26/11 planner Sajid Mir is in Pak custody, years after it claimed he died

Sajid Mir, a senior Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, who was once presumed dead, is in the custody of authorities in Pakistan. Sources familiar with the matter said Delhi was made aware of Mir’s arrest a couple of months ago.

But in the absence of a formal public announcement of the arrest by Pakistan or of details of his production in a court of law, Indian authorities, the sources said, have not yet been able to confirm the arrest independently.

Nikkei Asia reported Friday that Pakistan had arrested Mir to get off the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force, the international anti-terror finance watchdog. Indian agencies have held Mir to be more dangerous than Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed.

The news report quoted an unnamed FBI official saying Mir had been arrested, tried and sentenced. However, it is not clear in which court he was tried, as there is no public record of such a prosecution. Pakistan’s anti-terror courts have tried, convicted and sentenced other Laskhar members including Saeed.

It also quoted Hammad Azhar, Pakistan’s former finance minister who was in charge of negotiations with FATF, that Pakistan had taken steps against Mir and other terrorists which were “satisfactory” to the international body.

An unnamed Pakistani official is also quoted in the report saying Pakistanis have “acknowledged” to both the US and India that Mir, who had earlier been pronounced untraceable or dead by Pakistani authorities, had been found.

If Mir is in custody, one of India’s long-standing demands of Pakistan that it must trace and bring him to book for the 26/11 attacks, would be ticked off the list of India’s most wanted. There are others on that list including Major Abdur Rehman alias Pasha, Brigadier Riaz, Abu Qahafa, Abu al Qama and Abu Hamza who are still at large.

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David Headley, the Pakistani-American Lashkar operative who lived in Mumbai to finalise targets for the 26/11 attack, and was arrested by the FBI in late 2008 in Chicago on a drug charge, had named Mir and a Major Iqbal, who he described as an ISI officer, during his testimony in a US court in 2011, and in his testimony to a court in Mumbai in 2016.

Mir is also on the FBI list of most wanted terrorists, with a $5-million reward for information about him. The FBI describes him as the “chief planner” of the Mumbai attacks. He was indicted by a US court in 2011 for his role in the Mumbai attacks along with Headley, his accomplice in the US and Tahawwur Rana, and others including Major Iqbal. Until December 2021, US authorities had assessed that Mir remained a free man in Pakistan.

Mir joined the LeT in the early 1990s and is said to have talent-spotted Headley, who was by then a FBI/Drug Enforcement Authority informer, recruited him into Lashkar in 2005, and with the help of Pakistan Army officers named in FIRs and court documents, planned the Mumbai attacks from as early as 2006.

Mir deployed Headley in Mumbai to reconnaissance targets as early as 2006, took part in training the 10 terrorists who arrived on the Mumbai coast from Thatha in Sindh, as well as gave them real-time instructions over the phone as the attack unfolded.

Investigators have determined that it was Mir’s voice that instructed one of the gunmen at Chabad House during the attack to kill a Jewish hostage after talks for a prisoner swap failed.

Three years before the Mumbai attack, Mir had once crossed into India via Wagah, according to Headley’s testimony, with hordes of Pakistani cricket fans to watch an India-Pakistan match. Indian officials believe that was also a reconnaissance trip.

Indian intelligence agencies consider his organisational abilities make him “the most dangerous man in Pakistan”, “more dangerous than all the rest put together” .

In 2001, Mir, who was in the international wing of the LeT, had begun recruiting jihadis to the Lashkar from several countries to fight the Americans in Afghanistan.

Mir first came to the notice of security officials in the US in 2002 when the FBI arrested 11 Islamist militants in Virginia with guns and maps of the White House. His name came up indirectly during the investigations then as Lashkar’s chief of international operations.

In 2003, Mir plotted to bomb targets in Sydney through another foreign Lashkar recurit, Willie Birgitte, an Afro-Caribbean from Guadeloupe, French overseas territory. The plot was foiled, and Birgitte, who stood trial in France, revealed Mir’s role. Jean Louis Brugiere, the French judge who became known as “the terrorist hunter”, determined from Birgitte’s testimony and his own investigations that Mir was a senior Pakistan Army officer, and was in the ISI. He also concluded a clear link between LeT and the Pakistan Army and ISI.

Some security experts believe he is a civilian who might have received military training from the Pakistan Army. Some are of the view that he was in the Pakistan Army for a few years. Headley had said in his testimony that Mir’s father-in-law was a maulvi in the Navy.

For Indian authorities, as long as he was at large, another attack could not be ruled out. Headley had handed over reams of material about various places in the city that he had marked as potential targets, other than the ones attacked on 26/11.

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