Amid mounting pressure from India, Pakistan is understood to have quietly withdrawn its official from its High Commission in Colombo following an allegation against him that he was involved in conspiracy to target the US and Israel consulates in south India at ISI's behest. Counselor (Visa) Amir Zubair Siddiqui had been withdrawn even before NIA's request under Mutual Assistance Legal Treaty (MLAT) reached Colombo as his presence had become untenable to his diplomatic duties, officials here said.
Pakistan, which has been on the back foot, maintained that Siddiqui's tenure had got completed in Sri Lanka and he has since returned to Islamabad. Press Attache at the Pakistani High Commission here Muhammad Daud Ehtisham was approached by PTI through e-mail for his comment, but he did not reply. Repeated calls and SMS on his mobile also went unanswered. He was, however, quoted in a Sri Lankan magazine as saying "...This officer (Siddiqui) is a very much respected officer and he completed his tenure in Sri Lanka without any incident."
India has been collaborating with Sri Lankan authorities after Malaysia had unraveled a conspiracy allegedly hatched by some Lankan nationals to conduct reconnaissance of the US Consulate in Chennai and Israeli Consulate in Bangalore and carry out a terror strike. NIA took over the case last month after it was registered by the Tamil Nadu Police. A Sri Lankan national -- Sakir Hussain -- was arrested after a tip off from the Intelligence Bureau as the accused had entered India allegedly to carry out reconnaissance of the US Consulate in Chennai and Israeli Consulate in Bangalore.
Siddiqui is not new for the Intelligence Bureau as his name had cropped earlier in 2012-13 when security agencies picked up one Tameem Ansari, a frequent flier from Trichy to Colombo. Ansari was arrested after six months of surveillance in 2012 and this was conveyed to Sri Lanka last year. Under the MLAT, signed in 2010, both the countries are required to provide assistance in locating and identifying persons and objects; taking evidence and obtaining statements; authorising presence of persons from the requesting State at the execution of requests; facilitating the appearance of witnesses or the assistance of persons in investigations.
Ansari was a small trader who sent, among other things, potatoes and onions to Sri Lanka. After reverses in business, Ansari came in touch with Haji, a Tamil-speaking Muslim from Colombo, who is alleged to have introduced him to Siddiqui in the Pakistan mission in Colombo, and his second in command, Shaji. After reportedly brainwashing him, Siddiqui roped him to take videos of the Nagapattinam port, the ships that berthed there, the topography and other dimensions as well as Mallipattinam, a traditional landing point.
In a related development, a senior NIA official had visited Malaysia recently to collect information about another Lankan national Mohammed Hussain Mohammed Sulaiman arrested by the Malaysian Special Police in May, official sources said. They said initial interrogation report of Sulaiman, against whom India secured an Interpol Red Corner Notice, was shared with India which has been focusing on unraveling all the contours of the conspiracy which has been hatched on foreign soil.
An Interpol RCN is not an international arrest warrant per se, but it allows the warrant to be circulated worldwide with the request that the wanted person be arrested with a view to extradition. 47-year-old Sulaiman is wanted in India for allegedly hatching a criminal conspiracy, acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention, possession of forged or counterfeit currency notes, terrorist acts, and raising funds for terrorist acts. He is considered crucial for the probe.
He told Malaysian authorities that he had received instructions to assist two men in the planned attacks on the consulates, the sources said. According to the plan Sakir Hussain was to conduct recce of the two consulates, while Sulaiman had to facilitate entry of two suicide attackers into India from Maldives, they said. Hussain had reportedly taken the name of Siddiqui as his alleged handler and also said he had been chosen as he was engaged in human trafficking, making of forged passports and smuggling of fake Indian currency. The sleuths had recovered pictures of US and Israeli consulates showing various gates and roads leading to the two premises, the sources said, and claimed that these pictures had been mailed to his alleged handlers in Pakistan and its High Commission in Colombo.