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Context of 'February 9, 2002: Pakistani Gangster Admits Ties to ISI, Saeed Sheikh, and Terrorism'

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Saeed in an Indian hospital shortly after being arrestedSaeed in an Indian hospital shortly after being arrested [Source: Indian Express]Saeed Sheikh is imprisoned in India for kidnapping Westerners. While there, he meets Aftab Ansari, another prisoner, an Indian gangster who will be released from prison near the end of 1999. (India Today 2/25/2002) Saeed also meets another prisoner named Asif Raza Khan, who also is released in 1999. (Singh 11/17/2001) After Saeed is rescued from prison at the end of 1999, he works with Ansari and Khan to kidnap Indians and then uses some of the profits to fund the 9/11 attacks. (Swami 2/2/2002; Mitra, Chakravarty, and Ghosh 2/14/2002) Saeed also becomes good friends with prisoner Maulana Masood Azhar, a militant with al-Qaeda connections. (Fielding 4/21/2002) Saeed will later conduct operations together with Azhar’s group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. (Buncombe 2/26/2002)

The ransom for a wealthy Indian shoe manufacturer kidnapped in Calcutta, India, two weeks earlier is paid to an Indian gangster named Aftab Ansari. Ansari is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and has ties to the Pakistani ISI and Saeed Sheikh. Ansari gives some of the about $830,000 in ransom money to Saeed, who sends about $100,000 of it to future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. (Watson 1/23/2002; Popham 1/24/2002) The Times of India will later report that Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, the director of the ISI, instructed Saeed to transfer the $100,000 into Atta’s bank account. This is according to “senior government sources,” who will claim that the FBI has privately confirmed the story. (Joshi 10/9/2001) According to some accounts, the money is moved through a charity, the Al Rashid Trust. Some of the money is also channelled to the Taliban, as well as Pakistani and Kashmiri militant groups. (NewsInsight 1/4/2002; Press Trust of India 4/3/2002) The money is apparently paid into two of Atta’s accounts in Florida (see Summer 2001 and before). The Al Rashid Trust will be one of the first al-Qaeda funding vehicles to have its assets frozen after 9/11 (see September 24, 2001). A series of recovered e-mails will show the money is sent just after August 11. This appears to be one of a series of Indian kidnappings this gang carries out in 2001. (Mitra, Chakravarty, and Ghosh 2/14/2002; Srivastava 2/14/2002) Saeed provides training and weapons to the kidnappers in return for a percentage of the profits. (Swami 2/2/2002; India Today 2/25/2002) This account will frequently be mentioned in the Indian press, but will appear in the US media as well. For instance, veteran Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon will write, “Western intelligence sources believe Saeed sent $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings,” although they apparently think the hawala system was used for this. (Gannon 2/9/2002) Some evidence suggests Saeed may also have sent Atta a similar amount in 2000 (see (July-August 2000) and Summer 2000).

Indian gangster Asif Raza Khan, an associate of Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, is shot dead by Indian police. Police claim he was trying to escape. (Watson 1/23/2002) A month or two before his death, Indian investigators recorded a confession of his involvement in a plot with Ansari and Saeed to send kidnapping profits to hijacker Mohamed Atta. This information becomes public just before Saeed is suspected in the kidnapping and murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. (Popham 1/24/2002; India Today 2/25/2002) Many in Ansari’s Indian criminal network are arrested in October and November 2001, and they confirm Khan’s money connection to Atta. (Mitra, Chakravarty, and Ghosh 2/14/2002)

FBI Director Mueller visits India, and is told by Indian investigators that Saeed Sheikh sent ransom money to hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US. In the next few days, Saeed is publicly blamed for his role with gangster Aftab Ansari in financing Atta and organizing the Calcutta attack (see January 22, 2002). (Press Trust of India 1/22/2002; Watson 1/23/2002; Popham 1/24/2002; France-Presse 1/27/2002; Syal and Hastings 1/27/2002) Meanwhile, on January 23, Saeed helps kidnap reporter Daniel Pearl and is later arrested. Also on January 23, Ansari is placed under surveillance after flying to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On January 24, Mueller and US Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin discuss Saeed at a previously scheduled meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Apparently Saeed’s role in Pearl’s kidnapping is not yet known. (Yost 2/24/2002) On Mueller’s way back to the US he flies to Dubai to pressure the government there to arrest Ansari and deport him to India. Ansari is arrested on February 5 and deported four days later. (Sharma 2/10/2002; Swami 2/16/2002; India Today 2/25/2002)

Aftab Ansari in Indian custody shortly after being arrested.Aftab Ansari in Indian custody shortly after being arrested. [Source: Rajeev Bhatt]Gangster Aftab Ansari is deported to India. He was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on February 5. (Popham 2/10/2002) He admits funding attacks through kidnapping ransoms, and building a network of arms and drug smuggling. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 2/11/2002) He later also admits to close ties with the ISI and Saeed Sheikh, whom he befriended in prison. (Press Trust of India 5/13/2002)


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