- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

BOMBAY — More than thirteen years after a series of explosions killed 257 persons in India’s commercial capital, the wheels of justice have begun to move.

Since September, more than 100 accused — including gangsters, housewives and a Bollywood star — have been brought before a terrorism court and convicted or acquitted in numbers.

But unseen — and almost unmentioned — through all the courtroom drama is the man who is widely taken to be the mastermind of the 13 explosions that rocked hotels, office towers and buses in the crowded city on the morning of March 12, 1993: Dawood Ibrahim.

Ibrahim, who was already outside India at the time of the blasts, is among 29 suspects listed as absconding. Since he was not tried in the court, he is unlikely to be convicted or sentenced.

A gangster’s empire

Ibrahim, who began his career as a small-time gangster in Bombay’s impoverished Muslim neighborhood of Dongri and nearby vice district of Kamathipura, built a vast criminal empire over the years, and in the process managed to become the Al Capone of India’s street legends and the Osama bin Laden of its nightmares.

Ibrahim was born the son of a Muslim policeman in Ratnagiri, a medium-size city south of Bombay on the Arabian Sea. After drifting to Bombay, he became a feared gang enforcer, quickly building a power base of his own in Dongri, Kamathipura and nearby Nagpada.

By the early 1980s, Indian authorities say, Ibrahim had become the kingpin of Bombay’s underworld, leading a crime syndicate — known as the “D Company” after its founder — deeply involved in prostitution, gambling and the drug trade. Fleeing to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in the mid-1980s, Ibrahim continued to control a criminal empire through deputies operating in Bombay.

As with many underworld figures here, Ibrahim developed links to the city’s glamorous film industry, known as “Bollywood,” with videotapes later surfacing of various Indian cinema luminaries partying with him and members of his gang.

Thug turns terrorist

Something else beyond the mere profit motive appeared to be at work, though.

When an ancient but disused mosque in northern India was destroyed in December 1992 by Hindu extremists who asserted it was built on a Hindu temple site, Bombay was engulfed in rioting that left more than 2,000 dead, many of them Muslims targeted by Hindu mobs.

On March 12, 1993, in what is seen as Muslim extremists’ response to the demolition of Babri Mosque and the killing of Muslims in Bombay riots, 13 bombs exploded nearly simultaneously at such locations as the city’s stock exchange and the headquarters of Air India.

It was, U.S. and Indian officials say, the first foray of the international gangster into international terrorism.

In 2003, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Ibrahim, who was said to have fled to Pakistan, as a terrorist. The move forbids U.S.-based financial entities or persons from working with Ibrahim and authorizes the seizure of any assets authorities believe to be under his control.

Al Qaeda connection

“Ibrahim shared his smuggling routes with al Qaeda and other groups in attempts to destabilize the Indian government,” said Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise. “Especially Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

That organization has long been regarded as one of the best-armed and best-trained of several militant groups agitating for the independence of the Indian state of Kashmir. Indian courts recently handed down a death sentence to a Lashkar-e-Taiba supporter accused of helping to plot a 2001 suicide attack on India’s Parliament in New Delhi, which left 14 persons dead.

The group also has been linked to a December 2000 attack on the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi, in which three persons died, and last summer’s Bombay train blasts, in which 187 persons were killed by bombs placed in crowded commuter trains.

Successive Indian governments have repeatedly accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence of supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba and other insurgent groups, an assertion Pakistan hotly disputes.

Pakistan denies presence

Pakistan has always denied that Ibrahim is in that country. Though last July, Ibrahim’s daughter, Mahrukh Ibrahim, married the son of Pakistani cricket legend Javed Miandad in the country/ The ceremony was followed by an extravagant reception in Dubai.

Bombay authorities, who currently list Ibrahim as “absconding from justice,” say they have worked hard to stamp out the underworld boss’ influence in the city.

“All the main leaders of this organized crime syndicate live abroad,” said Bombay Police Commissioner A.N. Roy. “We have taken very strong, persistent action against their followers, their supporters, their foot soldiers in [Bombay]; and in the last few years we have made quite a number of arrests and a few have even gotten killed in police operations.”

Until the early 1990s, Ibrahim used as one of his chief lieutenants a Hindu called Chotta Rajan, who split with D Company shortly after the 1993 blasts, though some say the timing was incidental.

Henchman now a rival

Ibrahim is said to have been behind a failed assassination attempt on Rajan in Bangkok in September 2000. The two have fought a bloody gang war for several years in various parts of Asia and the Persian Gulf. Rajan is believed to have fled India. Another powerful deputy and sometimes rival, Chotta Shakeel, is reportedly now based in Dubai.

There have been reports that Ibrahim’s power has declined dramatically over the past few years — several associates have been expelled from Dubai. Indian newspapers have reported that he has been forced to move from Karachi, Pakistan, to its capital, Islamabad, for security reasons. Many feel that he still exerts a powerful influence, even from afar, on Bombay, his native city.

“We are conscious of the fact that they are not completely finished,” Mr. Roy said. “At any given time, if they find the slightest opportunity, they would like to strike back. And even though the main leaders of the gang live outside India, you can’t say that they’re completely eliminated.”

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