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From Kerala to Gujarat, Headley ran terror empire

From Kerala to Gujarat, Headley ran terror empire

Author: VR Jayaraj
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 16, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/216139/From-Kerala-to-Gujarat-Headley-ran-terror-empire.html

Enlarging the scope of investigation to trace the movements and designs of David Headley, a US citizen arrested by the FBI on terror charges, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has formed several teams in Mumbai and other States. The measure followed leads that David, his accomplice Tahawwur Hussain Rana and his wife had visited Kochi ten days before the 26/11 terror attacks last year. Investigations so far have proved that Headley and Rana had criss-crossed India and stayed at Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Pune and Ahmedabad.

Probe into the visits of the two terror suspects have also led sleuths to the disclosure that Rana's wife, Samraz Rana, had visited India along with him. Samraz, a Canadian national born in Bahawalpur of Pakistan, had accompanied Rana to Kochi on November 16, 2008, sources said.

While these investigations were on, Home Secretary GK Pillai said in Delhi on Sunday that the Government had not given a clean chit to anyone related to David Headley case. He also said the ongoing probe spread across several States would take four to six weeks to unearth the truth.

Reports from Mumbai said the NIA formed several teams here as well as in other States and started questioning several people to trace the footsteps of Headley and Rana as new leads suggested that they had visited Kerala.

NIA officials were looking for an estate agent in Khar, a western suburb of Mumbai and Tardeo in central Mumbai, who could have helped Headley in finding a house in Breach Candy in South Mumbai, official sources said.

Sleuths were now in the process of procuring CCTV footage and other records from various hotels in Mumbai frequented by Headley and Rana during their stay, officials said.

In a related development, sleuths of Central security agencies found that Rana, a Canadian citizen of Pakistan origin, went to Kochi in Kerala.

Home Secretary GK Pillai, while making it clear that no one has been given clean chit in the Headley case so far, said in New Delhi that Rana had visited Kochi last year 10 days before the terror attacks in Mumbai.

Kerala Police chief Jacob Punnoose said, "A man named Tahawwur Hussain Rana had stayed in a hotel in Kochi on November 16 (last year)." The hotel records in Kerala showed that Rana checked in at a five-star hotel in Kochi on November 16 and left for Mumbai the next day. Sleuths were investigating whether the purpose of Rana's visit was for recruiting youth for militant activities.

Reports from Kochi said that intelligence officials on Sunday confirmed Rana had visited Kochi in November 2008 even as they intensified the efforts to find out the real purpose of the visit and to track down the people who had met or contacted him during the stay here. Investigators also got hold of two mobile phone numbers Rana had used while in Kochi.

Rana had stayed at Hotel Taj Residency (now Gateway Hotel) at Marine Drive, Kochi on November 16 and 17, 2008, just ten days before the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike, along with Samraz Aktar Rana, said to be his wife.

He had visited Kochi as Dr Tahawwur Rana, a 'world famous' Canadian emigration expert, and had published an advertisement in an English newspaper on November 17, saying he would be giving tips for those who wanted to migrate to the US and Canada.

However, intelligence officials said it was premature to conclude that the actual intention behind Rana's Kochi visit was recruitment of manpower for Canada and the US. One thinking among the sleuths is that Rana had placed the advertisement on November 17, the very day he left Kochi, to throw any tailing sleuths off the track.

The primary assumption of the sleuths of the Intelligence Bureau and the Kerala Police corroborates with the findings of the NIA and the FBI that Rana could have been using the emigration consultancy business as a front for terror activities. Rana and his wife, Canadian citizens with Pakistani origin, had been given visas to India for business purposes.

Officials have learned that around 20 persons had met or contacted Rana while he was in Kochi before leaving for Mumbai through Bangalore from the international airport at nearby Nedumbassery.

They hoped to get all the details of these people by late Sunday or Monday. They have also got the copies of the passports of Rana and his wife. Officials confirmed that the photo in the passport was indeed that of terror man Rana, arrested in Chicago.

Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said a Canadian citizen named Tahawwur Rana had visited Kochi in November, 2008 but added it was yet to be confirmed whether he was really terror man Rana held by the FBI in Chicago. However, sleuths probing the case did not seem to harbour any doubts about the identity.

As per the advertisement Rana had placed in the newspaper on November 17, 2008, he was meeting visa aspirants for US and Canada from November 14 to 20 at Delhi, Kochi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. According to the adversitement, he was to have met aspirants in Delhi on November 14 and 15. He was to give consultancy to aspirants in Ahmedabad on November 18 and 19 and in Mumbai on the very next day.

The advertisement had also cited two phone numbers, one of Mumbai and the other an overseas number. There were also two e-mail IDs in the ad. The dates of consultancy in Kochi were November 16 and 17. It is now known that he had met some people on these days. There are unconfirmed reports that some of those who had contacted Rana in Kochi were from Aluva off Kochi, a place that has already found a prominent spot in the terror map of Kerala, and Kottayam.

But the question bothering the investigators was why he had published the advertisement in the morning paper on November 17 when he had decided to leave Kochi on that afternoon. There were two possible explanations for this, officials said. One was that he must have been giving the hotel authorities a reason for the several visitors he had been meeting. The other was that he could have been trying to throw any intelligence tail off his actual track of terror.

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