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Omar Saeed Sheikh – Meet The Terrorists Who Threatened Pakistani President On Behalf Of India

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Who is Omar Saeed Sheikh – the person re-arrested after being released by a Pakistani court? From his involvement in the murder of Daniel Peral to his terror links with Al-Qaeda, Omar Saeed Sheikh has undoubtedly remained a poster boy of terror ever since his release by Indian authorities after the hijacking of an Indian airliner.

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Pakistan authorities on Friday ordered Omar Saeed Sheikh, Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil convicted of 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief Daniel Pearl to be detained for a period three months despite Sindh High Court’s ruling to overturn their convictions a day before.

Omar was given the death sentence by Pakistan’s anti-terrorism court in 2002 while others were given a jail term of 25 years. The reason cited behind their was that the men may indulge in anti-national activities. Two other involved in the kidnapping, Amjad Hussain Farooqi was shot dead by Pakistan police in 2004 and Mohammad Hasheem Qadir was acquited in 2014.

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Who is Omar Saeed Sheikh?

A two-member bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha had earlier found Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty of kidnapping but not of murder and overturned his death sentence to a seven-year jail term saying that he had already spent 18 years in prison.

Omar had also made headlines in 2008 after he called none other than Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari from Hyderabad jail in Pakistan pretending to be Indian foreign minister. Disguised Omar had threatened retaliation in response to an attack by Pakistan based terrorists on India’s financial capital – Mumbai.

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The US denounced the decision of overturning the death sentence of British-born top al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh terming the verdict an “affront” to the victims of terrorism everywhere. However, the re-arrest is questionable given that Pakistan is under close scrutiny by anti-terror financial watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for its inability to prosecute terrorists.

Daniel Pearl was kidnapped from Karachi and was killed in captivity after terrorists brutally decapitated his head and shared the video worldwide prompting outrage from all corners.

However, this is where the plot gets murkier. A report by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty of kidnapping only.  Daniel Pearl was investigating the role of the main suspect Richard C Reid in the failed attack on a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001, who was also called as shoe bomber because the accused had placed explosives in his sneakers.

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Pearl was lured by Omar who introduced himself as Chaudhary Basheer and promised Pearl of providing access to an Islamic cleric who had ties to Reid. Omar was at the time was associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad a terror outfit.

Pearl is also believed to have discovered a charity link connecting Osama Bin Laden to Pakistan’s intelligence agency which had left the ISI red-faced. Omar is believed to have surrendered on February 5 to an old ISI contact Ijaz Ahmed who is currently the Federal Interior Minister and was later handed to police in February 12 2002.

However, that has not stopped his lawyer from claiming that the alleged delay was because the authorities held Omar in secret and forced his confession after torturing him.

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Also, a former CIA captive confessed to the murder of Daniel Pearl which was confirmed by the FBI’s forensic team according to the report by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. However, another CIA officer doubted the finding saying that the captive appeared to be boastful and mentally unstable raising doubts about his confession.

At his initial trial, Omar had said that he did not want to defend his actions and that whatever he did he had his reasons and that he did want his country to be a pawn in America’s hands. Omar after being handed the death penalty had said to reporters, “We will see who dies first, me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me.”

Omar Saeed Sheikh’s Indian Connection

Omar Sheikh was arrested following a shootout in India in 1994 for the kidnapping of one American and four Britons. Omar had introduced himself as Rohit Sharma and invited them to visit his uncle’s property in Kashmir.

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Instead of taking them to Kashmir, the American captive was taken to Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh while the British captives were held at Saharanpur in the same state. The captives were rescued and Omar was arrested after Uttar Pradesh police accidentally stumbled across the house which held the American captive while pursuing a case of robbery.

He was placed under arrest in Tihar jail until 1999 when an Indian commercial flight IC-814 en route to New Delhi from Kathmandu was hijacked and taken instead to Kandahar in Afghanistan.

There are also unconfirmed reports that Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI bore the legal cost of Omar’s trial. The hijack forced Indian authorities to release Omar, Masood Azhar the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad and two others in a swap deal for 154 passengers of the hijacked commercial airliner.

Omar’s name had also popped up on American radar after FBI discovered a financial link between Omar and Al-Qaeda’s terrorist Mohamad Atta who was the key conspirator of 9/11 terror attacks. FBI found that Omar had wired $1,00,000 to Atta on the instruction of then ISI chief Mahmud Ahmed who had to later resign.

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However, unlike many Pakistani militants, Omar was born to a middle-class business family in east England and spoke impeccable English. He went to Forest School in Snaresbrook and was a member of the British arm-wrestling squad and on his way to Geneva the next year.

According to one of Omar’s classmates, Omar was always near the top of his year but far from a model pupil. The classmate recalls Omar Saeed Sheikh as someone who always wanted to show his strength so much so that he once punched the daylight out of his teacher when he was just eight years old. He also had knocked a guy out who was four years older than him and split open his lips.

Later in 1987, Omar and his parents moved to Pakistan and studied at Aitchison College in Lahore but was expelled for fighting. On his return, his classmate said that Omar had become much more political and religious in his views. His friend recalls a particular instance when the two were playing chess. Omar is believed to have told his friend that playing chess was equivalent to a battle.

However, the turning point came after Omar Saeed Sheikh went to study at prestigious London School of Economics where he came in contact with radical Islamists and dropped out only in his first year. In 1989 Omar discussed the worsening situations in the Balkan region and felt that he needed to do something for Muslims who were being persecuted.

He soon packed his bag and headed for Bosnia where he came in contact with Islamists from Pakistan who later sent him for training in Afghanistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. He began working after his release with Masood Azhar and his terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad backed by ISI and resumed fighting in Kashmir.

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After his arrest in Pakistan, he told police interrogators about his deep connections to ISI and tried to convince the interrogators to join the militancy in Kashmir. He also claimed to know the militants who bombed Srinagar Assembly in Kashmir which killed 38 people and also those terrorists who were responsible for the attack on the Indian Parliament.

One of the details that leaked from the interrogation talked about Omar calling the kidnapping as a warning shot against Pakistan Government. The story proved accurate as within weeks terrorists carried out three suicide attacks killing 30 people.

However former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had doubted this claim in his book ‘In the line of fire’ wherein he stated that Omar was recruited by British Intelligence Agency MI6 to operate in Bosnia but at some point, Omar had become a rogue agent.

Expert Reviews

Rafale jets dodge all radars, air defence systems; bombs Turkish facilities in Libya

The Dassault Rafale is a French multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions.

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Recently, the al-Watiya airbase in Libya was reportedly bombed by Rafale jets, which either belonged to France or Egypt, the two nations within the range of the base that possesses these (Rafale) aircraft, writes the Arab Weekly.  

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The report quoting its sources called the attack by Rafale jets as a response to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to Libya.

The Turkish presence in Libya is highly undesirable to both Egypt and France and the former has even warned to intervene militarily in Libya if the Turkish-backed militias tried to head towards Sirte. France has also called the Turkish moves as “unacceptable,” emphasising that it would not permit this to continue.

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But this recent airstrike on al-Watiya airbase reportedly by 4++ generation Rafale jets displayed that the boundaries in airspace differ from the boundaries on land drawn by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Indeed, basing fighter jets and drones in al-Watiya pose a direct threat to any military deployed in the region.

Sisi has discussed the possibility of directly intervening in Libya, pointing out that Egypt “will not allow the conflict in Libya to cross the Sirte line.” He also emphasised that “with regard to Egypt’s security, al-Jufra is a red line that we will not allow any force to cross.”

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The Tripoli government accused “a foreign air force” of bombing al-Watiya base, without furnishing any information on the identity of the aircraft or the targets attacked. Even though Turkish and Qatari media rejected any casualties, the Libyan source, however, claimed that many Turkish soldiers were injured or dead in the airstrikes by Rafale jets.

A retired Libyan army officer revealed to Arab Weekly that a squadron of fighter planes launched a series of airstrikes on al-Watiya base, where Turkey had deployed F-16 aircraft, Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones, backed by a MIM-23 Hawk air defence system with its radars.

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He further said that the air raids targeted the al-Nadab quarters at al-Watiya base, which the Turkish forces on the base had used as their headquarters since last May. Also targeted were Sungur air defence systems, fixed and mobile radar installations and Koral signal jamming system, which the Ankara had deployed at al-Watiya base.

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Libyan parliament member Ibrahim al-Darsi later acknowledged and “the airstrikes were launched by forces all too well-known to us,” and added that the targets of these attacks were “a clear message and constituted a strong and painful slap in the face of Turkish President Erdogan and his proxies in Libya, especially the militia government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.”

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Jemai Guesmi

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Asia Pacific

India can ‘no longer’ choke China at the Strait Of Malacca as Beijing finds solution

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India. 

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Could the advantage that India enjoys over China due to the Strait of Malacca be coming to an end? Does China have a way to tackle the Indian plans of chocking Beijing at the Malacca Straits – the strategic waterway, in case of a war?

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India’s position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait has created panic amongst Chinese officials as they try to find an alternative route, writes the Forbes.

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India.

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India’s natural position in the Indian Ocean, with basing capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the strait, would allow its navy to cut it off in the event of a crisis or war with China.

Keeping in mind the recent flare-up between India and China, Larry Bond, renowned naval author and creator of the Harpoon war game series, says that if India wanted to block trade with China, all it has to do is its park ships at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.

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The vast majority of China’s oil imports, from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Angola, pass by this route. Due to the strategic importance of the waterway, there is fear amongst Chinese officials that India could block the Malacca Strait in case of war.

Experts at EurAsian Times believe that the strategic importance of the Malacca Strait and the advantage it gives to India will likely reduce over time as Beijing find alternative routes.

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The fact India enjoys a strategic advantage over China because of the Malacca Strait has forced Beijing to explore other options and find ways around the waterway.

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One such option is Gwadar Port in Pakistan. As part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has developed the port in Gwadar so that goods unloaded there will be shipped overland to China.

On June 8 the Pakistani government approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.

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While Gwadar is still susceptible to an attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF), it adds political and military risks as it is in a third country’s territory. The Indian Navy could try and block this port but it would require ships to move away from the Malacca Strait.

The other option Beijing is exploring is Northern Sea Route in the Arctic which could create a ‘Polar Silk Road.’ The importance of this is underlined by China’s 2018 Arctic policy. It asserts, “Geographically, China is a “Near-Arctic State”, one of the continental States that are closest to the Arctic Circle.”

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The policy statement goes on to say, “China hopes to work with all parties to build a “Polar Silk Road” through developing the Arctic shipping routes.”

Due to accelerated global warming, ice sheets are receding, thus making it possible for ships to travel via this route. Having sent its first ship through the region in 2013, Beijing is now investing in port infrastructure in the Arctic which connects to Europe.

China is also investing in designing ice breakers, vessels that would ease navigation through the Arctic. With help from Finnish Aker Arctic, China launched its first locally built ice breaker the Xue Long 2 in 2018.

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Apart from exploring new waterways and developing strategic ports, Beijing is developing a land route directly to Europe, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly as a way to export goods.

Thousands of trains are transversing across Asia in recent times, the modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road. Land routes are one way China can reduce the criticality of Chinese sea routes.

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The strategic importance of the Strait of Malacca to China will lessen over a period of time. India will still be in a position to throttle Chinese supply lines there, but it will not have the same impact that it once had.

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Americas

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

Nikki Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.  

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India has pinned hopes on Nikki Haley to become the US Vice President (VP) should Donald Trump get re-elected this November. Haley, a first-generation Indian American, is expected to strengthen Indo-American relation and also attract a lot of voters including women and minorities.

According to the reports, there is speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate.

Despite resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has been active in politics. She has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena.

She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities and has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And Hailey has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.

The former governor of South Carolina, Haley is one of the people who left the Trump Administration on good terms. She has even promised to campaign for the President for his re-election bid.

Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, Haley’s recent moves can be seen as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse. Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events.

While Haley has dismissed reports about her running for VP, her being an influential person of colour could help Trump win constituencies he is currently losing.

India pinning hopes on Nikki Haley

The US Presidential elections are a spectacle observed globally and India would be hoping Trump wins and Haley gets elected as the VP. Haley enjoys nationwide popularity amongst Indian-Americans and her election as VP could lead to stronger ties between Washington and New Delhi.

She has natural links to India with her parents having emigrated to the US in the 1960s from Punjab. Haley has often pointed out that India is an example of a free government and recently even applauded New Delhi’s decision to ban 59 Chinese applications and for standing up to China.

With an Indian-American at the helm of affairs, New Delhi would see it as an opportunity to get closer to Washington. It could lead to India benefitting in the areas of trade, defence and investment and would be a huge blow to neighbours China and Pakistan.

US Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November and will be contested between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. While Biden’s re-election does not mean that India and the United States will have weak relations, having Trump in the White House and Haley as VP would definitely lead to stronger Indo-American ties.

Armaan Srivastava. Views Personal

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