During this 21-year-long rule of the Army and the Islamic fundamentalists, the coup leaders of 1975  roamed around freely in Bangladesh and floated a political party - the Freedom Party -- which even participated in  elections.

 Once in power, Hasina reopened the Sheikh Mujib assassination files and Parliament repealed the Unconstitutional and Illegal Indemnity Ordinance of 1975, which was a martial law fiat created by Khondakar Mushtaque Ahmed--who replaced Shiekh Mujib as President of Bangladesh--to protect the coup leaders. The
 decision was welcomed by the Amnesty International.

 After a thorough investigation, the Bangladesh police chargesheeted 38 former Army officers and arrested six conspirators of the 1975 coup, including Lt. Col. Syed Farook Rahman, Lt. Col. Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan and Lt.Col. Mohiuddin Ahmad. Another key conspirator Maj. Bazlul Huda was later arrested from Bangkok.

 In a landmark judgment on December 12, 2000, the high court awarded death sentences to 15 Armymen and different terms of imprisonment, including life sentences, to many others.  Prof. Abu Sayeed, Bangladesh Minister of State for Information, told TheNewspaperToday over the telephone that "the Bangladesh government is aware of the recent conspiracy."

 "This was a conspiracy which has happened because the killers of Bangabandhu failed to kill his daughter twice in the year 2000. Our Prime Minister has been informed and our intelligence officers are doing their best to track down the links of the Bangabandhu killers with Islamic fundamentalist groups in our country," Sayeed said.

 Since most of the Mujib killers (see Rogues' Gallery)were absconding, including the prime accused, Lt.Col. Khondakar Abdur Rashid, Lt. Col. Shariful Haque (alias Dalim), Lt.Col. S.H.M.B. Noor Chowdhury, Major A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed and Risaldar Moslehuddin Khan, the Bangladesh government tried to extradite these accused from the different countries where they took shelter in 1997. And sensing a tough time, the killers started regrouping.

 THE HIJACK BID

 In 1997, the Mujib killers tried to get their accomplices, Lt. Col. Syed Farook Rahman and Maj. Bazlul Huda, freed by hijacking a Bangladesh Biman aircraft, with ISI support. But India's RAW got to know about the plan after they tapped a conversation between an ISI operative and Lt. Col. Khondakar Abdur Rashid. RAW sent an emergency note to the Bangladesh aviation ministry and the Bangladesh Biman chief in Kolkata after they found out that the plotters were planning a hijack from Kolkata.

 In early 1998, 11 Arabs were arrested from the Kolkata airport on their way to Bangladesh. These Arabs were suspected to be accomplices of the Mujib killers, but were later found to be operatives of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, which was trying to infiltrate Bagladesh fundamentalist groups lending support to their counterparts in Palestine and West Asia. This alerted the plotters and they dropped their hijack plan.

 In early 1999, the first plan to "hit" Hasina was drawn up. Investigations by TheNewspaperToday reveal that this happened on a much broader scale in a joint effort by the Mujib killers, the ISI, some serving Bangladeshi diplomats, the Islamic fundamentalist groups like the Jamait-e-Islami of Bangladesh and some leaders of the
 Opposition Bangladesh National Party.
 
 The first meeting to chalk out the plan to assassinate Shiekh Hasina Wajed was held at the posh Bonani Apartments in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on February 23, 1999. It took place at the house of a former Army officer, Major Najmul Alam. And at this meeting, the seeds of a conspiracy germinated, which eventually made Kolkata the hotbed of undercover activities.
The plotters ruled out another military coup -- the usual route taken in Bangladesh for attaining political goals -- since they felt that the Bangladesh Army was not divided sharply enough and the response to a call to revolt against the political establishment may fail to evoke much interest, investigations by TheNewspaperToday revealed.

But Major Alam's brother Najml Amin came up with an idea which was immediately taken note of. Amin is married to a Tamil Muslim from Jaffna in Sri Lanka. And his mother-in-law is an active member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) women's wing. Amin proposed that LTTE suicide bombers be hired through his mother-in-law.

Meanwhile, Col. Munirul Islam Chowdhury Munna, son-in-law of Tajuddin Ahmed -- one of Shiekh Mujib's closest political aides and Prime Minister who was slain during the 1975 coup -- and Lt. Col. Khondakar Abdur Rashid went to Europe and got in touch with a French contract killer, Alain Deloin, who demanded $5 million for the job.
 

THE DEAL WITH TAMIL TIGERS
At a meeting on June 6, 1999 at St. James Court Hotel in London, the group finally gave shape to the assassination plan. They decided to pay $10 million for LTTE suicide bombers rather than assign the French for half the amount.

The logic was that the LTTE was more dependable and it hardly leaves any trace. What's more, Najmul Amin argued, the LTTE would be a better option because of "the sub-continental features" of its suicide bombers. They could easily pass off as Bangladeshis and, hence, could mix with the local populace.

According to a senior official of Bangladesh's National Security Intelligence (NSI), the LTTE had also "demanded some islands in Bangladesh for use as a safe haven if the plotters came to power after overpowering the Awami League government." The LTTE has, in past, used Bangladeshi islands it had got through its Bangla and Pakistani intelligence contacts. In late 1994, when Begum Khaleda Zia was Prime Minister, LTTE had used safe houses and godowns on two islands - Qutubdia and Sonadia -- for receiving consignment of weapons from Thailand and Cambodia.

The weapons would be stored on these islands for a few days and then be packed off to Sri Lanka in smaller boats, whenever it was safe. There is evidence of the LTTE selling some of these arms to the Northeast rebels.

The NSI official also informed that the meeting was attended, among others, by a famous London-based radio broadcaster of Bangladeshi origin who had taken part in the 1975 coup as an Army officer. The meeting was also attended by a former Pakistani Army officer and now a frontman for the Inter Services Intelligence, Col. R.M. Ahsan, who owns Ahsan TradEx, a Karachi-based export-import firm, and Lt. Col. Khondakar Abdur Rashid and Lt. Col. S.H.M.B. Noor Chowdhury.

The conspirators decided to use Kolkata as a transit point to reach the LTTE suicide bombers into Bangladesh and also to transfer the money to LTTE. They roped in a Kolkata-based computer firm owner as the middleman. The modus operandi was the same as used in Manoj Srivastav's case: over-invoicing. The Plotters would buy software packages from the computer firm at "very high rates" and the "extra payment" would be routed to the LTTE.

The meeting took another crucial decision. A back-up plan was formed lest the LTTE bombers failed. It decided that a huge RDX blast would be triggered in one of Hasina's public meetings. The job was assigned to Harkat-ul-Jehad, an Islamic funadamentalist organisation based in Bangladesh.

THE KOLKATA CONNECTION
To set up their Kolkata activities, according to the NSI source in Dhaka, the ISI employed a top Bangladeshi diplomat in India, who was later "called back" to Bangladesh as an inquiry against him found him "taking part in anti-national activities."

"During July-August 2000, a discrete order was passed at the Bangladesh High Commission in Calcutta to issue visas on a 'within-the-day' basis. The diplomat who ordered it cited numerous complaints of delay in issuing visas as the reason," according to Bangladeshi intelligence officials.

But the rulebook says only residents of West Bengal and the Northeast can get their visas from the Bangladesh High Commission offices in Calcutta and Agartala, while applicants from other parts of the country would have to apply to the High Commission offices in New Delhi.

The rules were manipulated to issue visas to two woman suicide bombers of the LTTE. They applied for visa as Shiekh Thaslim -- claiming to be a 22-year-old married Tamil girl with Khozikode as her permanent address -- and Subhalakshmi, also claiming to be from South India.

The third LTTE member entered into Bangladesh through the porous Northeast borders without any visa with a Bengali pseudonym -- Mahua -- for carrying out a "recce." "Explosive jackets had already reached Mahua by that time," the NSI official said.

The payment to the LTTE was routed by a former military officer, Col. Munirul Islam Chowdhury "Munna", who now runs a software company in North Virginia in the US. The deal was simple: Munna would "buy" software from the Kolkata-based computer major and pay in dollars. The owner of the Indian firm would be paid well in excess of the value of the purchase with clear instructions to pass on $10 million to the LTTE contacts through another "over-invoicing deal."

THE COUNTERMOVE
But Munna's movements were closely monitored by the Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies in Kolkata where he stayed in Hotel Rutt Deen and Hotel Hindustan International (Room no. 615). When RAW discovered the plot, they had three days to decide on how to stop the money from reaching the LTTE.

Two days later, the owner of the Kolkata-based computer firm died in a road accident. The money, instead of lining the LTTE coffers, still remains frozen in Indian Bank, since no one else is authorised to withdraw it. According to Indian intelligence sources, this is the reason for the LTTE's decision to back off from the operation.

The "top" Bangladeshi diplomat, who the NSI says had given support to the plotters in Kolkata, was later summoned to Bangladesh where he was interrogated by the NSI between July and October 2000 "for maintaining links with the assassins of Sheikh Mujib" and was kept under "virtual house arrest." His role was found particularly dubious in issuing visas to highly suspicious people.

Meanwhile, Subhalakshmi was arrested at the Kolkata airport by intelligence officials. Sheikh Thaslim was caught in Khagracheri in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh and Mahua was nabbed in Bangladesh's Khulna district.

When the plan failed, the ISI put the back-up plan into action. The Harkat-ul-Jehad was activated and 76 kg of RDX was planted 100 yards from a dais from which Sheikh Hasina was supposed to address a public meeting at Kotalipara in Gopalgunj district in August.

But the bomb was discovered by the public one-and-a-half hours before the meeting.

Sheikh Hasina survives. Subhalakshmi and Thaslim are both in Bangladesh jails. Mahua is off the hook.

@WWW Virtual Library Sri Lanka  http://www.lankalibrary.com/