Omar Sheikh's Hoax Calls From Jail Drove India, Pak To Brink Of War : Report

Dreaded Pakistani militant Omar Saeed Sheikh had made hoax calls to President Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, mimicking the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a
omar sheikh s hoax calls from jail drove india...
PTI November 27, 2009 14:51 IST

Dreaded Pakistani militant Omar Saeed Sheikh had made hoax calls to President Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, mimicking the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a bid to heighten India-Pakistan tensions after 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Thursday quoting investigators.

 ‘Omar Saeed Sheikh was the hoax caller. It was he who threatened the civilian and military leaderships of Pakistan over telephone. And he did so from inside Hyderabad jail,' investigators told Dawn.

The controversy came to light after Dawn broke the story, exactly one year ago, that a hoax caller claiming to be then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee was making threatening calls to President Zardari.

It was on the night of Nov 26 last year that Saadia Omar, Omar Sheikh's wife, informed him about the carnage in Mumbai. The sources said that the information was passed on to Omar in Hyderabad jail through his mobile phone, which he was secretly using without the knowledge of the administration, says the Dawn report.

Saadia kept updating Omar about the massacre through the night and small hours of the morning. On the night of Nov 28, when the authorities had regained control over the better part of the city, Omar Saeed, using a UK-registered mobile SIM, made a phone call to Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the Dawn report said.

He told an operator handling Mukherjee's calls that he was the President of Pakistan.
Indian officials started verification as part of security precautions and, after some time, the operator informed Omar Saeed (who was posing to be Pakistan's president) that the foreign minister would get in touch with him soon. Omar now made a call to President Asif Ali Zardari and then the Chief of Army Staff. He also made an attempt to talk to the US secretary of state, but security checks barred his way, the Dawn report said.

The presidency swung into action soon after Zardari's conversation with the adventurous militant, the report says.

President Zardari first spoke to Prime Minister Gilani and informed him about the happenings. He also took Interior Minister Rehman Malik into the loop. In Rawalpindi, Army chief Gen Kayani immediately spoke to the chief of the Inter Services Intelligence, Lt- Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

According to sources, not only President Asif Zardari was taken in by Omar's audacity but the COAS was also baffled by his cheekiness.

Gen Kayani, sharing his thoughts with close associates, said he had been bewildered by the caller's threatening tone.  But Maj Gen Athar Abbas, the military spokesman, finds the report unbelievable. ‘I am not his (Army chief's) operator. I don't know who puts calls through to him, but I think this can't be true,' said an incredulous Athar Abbas.

Interestingly, when Omar Saeed Sheikh was making these hoax calls, the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LET) chief was also in Karachi, but it is not known whether Omar Saeed was acting under the guidance of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi or on his own.

On the other hand, investigators got into the act without wasting time, coming up with their findings within hours. Their conclusion was that the phone call which came from the Indian external affairs ministry was actually their (Indians') check. 

They said the calls to President Zardari and the army chief were made from a Britain-registered SIM. Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf, in his autobiography, had alleged that Omar Saeed was an agent of MI6, the British intelligence agency.

 The very next morning, Nov 29, Hyderabad jail was raided by intelligence agencies and over a dozen SIMs were recovered along with two mobile sets. Majid Siddiqui, the jail superintendent, was suspended.

‘I don't know much but it is true that some mobile SIMs and mobile sets were recovered from Omar Saeed Sheikh when he was in Hyderabad jail.  I got him transferred to Karachi jail because that is a far better place for such high-profile terrorists,' Allauddin Abbasi, DIG Prisons, Hyderabad, told Dawn over phone.

The authorities had a word with Saadia Omar too. She was advised to ‘control' herself. The matter was then placed in the files of secret agencies marked as ‘secret', says the Dawn report.

The Federal Investigation Agency never interrogated Omar Saeed about the Mumbai attacks. Dawn's efforts for getting the viewpoint of Tariq Khosa , the FIA chief, drew a blank, the Dawn report says.

Omar, currently confined in a high security cell of Karachi Jail, has a long record of militancy, from kidnapping foreigners in Mumbai in 1994 to kidnapping Daniel Pearl in Jan 2002. Omar Saeed Sheikh was freed by India in Kandahar  in the last week of Dec 1999 as part of a deal that saw New Delhi agreeing to release a number of militant leaders in exchange for the freedom of hostages on board an India plane hijacked to Afghanistan.

Soon after his release from Indian captivity, Omar Saeed developed close relations with the LET leadership, including Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi. He was invited to a training camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, where he spent a couple of days delivering lectures to recruits.

Sources told The Dawn that Lakhwi wanted Omar to join LET and give the organisation an international face.

In Feb 2002, Omar was arrested for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl. 

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