From the thirty-five-page handwritten prison diary of Ahmad Omar Sayed Sheikh, the main suspect in the abduction of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. In 1992, while studying at the London School of Economics, Sheikh, a British Muslim from an affluent London family, became interested in the plight of Bosnia's Muslims. He traveled to Croatia in 1993 and was unable to enter Bosnia but made contacts with mujahedeen fighters who advised that he go to Afghanistan for training. After spending several months in Afghan training camps, Sheikh joined Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, a terrorist group operating in Kashmir, and was sent to India on a mission to kidnap Westerners who could be used in a prisoner exchange. Sheikh was captured by Indian police in 1994 and was himself exchanged in 1999 for the passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines jet. The document was obtained and published in October by the Times of London.
On July 26, 1994, I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport. My instructions were to spend the first night in some good hotel and then the next day call the two phone numbers I had been given. I was to ask for a "Farooq." Maulana Abdullah (a Harkat operative in Pakistan) had given me these instructions over the phone.
It was about the third week of September when Shah-Saab told me that he had finally managed to arrange a house in a remote area in Saharanpur where the neighbourhood was Muslim and undeveloped to the extent that it was unlikely to have an effective system of informers. When I saw the house, my heart sank. How the hell was I supposed to bring a foreigner all the way here? And unnoticed by the local people? Siddique was jumping up and down in joy and making little gestures with the pistols. Sultan beamed at me and said, "Like it?"
"No," I said sharply. He was surprised. I didn't bother to explain. I told Sultan I wouldn't go back with him to Delhi and would go out "on the hunt" straightaway. Next morning, I went to Woodstock Schoolan American schooland applied for a job as a teacher. I did this partly because if I got it I could easily bring one of my co-teachers down to visit my "relatives" and partly because I wanted to see whether cutting short my academic career had greatly affected my competitiveness on the job market. I had an interview with the vice principal, and I didn't get offered the job!
So next morning I left. I went by cycle rickshaw to Turkman Gate and took an autorickshaw to Paharganj. I sat around at the four or five cafÈs in that stretch, slowly sipping or eating something, and gradually developed a knack for opening up conversations. I would introduce myself as an Indian-blooded British national who was thrilled to come to India for the first time since he had left as a child. Then I would go on to tell them that my uncle had died, and, because of some grievance against his son, he had left me his village. Given that the feudal system in India had died out a long time ago, I was amazed that this story was greeted with such credible enthusiasm.
I made several acquaintances and even convinced a British chap called Trevor to come to the village after a few days. But the strongest friendship by far was with Rhys Partridge and Graham Foxwe had many common interests, like chess, traveling, and writing. Both were fascinated by the village story.
Later, I went to meet Sultan as planned at Tilak Bridge. Shah-Saab then detailed the procedure. He said that Sultan would accompany us and once we got to Saharanpur he would be in charge, and I was not to interfere in the chaining up of the hostages. Then we made a collective prayer for the success of the operation. When I went to meet Graham and Rhys at the restaurant, I was a bit taken aback because Graham's girlfriend, Kate, had come and she thought she was coming the next day also. Later, when I was playing chess with Rhys, I mentioned that the village elders might not appreciate a girl accompanying us.
He must have passed on the message, because next morning Graham said that he was sorryhe and Kate had changed their minds. After taking Rhys to the Saharanpur house, I started explaining to him the facts of life. I told him that I was a revolutionary and was here in India for a specific purpose and I wanted him to help me in that purpose. He asked what I meant. I said I wanted him to be our guest while we negotiated with the British and Indian governments. I was trembling at that moment.
This was probably the strongest friendship I had made for a long time (there is a great difference between comradeship and friendship), and all of a sudden the reality hit me. "If this is a joke," he said angrily, "it's a very poor one. I get very upset at these things."
His aggressiveness made it a lot easier. "I'll show you it's not a joke," I said simply. "Come in you guys." And in rushed the threeSultan, Sid, and Salbrandishing the two pistols. Sultan growled, "You are under arrest." Sid and Sal said, "Hands up." "All right, all right," said Rhys. He looked at me and said, "Can I buy my way out of this?"
I started explaining gently that he hadn't understood the situation, but Sultan cut me short. It wasn't until Rhys's ankle had been chained and Sultan had left that I got a chance to explain to Rhys what was going on. I assured him that he was not in any danger unless he tried to escape.
Naturally, though, he was still very scared. I took his passport details and left the next morning for Delhi. Amin came to me and said Shah-Saab would meet me in Nizamuddin Markaz. He asked me, "Has the work been done?" I said, "Yes, it has." In the meeting, Shah-Saab ticked me off, saying I should have replied, "What work?" and shrugged my shoulders. Though I never really agreed with Shah-Saab's way of doing thingsI thought all this hush-hush nonsense was unnecessaryI thought that Shah-Saab cared about me, almost in a fatherly way.
When I got to Connaught Place, I stopped a passerby and asked which was a "good hotel" to stay in. He mentioned the Holiday Inn, which I chose because the name was familiar. I registered under my own name and gave my passport number. The bill was an astounding $210 a night. I did not know I had picked the most expensive hotel in townI thought all Delhi hotels were this expensive and that my money would soon run out!
Therefore I decided I had better contact Farooq straightaway. I phoned both numbers from the hotel. Both answered there was no Farooq there. This worried me even more, and I debated whether to contact Maulana Abdullah in Islamabad but decided against it, since it would have been grossly against principles to phone head office from a hotel. Sultan (an accomplice) took me to a guest house in the Jamia Masjid bazaar area. After we checked in, Sultan became much more friendly. I asked him if Mr. Zubair Shah (the chief of my mission) had arrived, and he said not yet but he would soon. He said he had been very pleased to hear of him coming, since they had fought many battles together in Afghanistan.
Sultan was from Punjab in Pakistan and had instructed several of the lads I had been a co-instructor with. I asked him what they had in terms of weapons, and he said they had an AK-47, a couple of pistols, and some grenades. I asked him where the stuff had come from but he was evasive.
I said we should seriously consider buying a house in Delhi. He reminded me that the instructions they had received from Pakistan were that I was supposed to do the job I was sent for, namely kidnapping, and not interfere in what they were doing.
Over the next month, I analysed every place I visited from various points of view: as a "future conqueror"which I fondly imagined myself to beas a social scientist, a traveler, noting down the intricacies of a new country, and as an introspector. I went to mosques and madrasahs and talked about ideas pertaining to jihad. Among the madrasah students, I felt there was great potential for an Islamic movement to emerge, but the great obstacle was that the students were generally not capable of independent conclusionsthey concluded what their teachers told them to.
Nearing the end of August, I was told by Sultan that "someone has comemeet me tomorrow at Jamia mosque and we'll talk with him." I knew it must be Shah-Saab. Only it was not the smiling, cheerful person I remembered from Islamabad. He had thinned considerably. His first words were ones of reproach. He said all my traveling and talking around had probably gotten us exposed already. He said if I didn't pull my socks up he'd send me back. He said until we'd started on our mission I ought simply to have stayed in a room and relaxed.
"Your responsibility is the foreigners," he said. "I'm pursuing the other channels also, but the people concerned won't know about you and you won't know about them. Remember, American first priority, then British and French."Then he sent me on my first task. I was to go to Agra on a tourist bus, noting on the way all the stops it made for refreshments. I was to note the composition of the foreigners at the monuments.
Next morning at about seven a.m. I got on a bus that had a few foreigners. One of them, an Israeli named Akhmir, came and sat next to me. I immediately started working out how I could arrange to meet him later, and throughout the day I triedwith no success.
It was late at night when the bus broke down on our return journey to Delhi. All the passengers were worried since there seemed no way to get back. Then a van drove by and I thumbed it to stop. We got off at Delhi about ten minutes from Nizamuddin. I got into an autorickshaw with Akhmir. As we approached Nizamuddin, I started quarreling loudly with the rickshaw man. He retaliated and stopped the rickshaw. I told the bemused Akhmir that the rickshaw man was mad and was asking Rs 500 for the journey and that there was no knowing where he might take us if we didn't pay. Akhmir hurriedly got off with me. "Never mind," I said. "I've got a friend near here who can give us a lift."
So, finally, at two a.m. I brought him to the house. I hammered on the door and Farooq opened it. I winked at him. Akhmir followed me up the stairs. I woke up Shah-Saab and told him, hiding my excitement, that I'd brought back an Israeli and all we had to do was overpower him. Shah-Saab gazed at me incredulously, peered out of the door, and saw the 6'3" hulking Akhmir standing there, alarmed at seeing so many bearded men sleeping in one room. "You fool," hissed Shah-Saab. "You'll get us all killed. Take him back to his hotel at once and come back in the morning."
Crestfallen, I went to Akhmir and told him that my friend had lent his car out. I took him downstairs, woke up an autorickshaw man, and went with him to his hotel.
Next morning, after everyone had a good laugh, Shah-Saab gave me my next instructions. I was to go to places of tourist interest inside Delhi and see if I could start establishing friendships with tourists. Our next meeting was arranged for Jamia mosque. From the outset, I found the friendship task next to impossible. How on earth do you go up to a foreigner and suddenly become friends? Especially when he has a female partner with him or a dozen salesmen calling out to him. In our meeting at Jamia mosque, I told Shah-Saab that the only way was the stick-'em-up-and-snatch style. But he urged me to keep trying.
The next day, I saw a foreign chap wandering about. I asked him where he was going. He said Dehra Dun, and I quickly made up my mind. So I said, "What a surprise! I'm going there too!" and got with him on the bus. His name was Richard, and he was a British student who had arranged to teach at Doon School, Dehra Dun. By the time we got to Doon School, I had not only initiated a friendship; I had put forward the idea of spending time together touring India. I spent the night at Hotel Relax at Dehra Dun but failed to start up a conversation with the foreign couple staying there.
Now, since I had been in India the sight of emaciated beggars everywhere had posed a serious dilemma for me. I had never seen so much poverty firsthand in my life before. But I had soon realised that superficial help was only perpetuating the problemmost of the money they received was spent on cigarettes or charas. But they were genuinely needy people. Anyway, one night I decided that since I had the room to myself, I would offer to share it with an old one-legged man who sat outside the Markaz. I went and brought the old man to the room. We had dinner, and I was enjoying one of his stories when Farooq arrived. He declared that the old man had to leave the house. I tried to reason with him, but he said that my "antics" were putting everyone at risk. I lost my temper, packed up my stuff, and lefttaking the old man with me, and telling Farooq I was sorry I had such a cowardly set of companions.
Shah-Saab's next instruction was to hunt down an American. I set off for the YMCA. By evening I had established rapport with a chap I thought to be American and had told him about my village when to my annoyance I found out he was German. I was about to leave when an American joined in the conversation.
The American, whose name was Daniel Skinner, had been teaching English as a volunteer and was leaving India because of lack of funds. I turned to him and said, "Hey, I need someone to teach English at my village school." I arranged to meet him a couple of days hence and confirm the details. When we spoke again, he agreed to accompany me the next day.
At one o'clock I made my way to the Markaz, and Amin took me to the van. We picked Daniel up at the YMCA and started off for Saharanpur, but before an hour had passed Dan asked to get off for cigarettes.
We stopped the car and he got off with his bags and said he thought he'd better stay in Delhi for a few days more. "What's the matter?" I asked in a surprised tone. "I've only known you two days," he said. "And all of a sudden I'm in a car with you."
It was a tense remainder of a journey. When we got to the house, Shah-Saab was alone. "What happened?" he asked. I told him. To my surprise he started laughing. "Bachoo, you must have said something to him to make him suspicious," he said. "Well, you just have to get another." I went to talk to Rhys after that. He had calmed down considerably. I told him about the American, and he was pleased that someone had outsmarted me.
Back therefore to Paharganj. There were Swiss, Dutch, Australians, Canadiansbut not one single American! I told Shah-Saab that I had combed the whole of Delhi. He said, okay, more Britishers or a Frenchman would do. And who should I bump into but ole Graham. He asked me how it had all been and I said terrific, Rhys had thoroughly enjoyed himself and was now in Manali. And ironically, it was Graham who introduced me later in the Hare Krishna restaurant to Paul Rideout and Christopher Morston, two Britishers who had just arrived in India.
I didn't have to go through the old village story because Graham told it for me. We played a game of chess and arranged to meet the next evening at Hare Krishna. Next morning I told Shah-Saab at the Markaz that I had two Britishers in the pipeline, did he want them? He answered affirmatively, and we arranged to meet next morning, when I would hopefully have made the arrangements.
That evening I met the two guys and casually mentioned I was going down to my village the next daywould they be interested in accompanying me? They agreed, so next morning we all set off to Saharanpur, the two, the driver, and myself, and it was almost exactly like the first time with Rhys except that I didn't talk about revolutions on the waywe discussed more complicated issues like women.
At Saharanpur, the door was opened by Siddique. He saw that I was accompanied by two guests, and so he immediately called the others to attention, telling them the Maharaja was here. The same drama as before happened, except that this time there was an AK-47 in the picture. The two were shocked to see Rhys, whom we'd talked about on the way. Rhys was rather pleased that he was no longer alone.
Next day, after taking their passport details and reassuring them as best I could, I returned to Delhi. I met Shah-Saab that evening at the Markaz and informed him of what had happened. He said that I should make one last thrust for an American.
Next morning, I just sat at a cafÈ opposite the Ankur Guest House and ordered a drink. The person in front of me started talking to me and with a shock I realised he was American.
This was Bela Nuss. He was staying at Ajay Guest House and was about to leave India. He was a lonely sort of fellow who found in me someone he could talk to.
The next evening we had dinner at some pizza place in Connaught Place. I told him I was having dinner at an Indian family's house the next day and asked him whether he'd like to come along. He was delighted.
On the way to Ghaziabad, Salahuddin drove and talked respectfully to both of us. Shah-Saab and Siddique were waiting on the fast road. The van stopped and they got in. I told Bela that they just wanted a lift. All of a sudden, I felt terribly embarrassed and asked Shah-Saab in Hindi to kidnap me also. He replied, "Don't kick up a fuss." Soon Bela realized that we were leaving the city and voiced his thoughts. Shah-Saab pulled out a pistol with a silencer and looked at him the way a cat does a mouse. I held his hands and gave him the "everything will be okay" speech. Siddique went to the back compartment and slipped the burka on him.
Next morning (October 21, 1994) I met Shah-Saab at his place as instructed. He said he had contacted Pakistan and had asked for money to be sent before the declaration was made so that if things got rough we wouldn't have to look for money before we made our escape. But he said we needed to plan our letters, so he sent me to find out contact addresses and numbers for the prime minister, various ministries, the BBC, the Voice of America, and the embassies of the U.S.A. and U.K.
I had only just obtained the information when Shah-Saab said he had got news that Rhys had tried to escape and the guys up there were alarmed. He said that the two of us should go there and talk to the foreigners and our comrades.
Shah-Saab veiled himself, and the two of us went to the Britishers, where I translated for Shah-Saab as he told them that we were not far off from our goals and they had no need to be afraid because we would free them whether or not our aims were met through them. He stipulated a maximum time period of one month.
I returned to Delhi early morning and returned to Shah-Saab's place. Shah-Saab dictated what he wanted, and I put it into English.
Looking at the letters, I thought the same could be sent without having done any kidnappings at all. I remembered the Beirut hostages incidents some years back and how pictures of the hostages with newspapers in the background were issued. So I suggested to Shah-Saab that we do the same. He asked where we'd get the film developed. I told him about the Polaroid camera. He agreed and gave me Rs 5000.
I bought a Polaroid camera at a shop in Palika Bazaar, took a bus to the house, and told the guys there that I had come to take photographs. Maulana-Saab went and bought a newspaper. He and Khan-Saab stood in the background, veiled, with the newspaper and AK-47. Sultan took the photos--six of them.
I went back by train and arrived at Shah-Saab's house absolutely exhausted. Shah-Saab and I then sat down to make adjustments to the letters for the photos. Our deadline was seventy-two hours, starting from midnight.
I went off to Kashmiri Gate and speed-posted one letter. Then I went to Daryaganj and faxed another, asking the owner of the shop to turn his back, since the contents were confidential.
For the next couple of days, I stayed with Shah-Saab. Amin was with us and would do errands like fetch dinner, etc. Each morning Shah-Saab went off and came back saying that he had phoned Pakistan and the comrades were still not freed.
Next morning I set off with the last two letters. I went to the BBC office, Amin behind me, and gave the letter to the rather nice girl at reception. "Tell the editor I want an answer by three p.m.," I said, thinking tonight she'll be telling the whole world that this big, monstrous, terrorist-looking chap came to her in person and . . . Tomorrow I'll ring her up and say, "Actually, my dear, I'm not like that at all . . ."
I left the building speedily and went to Hindustan Times. I gave the letter to the chief editor's public-relations manager and asked him to give it to him. To my consternation, he started opening it. I speedily withdrew from the room and ran down the stairs (I only just restrained myself from sliding down the banister!) and out of the entrance and across the traffic-jammed road where Amin was.
For my part, I thought, it was finally over, success or failure lay with Him above. Siddique and I wandered about the nearby roads and talked philosophically and not so philosophically. We talked about Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia, and England. We talked about Shah-Saab and the other comrades and the great days we had had in India, the jokes that would be remembered for years to come. He told me about the girl back home he was engaged to, I told him about the one I wasn't engaged to. We talked about the comrades who were getting free any day now . . . and what they'd be likely to do next. So evening came.
It was just after sunset that Shah-Saab arrived to tell us that the American had stopped eating and that we were to go and convince him that it was a matter of a few days only.
We boarded a bus for Okhla, and at nine o'clock we got off on the main road and had turned into the lane that takes us to the house when two armed policemen came toward me and asked gruffly who we were and where we were going. I thought it was a routine patrol and asked what the matter was. The policeman swore at me and tried to drag me to one side by the collar, at which I got furious and started hitting him. The next thing I remember, I felt a stinging blow on my back and I looked around to see the other swinging his rifle at me--my comrades had disappeared. I turned toward him and bang! I felt the anger being drawn out with the blood. I thought it was the end. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another.harpers.org/online/diary_of_a_terrorist/E-mail this article