Indian journalist arrested over Israel embassy attack

Arrest "fits Iranian terror pattern," says expert.

New Delhi terror arrest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
New Delhi terror arrest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW DELHI – Delhi Police arrested an Indian journalist, Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi, a Shi’ite with longstanding Iranian connections, on Tuesday for his alleged role in facilitating the February 13 bombing of an Israeli Embassy car.
The explosion – in which Tal Yehoshua Koren, wife of the Israeli defense attache, was injured – was caused by a “sticky bomb,” which a motorcyclist attached to the car when it slowed down at a traffic intersection, a short distance from the Indian prime minister’s residence.
Kazmi, 50, according to Delhi Police, is a “freelance journalist.”
He runs Media Star News and Features, an Urdu-language news agency, and is said to be a part-time employee with an Iranian broadcaster.
According to his family, he wrote columns for Iranian newspapers and filed reports for the official Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency.
Senior officials involved with the investigation said Kazmi was an Urdu news reader with India’s public broadcaster, Doordarshan. They also disclosed that Kazmi is likely to have visited the Israeli Embassy. He reported on the Iraq war for a production house.
“He was a frequent visitor to Iran since 1983 and has visited several countries in the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria,” an official close to the investigation said.
Kazmi is reported to have been picked up by the police on Tuesday night from the sprawling India Islamic Cultural Center on Lodhi Road, a high profile locality in the heart of New Delhi and close to the UN’s offices. The police have searched his house and visited Meerut, a town near Delhi, from where he hails.
He appeared in court on Wednesday and formally charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a tough anti-terrorism law, for helping the terrorist who planted the bomb on the car.
Police were granted custody of Kazmi for 20 days for “custodial interrogation.”
Had the attacks succeeded on a greater scale, they could have provoked a strong Israeli response, a senior Israeli security expert said Wednesday.
“What amazes me about all of these attempts is the fact that one successful attack, one Israeli embassy blown up, is a casus belli [a incident that justifies war] for a very strong Israeli response,” Ely Karmon, of the Interdisciplinary Center’s Institute for Counter-Terrorism, told The Jerusalem Post.
He noted that the Iranian terror plot centering on Israel’s embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, would have also harmed the Japanese embassy in the city, which shares its building.
Karmon added that the arrest of Kazmi fits in with an established Iranian pattern of using locals while setting up attacks abroad.
“In terms of characteristics, they set up a local infrastructure using Sunnis or Shi’ites.
They [the Iranians] don’t care, as long as the job gets done,” he said.
Often, “the serious operational people” are Iranians or Hezbollah operatives, and arrive briefly in the designated country to create the explosives before leaving, Karmon said.
Past terror plots organized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have followed similar patterns in South America, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, he added.
Karmon pointed to a 2008 plot to blow up the Israeli embassy in Baku, in which two Lebanese suspects and four Azerbaijani nationals were arrested. The Lebanese men have since been sentenced to 15 years behind bars each. Several Iranian, Lebanese and Azerbaijani members of the terror ring escaped to Iran, he added.
Similarly, in 1999, an Indonesia terror suspect was arrested in the Philippines, and told authorities he had been recruited by Hezbollah, together with other Indonesians and Malaysians. The suspects trained in Lebanon before being dispatched to attack targets in Australia and Israel.
“This has been happening again and again since 1983,” Karmon said. In many cases, Lebanese Shi’ite expatriates are approached for recruitment.
The cases often involve the IRGC’s elite unit for terror attacks abroad, the Quds Force, Karmon said.
Karmon said the latest wave of attacks was an effort to create simultaneous strikes against Israelis, but was marked by poor operational capabilities, so much so that Hezbollah distanced itself from them.
The police said their investigations have led them to believe that the conspiracy to bomb the Israeli Embassy car was “hatched outside India” and the “possibility of a foreign hand cannot be ruled out.”
In view of Kazmi’s known connections, the police are clearly implicating Iran although no formal statement to that effect has yet been made.
Describing the bombing as a case of “international terrorism,” the police said Kazmi helped the bomber conduct a reconnaissance of the area around the Israeli Embassy, which is located on Aurangzeb Road, off Delhi’s main landmark, India Gate.
“He provided the bomber with insider information,” a source said, in addition to possibly sheltering him at his home.
Delhi Police Commissioner BK Gupta told journalists that a mobile phone and laptop have been seized from Kazmi. He refrained from providing details of what else the police have found while searching Kazmi’s house.
Asked if more arrests were likely, Gupta said: “We have to nab two to three more people.”
Sources said the black motorcycle used by the bomber, which is believed to have been procured with Kazmi’s help, has been traced. The police have also found a scooter at his residence which is said to have been used for the reconnaissance that he conducted of the area around the Israeli Embassy. It is possible security camera footage holds evidence of the scooter being used.
After Kazmi appeared in court, the public prosecutor told the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate: “He is one of the conspirators of this wider conspiracy.
This is a case of international terrorism. It is not necessarily that only Indians are involved in this case and there is a possibility that some foreign nationals might be involved.”
According to the public prosecutor, “the conspiracy was hatched outside India.” But he refused to elaborate, saying: “We have already recorded the statement of the eyewitnesses to the incident. The conspiracy was hatched outside India. We do not want to disclose all the information in the open court as the main accused, who is yet to be arrested, could go out of the reach of the investigating agency.”
“An IED [improvised explosive device] was planted for the explosion and this was not an accidental act. Everything was carried out in a well-planned way. We need 20 days [of] police custody of the accused to unearth the entire conspiracy.
The investigation is going on and some more accused are yet to be arrested,” the public prosecutor said.
Kazmi’s counsel denied the charges, accused the investigators of “falsely implicating” him and opposed the custody sought by Delhi Police. His objections were overruled.
The formal arrest of Kazmi came a day after elections in five Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh, which is home to a huge Muslim population.
The police are likely to have kept him under surveillance for many days and monitored his movements to ensure he did not slip away.
The Indian government has been hesitant to openly name Iran as a collaborator in the attack because of crucial oil imports. Tuesday’s arrest comes three days before an Indian trade delegation leaves for Iran to negotiate methods of circumventing sanctions.
Meanwhile, police in Thailand suspect that Thai nationals could also be involved in the plot to murder Israeli diplomats in the southeast Asian country.
According to a report from India’s Zeenews website, Bangkok Deputy Police Chief Pansiri Prapawat confirmed that police are investigating the possible involvement of local Thais in the triple bombing plot. Prapawat did not provide further details due to the fact that investigation is ongoing, the report said.
Two Iranian suspects remain at large and arrest warrants have been issued for them, Thai authorities said. Three others, including terror suspect Saeid Moradi, who blew off both of his legs with his own grenade while trying to flee police, are in Thai custody.
Moradi remains in the hospital, Zeenews said.