The Glasgow Connection


By Richard Elias

STRUGGLING for that last-minute Christmas present this year, many Scots will have succumbed to the tempting offer in the pub or work canteen of a cheap DVD of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. A useful stocking filler, thank you very much. It might be an illegal knock-off, but really, what's the harm?

That question has a chilling answer. Anyone who handed over their fiver may inadvertently have been funding a organisation responsible for dozens of killings, bombings and political assassinations, thousands of miles away in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The sale of fake CDs, DVDs, clothing and perfumes in Glasgow and other British cities is helping to raise money for one of the world's most-notorious terror outfits – the group held responsible for the slaughter of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

MI5 is now targeting British-based supporters of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a pro-Kashmiri group dedicated to gaining the disputed territory its independence. Its aims include the "destruction" of the United States and India.

For years, the UK's secret services have been concentrating on fighting Islamic terror groups, such as al-Qaeda and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with the result that JeM's operations here have been left largely alone as scarce resources were concentrated on the most pertinent threat.

MI5 estimates that there are about 50 hardcore JeM sympathisers living in Scotland, responsible for shipping half a million pounds abroad every year to fund the militants' murderous activities halfway across the world.

News that JeM is operating here follows closely on other disturbing revelations about terrorist-linked activity within Scotland. In September, Mohammed Atif Siddique, from Alva, Clackmannanshire – described as al-Qaeda's man in Scotland – was convicted of creating websites that taught bomb-making. In the summer, there was the failed car bombing attempt on Glasgow Airport, and only last month came the revelation from senior Scottish police officers that 200 Islamic terror suspects are currently under surveillance.

What is now worrying the authorities is how groups such as JeM have adopted practices previously associated with 'normal' criminal groups in order to raise substantial sums of money for terror. And it is feared that the public, while vaguely aware of the link between counterfeit goods and organised crime, may be entirely unaware of the connection with global jihad. Even more disturbing is intelligence from Pakistan that JeM is forging closer links with al-Qaeda.

So who are these Kashmiri insurgents who are using Scotland to fund their bloody war? How do they raise their money in Scotland, and what happens to it once it has reached its destination in Kashmir? And if these militants are known to Scottish police, what is being done to stop them and bring them to justice?

Jaish-e-Mohammed – the 'Army of the Prophet' – was founded in Pakistan during January 2001 by Maulana Masood Azhar, and from the outset its main aim was to 'free' Indian-controlled Kashmir and unite it with Pakistan. The disputed territory borders on China, Pakistan and India and has been a battlefield of competing territorial and religious interests for centuries.

Azhar, an accomplished religious scholar, had only just been let out of an Indian prison when he established the group. His freedom came after the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC814 at Kandahar in Afghanistan en route to Nepal, during which the kidnappers, among them Azhar's brother, demanded his release in exchange for the lives of the 155 passengers and crew.

Almost immediately after its foundation, the group was blamed for a series of suicide bomb attacks on governmental and military targets across Kashmir. But within a year, JeM had struck at the heart of Indian rule, attacking the country's parliament in New Delhi, leaving 14 people dead.

The following month, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf banned JeM – a move mirrored by the UK, American and Australian governments. But if the authorities in Karachi believed this would lead to the organisation's demise, they were tragically misguided.

Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal's South-east Asia bureau correspondent, was working in the bustling Pakistani port city, looking for a new line on the arrest of so-called "shoe bomber", Richard Reid. The journalist was kidnapped while walking down a city street. He was held for nine days before being murdered and decapitated on a video subsequently broadcast on the internet. Several groups claimed responsibility for the brutal killing, and within weeks, the Pakistani authorities' had detained numerous members of JeM.

One of Azhar's closest friends throughout this time was British-born Omar Saeed Sheikh, a student of the London School of Economics, who had also been freed following the hijacking of flight IC814. His role in JeM remains shrouded in mystery and some claim he was involved in sending $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 bombers in the weeks before the attack on the World Trade Center.

Others allege Sheikh was working for ISI, the Pakistani Security Services, but was in fact a double agent. Whatever the truth, Sheikh was later arrested and subsequently convicted of murdering Pearl.

Again, though, if the government was hoping the death sentence imposed on Sheikh would lead to a reduction in the terror group's activities, they were wrong. Throughout 2003 there were attacks and killings virtually every week which were blamed upon JeM. Perhaps one of the most-shocking occurred in the Rajouri district when four women and two children were beheaded by suspected JeM militants.

For sheer audacity, it is JeM's alleged involvement in the 2006 plot to blow up 10 US-bound airliners en-route from Heathrow which grabbed the most headlines. According to UK authorities, the plot involved JeM sympathisers carrying liquid explosives on board the jets hidden in drinks containers. The subsequent terror alert following the alleged plot's discovery led to the imposition of stringent security measures still in place in British airports today.

According to the British, the man behind the plot was Rashid Rauf, a Birmingham-born militant married to one of Azhar's relatives. Although there is not a formal extradition treaty in place between London and Islamabad, it is understood there had been top-level negotiations to have him sent back to the UK to stand trial on terror offences. But those moves were thrown into chaos last week when Rauf escaped from custody while being taken back to prison in Rawalpindi. His whereabouts are unknown and the incident has caused a major row between Pakistan and the UK. Rauf was last year reported to have joined forces with al-Qaeda operatives' in Afghanistan but these were initially dismissed by anti-terror experts.

However, several months ago there were intelligence reports that JeM had linked up with Osama bin Laden's network in order to intensify their attacks in Kashmir.

If true, it puts a new and even more worrying perspective on the issue of UK citizens funding the Kashmiri struggle. Up until now, the UK Government may have been content to look away from JeM's British-based supporters backing a group whose offences occurred thousands of miles away. That may no longer be the case.

One security source said: "I do not think it is completely true to say we deliberately took our eye off the ball because JeM's activities were not hurting our own interests. It was a case that we could not be everywhere at once and we needed to prioritise. However, the news of a link with al-Qaeda would appear to indicate that things have taken a very dramatic turn for the worse."

He added: "We have known for some time that the sale of counterfeit goods is used by organised crime groups to field other activities, but it is only quite recently that the dimension of terrorism has entered the field. This means we have to drive home the message that by buying these sorts of goods you could be complicit, albeit it in a remote way, with an act of terror. Possibly, it could be a bombing, a kidnapping or even a killing.

"It is without question that a percentage of the money spent on fake DVDs and clothes will be creamed off, in certain circumstances, by groups who sponsor terror, and they need money to sustain their campaign and they need to get it from somewhere."

Also earning money for JeM supporters in Glasgow is mortgage fraud. It is the biggest earner for organised crime groups, and terrorists have now realised how lucrative the scam can be. Tens of thousands of pounds raised from this type of fraud is sent over to Kashmir from Scotland alone each year.

The Kashmiri community in Scotland is well-established, having first settled here two generations ago. Although not as big as either the Indian or Pakistani communities it is still a substantial presence, numbering thousands, most of them living in Glasgow.

Police say the Scottish public has no idea about the ease with which their money can be moved across the world to Kashmir, where it is used to buy guns, ammunition, bomb-making equipment and pay for safe houses, mobile phones and transport.

Small high street shops offering international wire transfers are the normal way of transferring funds, sending them usually via the Emirates to Pakistan – although the Lebanon is becoming an increasingly popular route.

The British authorities have for some time now been complaining about the lack of help from many Middle Eastern states when it comes to "following the money trail". One senior police investigator said: "It is easier to get details from a Swiss bank these days than get anything out of Dubai. Occasionally, they will co-operate with a terror-related inquiry, but if it is just money, they are not interested. The only thing they are concerned with is getting investment so they can continue to build and expand.

"If we had any level of help from these people then it would be much, much harder to get the money through. It is so simple, it is infuriating."

Of course, if the terror groups were denied their income, there would be no cash to transfer. As Christmas DVD presents are unwrapped on Tuesday morning, police hope there will be a pause for thought.

Death of a newsman
Daniel Pearl was a reporter who paid with his life for investigating Islamic extremist terrorism.

He was South-east Asia correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, working in Karachi trying to discover the background to the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, who had tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner. One of his lines of inquiry was possible links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani security services.

On January 23, 2002, Pearl was given a tip that he had been granted an interview with a militant leader who could help him with his investigations. En route to the meeting in a restaurant called The Village, he was kidnapped and accused of being a spy for the American and Israeli governments.

Over the next 10 days, there were various ransom demands, including a traumatic video of Pearl, chained and with a pistol to his head, being forced to read out a message from his kidnappers.

The US government refused to co-operate with the terrorists and Pearl was executed 10 days later, having his head cut off. The execution was videotaped and later broadcast on the internet. Pearl's body was found cut into 10 pieces and buried in a shallow grave in the outskirts of Karachi.

Earlier this year, his story was told in a Hollywood movie, A Mighty Heart, directed by Michael Winterbottom, in which the narrative was seen through the eyes of Pearl's wife, Mariane, played by Angelina Jolie.