INDIAN CRIMINAL WANTED IN al-Qaida FUNDING AND BOMBAY BLASTS ARRESTED IN LISBON
by Aman Singh
American Reporter India Correspondent
September 23, 2002
NEW DELHI, Sept. 23, 2002 -- Abu Salem, aka Abdul Salem Ansari, 41, the dreaded underworld don of India wanted in more than 60 cases of murder, attempted murder, extortion and abduction was arrested in Lisbon, Portugal by the European police agency Interpol on Sept. 18, officials here say. He was arrested along with his wife, Bollywood actress Monica Bedi for travelling on forged documents. Both Indian law enforcement and the American FBI believe he played a role in funding al-Qaida terrorism.
Salem faces the death penalty, as he was booked under the Explosives Act, TADA, Arms Act and waging war against the state.
While India formally sought deportation from Lisbon of the notorious criminal on September 21, the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi put the blame for the recent most riots in the Vadodara area of Gujarat on Salem's activities in Dubai.
However, going back on their initial promise of deporting Salem, according to reports, a Portuguese Court has refused to do so. On the other hand, the Indian government gave in writing to the Portuguese government that Salem, if brought back into the country, would not be given death penalty, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani told reporters here soon after Salem's arrest. New Delhi had to give an assurance of this kind to the Portuguese government as European countries are signatory to a convention which prohibits deportation of an accused to a country where he is likely to face death sentence, he said.
"In this case," he said, "it is possible and Indian law permits that the necessary assurance may be given to the concerned government."
One of India's most wanted criminals, Abu Salem was nabbed nine years after he fled to Karachi in the wake of blasts in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, India's second-largest city).
The notorious don played a role in the serial blasts of March 1993 in Mumbai. The Mumbai police also see him as the mastermind behind the killing of music magnet Gulshan Kumar in 1997, and for an attack on Rajiv Rai in 1996. His men also shot at Bollywood director Rakesh Roshan when he refused to pay a cut from the earnings of his Bollywood blockbuster Kaho Na Pyaar Hai.
Abu Salem hails from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. He moved to Mumbai to make his living. For a while, he ran a small business in the Mumbai suburbs. Initially he ran a telephone booth and also sold cutlery at Mumbai's Manish market. He later started an overseas manpower recruitment agency in Andheri West.
It was there that he came in contact with the underworld. The young Abu Salem first met Anees Ibrahim, Mumbai don Dawood Ibrahimīs brother. Soon, he was entrusted with the job to supply guns to contract killers. Thereafter, he started extorting money from Bollywood stars on behalf of Dawood.
However, he fell out with Dawood in 1998 after working with him for nine years on account of his rivalry with Chhota Shakeel. Since then he has been working on his own. His extortion racket netted producers and Bollywood stars.
Abu Salem was arrested in 1991 for the first time. In 2001, there were reports that he was arrested in Dubai, and that the CBI was unable to produce valid documentation on his identity. This was, however, denied by the Indian government.
With the CBI team likely to leave for Lisbon shortly, sources said that Abu Salem was arrested on the basis of ten fingerprints, which the CBI had given to Interpol. The fingerprints were matched and this became clinching evidence leading to Salemīs arrest, they added.
Stating that the CBI was following the movement of the dreaded gangster for quite some time, the sources said Salem went to the United States where he started buying properties. Indian agencies also contacted the American FBI, which was involved in the investigation, the sources said. Both the FBI and the Indian agencies suspect that Salem was a "conduit" in funding al-Qaida terror network of Osama bin Laden.
From America, Abu Salem fled to Portugal and the Interpol promptly informed CBI about his movement in that country. When Interpol had gathered some solid evidence, the CBI sent the fingerprints, the sources said.
The warrants had been forwarded to the CBI for further action, they said. Another warrant of arrest has been issued against film star Monica Bedi in connection with a forged passport making made in the name of Fouzia Salim for the actressī use, the police said.
However, typical of the government's handling of his supposed arrest in 2001, this time too the Indian government is facing problems from the Portugal authorities that promised deportation initially but have now backed out. Debunking reports of a Lisbon court ruling out Salem's deportation, the government on Sunday had expressed the confidence that it would be able to persuade Portugal either to deport or extradite the fugitive for which a CBI team would go there soon.
"The Portuguese authorities and Interpol told us that we should be ready for extradition, so we have confirmed to them," Ashwini Kumar, Joint Director, CBI told a press conference on Saturday. He, however, said the question of deportation was also "always open."
Kumar also said that discussions were on with the Portuguese embassy in Delhi, the Lisbon authorities and the Lisbon police for extradition or deportation of Salem and expressed hope that "something concrete would emerge."
The CBI joint director said Salem's extradition was possible "through diplomatic channels and even without an extradition treaty between the two countries."
CBI Director P.C. Sharma, who is coordinating with the Interpol on the development, however, also said that a written request was sent on the very first day to the Interpol authorities asking that Salem be detained, and that a team was being sent to coordinate his deportation from Lisbon.
He said the team would go in a day or two to Lisbon with the necessary documents for negotiations with the official agencies in Portugal so that the Indian request for deportation or extradition, as the case may be, was appropriately "structured."
On Salem being a "conduit" in funding of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network, Sharma said this was yet to be proved. "There may be substance in this as he has been out for so long, but this can be known only when we get him here and examine him," he told reporter.
On the domestic front, three government officials have been booked for helping the gangster and his actress-wife in securing passports under fictitious names and fake addresses from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh in August last year.
The Kurnool district police, who launched investigations into the matter much before Salem's arrest in Lisbon, have zeroed in on three officials- one each in the special branch, the mandal (local) revenue office and the passport office.
Salem's passport was reportedly issued in the name of one Ramil Kamal Malik with House Number 17/107, RT Street, Kurnool given as his residential address. Monica's passport was issued in the name of Sana Malik Kamal mentioning House No 10/102 B, Babu Gounda Street, Kurnool, as her residential address.
Sabeena Azmi, Salem's second wife, also obtained a passport from Kurnool. Her passport was issued in the name of Neha Asif Jaffrey. House No 11/90, Osmania College Road, Kurnool was mentioned as her residential address. These passports were issued on August 6, 2001.
Startlingly, officials in the capital today revealed that his paramour Monica Bedi set up Salem's arrest. Bedi that finally led to his arrest at a park where he was meeting her provided concrete information about Salem's movement.
"FBI sleuths as well as Interpol officials were in constant touch with Bedi. Given Salem's various disguises, passports and cell phones, it was very difficult to pin him - unless he was given away by someone close," police sources said.
It is no coincidence that both the times when Salem was arrested - in Sharjah as well as in Lisbon - Bedi was accompanying him, sources said. In Sharjah, Salem got away due to the Indian intelligence agencies goofing up.
With Bedi's relationship now under speculation, officials feel she "may not have liked being drawn into the cesspool of the underworld. Bedi moved to Mumbai from Punjab with dreams of making it big in Bollywood, befriended Salem, got a few breaks, but her career failed consequently.
According to sources, Salem met up with Bedi at places that were chosen by him. She had no way to get in touch with Salem; it was always he who called Monica, whenever he needed her.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. intelligence agencies have been keeping a close tab on criminal networks. Information was available that Salem had moved out of Dubai and was setting base in the U.S..
The Mumbai police have been on Salem's trail for the past three years. However, it was proving still very difficult to pin Salem down given his own intelligence network, disguises and the number of false passports the gangster used to move with.
Monica proved to be the final clincher. Now it remains to be seen when the Portuguese authorities allow India to deport Salem who has been dreaded by the Indian film industry for years and who is allowing the CBI some moments of relief.
With mixed responses emanating from both sides, it is a mystery yet as to what is the outcome and whether the Indian government manages to remove the stigma of always goofing up on the issue of extradition of wanted criminals.