Musharraf murder plot by jailed militant busted


LAHORE: The Pakistani authorities have busted a clandestine assassination plot being hatched by the jailed killer of American journalist Daniel Pearl, to kill the former Pakistani dictator President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

Highly placed interior ministry sources have disclosed that the assassination plot was unearthed after General (retd) Musharraf received a threatening phone call on his personal cellular phone in the second week of November, saying ‘I am after you, get ready to die’. Subsequent investigations by Pakistani authorities revealed that the threatening phone call was made by someone from the Central Jail, Hyderabad. Being an apparent suspect, Sheikh Omar was placed under observation before it transpired that he was the one to have threatened the former strongman. The authorities further came to know that a plot had been hatched by Sheikh Omar to physically eliminate General (retd) Musharraf with the help of some Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants with whom he had been in touch on phone since long.

As Sheikh Omar’s death cell was thoroughly searched, three mobile phones, six batteries, 18 SIMS of almost every cellular company and chargers were recovered from his possession. Further scanning of his telephone records revealed that he had been making calls all over Pakistan to his former jehadi associates as well as his relatives in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. Interestingly, however, his mobile phone records revealed that besides having revived his contacts to the outer world, Omar had also been in touch with Attaur Rehman alias Naeem Bokhari, a key Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operative who had been arrested by the Karachi police on June 5, 2007 in connection with the January 2002 Daniel Pearl murder. The barracks of Naeem Bokhari, who is being kept at the Central Jail Sukkur, were searched, the authorities recovered one mobile phone and three SIMS which he had been using to stay in touch with Omar and a few other LeJ associates in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

During subsequent interrogations, Naeem Bukhari is learnt to have revealed that the LeJ operatives had already been directed by Sheikh Omar to target Musharraf either in Rawalpindi or in Karachi, preferably by using a suicide bomber driving an explosive laden car. The LeJ militants had thus been monitoring Musharraf’s movements with a view to either target him while he is traveling between his Army House residence in Rawalpindi and his Chak Shehzad farm house on the 1-A Park Road in the quiet suburbs of Islamabad or to blow up the bridge on Drig Road during his next Karachi visit at the precise moment when his convoy would reach there while coming from the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport to the Shahrah-e-Faisal. It was after the unearthing of the assassination plot that Musharraf decided to leave for London on November 22, 2008 for a short trip – for the first time since quitting as president in August 2008. Although he has already returned home, Musharraf is still occupying the Army House due to the very security concerns.

Following the recovery of mobile phones and SIMS from Sheikh Omar, the Sindh Home Department took serious action and suspended [on December 1, 2008]the Superintendent of the Central Jail Hyderabad Abdul Majeed Siddiqui, his deputy superintendent Gul Mohammad Sheikh and four other jail officials on charges of showing criminal negligence. According to Inspector General Prisons Sindh, both had been suspended by the home department on complaints of corruption and maladministration. The IG prisons said there were complaints of serious nature against them such as providing cellular phones and other banned facilities to the prisoners, corruption and mal-administration and an inquiry officer has already been appointed to probe these charges.

Interestingly, Musharraf, in his book “In the Line of Fire” had stated that Omar was originally recruited by British intelligence agency, MI6, while studying at the London School of Economics. He alleges Omar was sent to the Balkans by MI6 to engage in jehadi operations. Musharraf later went on to state: “At some point, he probably became a rogue or double agent”. Sheikh Omar happens to be a British citizen of Pakistani descent who had first served five years in prison in Delhi in the 1990s in connection with the 1994 abduction of three British travelers. But he was released in the first week of 2000 along with the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar and eventually provided a safe passage to Pakistan by the Taliban regime, after India was forced to accept the demands of the hijackers of Indian Airliner IC-814.

Two years later, on February 12, 2002, Omar surrendered himself to Brigadier (retd) Ejaz Hussain Shah, his former handler in the ISI, after being accused of abducting Daniel Pearl. At his initial court appearance in April 2002, Omar had almost confessed to his crime by stating: “I don’t want to defend myself. I did this…. Rightly or wrongly, I had my reasons. I think our country shouldn’t be catering to American needs”. As a matter of fact, it is five and a half years now since an anti terrorism court in Karachi had sentenced to death, Omar, a graduate of the London School of Economics turned jehadi for the Pearl murder.

It was on July 15, 2003 that Omar and his three accomplices were awarded life imprisonment by Justice Ali Ashraf Shah in a heavily fortified makeshift court, which was set up in a bunker underneath a prison inside the Hyderabad Jail. No journalist was ever allowed to attend the court proceedings and the venue had to change three times because of bombing threats and security concerns. The trial judge was also changed thrice. Forensic scientists initially refused to attend the exhumation of the court for fear they would be killed. Police personnel who are known to confront all kinds of savage criminals behaved like lambs in front of the Islamic warrior and police officers were intimidated by him in the court of law in front of the judge.

As soon as the July 15, 2003 verdict was announced, Omar, who has already been declared a dangerous prisoner and confined to an isolation death cell, reacted defiantly, saying that he would retaliate against the authorities for arranging the sentence. In a message read out by his lawyer outside the court room, Sheikh Omar said: “We shall see who will die first. Either I or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me”. Almost six months later, in December 2003, General Musharraf survived two separate assassinations attempts in Rawalpindi. The authorities suspect that Sheikh Omar has links with the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up to assassinate Musharraf and the attempts owed to the death penalty awarded to Omar.

As things stand, the anti terrorism court’s death penalty verdict has not yet been implemented and Sheikh Omar continues to avoid being sent to the gallows due to repeated adjournments of his appeal against conviction, which is pending with Sindh High Court for years now. Reports emanating from the Hyderabad Central Jail say the guards stationed outside Omar’s death cell are rotated almost daily because he has the ability to influence anyone he meets. As a matter of fact, Omar had actually managed to convert the first four police constables deployed outside his cell, with all of them growing beards within days after they were assigned to guard his ward. The jail authorities say if the guards outside his cell are not rotated every day, Omar is fully capable of converting the entire jail staff. He is presently reading books on history, particularly on World War-I and II, the Cold War and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

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