CIA got Saudis to hand over 26/11 handler
A little over a year ago, Saudi Arabian intelligence agents, working closely with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), picked up a man with a Pakistani passport.
The man, they would soon discover, was Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, also known as Abu Jindal, whose voice was heard over the airwaves, exhorting 10 terrorists on the night of November 26, 2008, to kill more civilians.
Sources in the Indian intelligence community told DNA that Ansari was first located by the CIA that had received inputs from its sister agency, the NSA. Following these leads, the CIA managed to track down a few men with fake Pakistani passports living in Saudi Arabia since 2008, soon after the 26/11 terror attack.
Ansari originally from the Georai area of Beed district in Maharashtra had fled to Bangladesh in 2006 after a Mumbai police team seized a huge cache of arms, ammunitions and explosives from Aurangabad and started looking for him. ISI officials in the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka helped him to reach Karachi without a passport.
New Delhi came to know of his involvement in 26/11 when the CIA told liaison officers of Indias external intelligence agency, the R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing), that one of the men picked up could have had a role in the 26/11 attack. Ansari revealed before Saudi and American intelligence officials during interrogation that he was one of the handlers.
Once his role was confirmed, India swung into action and contacted the Al Mukhbarat Al Aamah the Saudi intelligence organisation that had been working closely with the CIA to identify al Qaeda elements in the desert kingdom.
India was unsuccessful initially and the Saudis, according to a senior intelligence official, continued to give lip service to Indian requests. The CIA, which has usually played a proactive role, however, maintained a neutral stance.
Then the relation between Washington and Islamabad soured over the death of Pakistani soldiers in an American special forces attack. America became more agitated as Pakistan stopped its supply convoys headed for Afghanistan. This resulted in the CIA becoming more helpful towards its Indian counterparts as they sought custody of Ansari.
Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi intelligence chief, visited India on a few occasions, the last being two months ago when he met SK Tripathi, R&AW chief, and Shiv Shankar Menon, national security adviser. Both of them pressed for Ansaris custody. Aziz remained noncommittal but promised to look into the matter.
On his return to Saudi Arabia, Prince Muqrin held several meetings with CIA officials, who convinced him to cooperate with India. The fact the Americans were keen to build pressure on Islamabad played a major role, according to senior Indian intelligence officials.
The Saudis asked India to substantiate its claim by providing a DNA sample of any member of Ansaris family. Intelligence officers went to his hometown in Beed district, collected a sample from his sister, and sent it to Saudi Arabia. The samples matched and the Saudi authorities were convinced.
On June 21, a team of counter-terrorism officers from the R&AW left for Saudi Arabia to bring back Ansari. He was arrested on arrival.
Ansaris arrest added another critical chapter to the 26/11 case, which has been bolstered by the arrests of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab in India and David Coleman Headley in the US.