February 16, 2002, Chandigarh, India
New Delhi, February 15
Information gathered by “The Tribune” reveals that a deadly network between jehadis, including Omar Sheikh, Maulana Masood Azhar, and criminals such as Aftab Ansari and Asif Reza Khan, may have originated within the confines of the Tihar in the mid and late 1990s.
Well-placed sources said Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed, was locked up in Jail No 3 of Tihar from 1996 until he, along with Sheikh, was released in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked IC-814 in 1999.
Again, from November 1994 to July 1999, Asif Reza Khan, described by some as the “chief executive of Anasari’s India operations” was lodged in the same block of Tihar. Khan, a prime suspect in the abduction of Kolkata shoe-baron Partha Roy Burman, was shot dead by police on December 7 last year in Gujarat.
Sources said this was the time when organised criminals seeking easy wealth, weapons and power came into direct contact with radical Islamic jehadis and the alliance later acquired dangerous proportions.
The relationship between the mafia and so called jehadis, sources said, could have further received an impetus with the lodging of Omar Sheikh in Jail No 1 in November, 1998.
The number of the jail in which Ansari was lodged in Tihar, before he was out on bail on May 23, 1999, is not immediately known. However, informed sources said there were numerous ways for criminals to meet.
Sources said most of the cells were kept open for at least 10 hours, from 6 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and high-security prisoners allowed to come out of their cells for at least four hours a day. This leaves enough time for criminals to mingle. Moreover, sources said solitary confinement or total isolation was not permissible and consequently, a prisoner could not be kept away from others.
The cells are kept open primarily to clear these of overcrowding and suffocation.
Tihar is considered the largest jail in Asia with more than 11,000 prisoners housed in cells, which are as small as 10 feet by 8 feet and in several instances four prisoners share a cell.
There are six jails in the 400 acre complex. In addition, there is a separate wing for female prisoners and children.
Sources said gangsters, mostly Muslim, received the biggest inspiration to take up jehad from Maulana Masood Azhar and it is learnt that when Ansari, Khan and Sheikh were in Tihar, they became disciples of Masood Azhar. Incidentally, jail authorities in Tihar did not know Aftab Ansari’s real name.
The Tribune had earlier reported about the damning e-mails exchanged between Ansari, Khan and Sheikh which talk about funds to the tune of $ 100,000 being transferred for some “noble cause”.
It is learnt that some of Omar’s earlier accomplices, who are currently lodged in Tihar, are anxious to see him and hoping that he (Omar) may be extradited to India. Omar, referred to as the deputy of Azhar, was arrested along with eight others on kidnapping of US national Bela Joseph Nuss. Besides, Omar is also accused of kidnapping three other foreigners Rhys Patridge, Christopher Miles Crostem and Paul B. Rideout.
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