In recent days, the world seems to have witnessed a resurrection. Sajid Mir, long declared dead by Pakistan, was arrested on 21 April, just three days before a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto. The arrest was first announced by foreign media and is yet to be confirmed by Pakistani officials. Since Mir was one of the key directors of the Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008, his arrest obviously raised considerable interest in India. However, it hardly found any mention elsewhere. It should have. Mir was far from being just India-focused. He was a true-to-the-bone, international terrorist. And he lived and continues to live in Pakistan.
Sajid Mir, long declared dead by Pakistan, was arrested on 21 April, just three days before a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto.
The arrest was first announced by foreign media and is yet to be confirmed by Pakistani officials. Geo News reported that Mir has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, with a penalty of Rs 420,000, in a case of terrorist financing.
Mir is no wild-eyed terrorist. He is a precise operational planner who can and did conduct a hugely complex operation with attention to the most precise details. He evaded arrest for 14 long years and was operating cheek by jowl with serving and former Pakistani army officers.
Mir is now about 46 years old. He seems to have had no difficulty in remaining quietly in Karachi for 14 years, without so much as a hint of his presence.
Mir Evaded Arrest for 14 Long Years
Details of his apparent arrest and conviction are sketchy. Geo News reported that Mir has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, with a penalty of Rs 420,000, in a case of terrorist financing. That’s a small change for Mir. With 14 different aliases and him being accused of having been directly responsible for the 26/11 attacks that killed 170 people, he’s virtually got away. Given Islamabad’s dubious record, he is probably not even actually arrested at all. After all, he did evade arrest for 14 long years and was operating cheek by jowl with serving and former Pakistani army officers. This is no wild-eyed terrorist. This is a precise operational planner who can and did conduct a hugely complex operation with attention to the most precise details.
How Did a Sajid Mir Emerge?
Born in January 1976 or 1978 in Lahore, Mir comes from a middle-class family, though his father appears to have been a Partition refugee, who later went to Saudi Arabia and earned enough to comfortably establish his family. The bitterness of the Partition is, however, one source of Mir’s possible hate towards India. But that doesn’t explain his plans against other countries, including Australia, Denmark and possibly the UK.
That can possibly be explained in some part by his having grown up during the rabid Islamisation of General Zia’s Pakistan, when a narrow ideology was inculcated into the country, particularly its once ‘westernised’ armed forces.
Add to this the US and Saudi-backed jihad factories, that catered to not just Afghans and Pakistanis but a range of nationalities who joined various groups, including not just al Qaeda but also the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was formed to fight the Afghan war. The commitment and pride in the ‘mujahideen’ who drove out a superpower is documented in The Bear Trap, written by a retired Brigadier. It is these highly motivated mujahideen who moved back to Pakistan in 2001. When 9/11 happened – surely the most brilliantly and meticulously carried out terrorist attack in recent years – Sajid would have been 35 years old and must have been with the LeT for nearly six years already. If his subsequent actions are any sign, he was already ‘blooded’ by then. After all, during the Mumbai attacks, he was urging the attackers to “turn the hostages around and shoot them in the neck”.
Mir and His 'Buddies'
US authorities estimate that Mir joined the LeT in 1990. Certainly, he wasn’t merely pushing files for the group. According to the testimony of Daud Geelani, a US citizen who did all the meticulous surveillance for the Mumbai attacks and other sites, or the renamed ‘David Headley’, Sajid had been the personal assistant of Abdul Rehman Makki, a big name in the LeT and who is related to Hafeez Saeed himself. Sajid trained and joined LeT when he was 18, and was initially working for ‘foreign affairs’ of the group, which took him to Qatar, Dubai, the UAE, Syria, Thailand and Canada. These were not pleasure trips. In Thailand, he was to set up an LeT base. By all accounts, he had little time for LeT hierarchies, indicating that he was a ‘controller’, not just a cadet.
In 2001 for instance, in his mid-20s, he was trying to motivate a young New Zealander, Charles Wardle, to take up terrorism. Even at that time, Wardle remembered him as a man of authority. This was no country bumpkin. One of his brothers was in Chicago. In Lahore, he was friends with a British boy.
Again, case files from US courts indicate that his ‘best bud’ in terrorist circles was Abdur Rehman Rashid Syed, a former member of the Pakistani military who ran the ‘Karachi set up’ that brought young Indian men in as potential terrorists.
No wonder, it seems that Sajid was in the Shah Faesal colony in Karachi when he was captured. Others include Abu Qafa and Mazhar Iqbal, both senior trainers of the Lashkar, and, more notably, Illyas Kashmiri, a former Pakistan Army Special Services Group commando, who also fought against the Soviets and trained the worst of the terrorists; he was number three in the al Qaeda hierarchy. Strangely, he was arrested by Pakistan for an attempt on the life of General Musharraf, and released later. Nice group of like-minded people.
Sajid and His Other ‘Interests’ – the Australian Attempt
Now here’s the twist in the tale. Sajid’s role in the Mumbai attacks is now well-known in the media. Less known is his role in motivating a French terrorist years before Mumbai. It took a French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who had been closely following up the strange case of French national Willie Brigitte, to make the Lashkar connection. Willie was tasked with attacking targets in Australia, including a nuclear facility near Sydney. His handler was Sajid Mir. During that period, Willie made at least 30 calls to Sajid and was provided with a network of Lashkar and non-Lashkar agents. Despite the reputed judge’s warnings, US authorities were unconvinced of the threat from Lashkar. That was unsurprising. Delhi had faced the same difficulty for years. In 2007, France sentenced Mir to 10 years’ imprisonment in absentia, while Brigitte was sentenced to nine years. That was not all.
… and on to Denmark
Sajid was not one to rest on his laurels. Following the Mumbai attack, Mir provided Headley with a thumb drive containing information about Denmark, the city of Copenhagen and the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, hated by jihadis for having published blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet. However, in March 2009, Mir, rather wisely, advised Headley that Lashkar delay the attack due to pressure from the Mumbai attacks. The plan was not given up, however. Sajid just shifted the whole operation to Illyas Kashmiri and his network.
In the meantime, another curious hitch occurred. The former Major was detained by Pakistan, and equally strangely let off. By mid-2009, Headley had already done some 13 surveillance videos of the Jyllands Posten newspaper office, even going in with the pretext of wanting to place an advertisement for his immigration company and the surrounding areas.
Sajid is now about 46 years old. He seems to have had no difficulty in remaining quietly in Karachi for 14 years, without so much as a hint of his presence.
True, Pakistan has hidden some of the world's most wanted terrorists, such as al Qaeda’s Ayman Al Zawahiri, and earlier Osama bin Laden, who was discovered embarrassingly close to a Pakistan army camp. But Sajid is Pakistani, and, more importantly, someone who knew the details of the whole operation, including those among the ISI who were involved.
His profile shows he was no small fray, but someone of considerable consequence, who could have been a special agent on the rolls of the Inter-Services Intelligence. That was always a possibility, which is also a major problem. If he was on the payroll, there is no possibility that he would ever be arrested – which raises the question, is the man convicted by the courts really Sajid Mir?
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)