Arrest result of 7-yr India-Saudi intel embrace


The prize catch of Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, suspected to be a key player in orchestrating the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, is the result of a covert seven-year Indian effort to appease Saudi Arabia, including an exclusive arrangement to allow Riyadh to set up a "listening post" here comprising agents from its internal intelligence agency.

In return, Saudi Arabia agreed to cooperate and send back Indian fugitives, but made it clear that it would not apprehend Pakistani nationals wanted in Indian terror cases. In fact, one of the pre-conditions for Saudi Arabia to be able to deport any suspect to India was that the suspect's Indian nationality must be proven first.

As a result, Indian agencies keep a close watch on Indian terror suspects moving in and out of Saudi Arabia and activate channels whenever a suspect shows up on their radar. It is learnt that lists are regularly shared with Saudi intelligence to ensure better results. The intelligence cooperation has provided India a credible channel to prompt Saudi officials to act on any tip-off, sources said.

Despite such a system being in place, there are regular setbacks. While India could nab Ansari this time, officials rue the fact that about a year ago two known terrorists managed to flee back to Pakistan because Saudi authorities stonewalled Indian requests to seize them. At that time, sources said, Pakistani intelligence managed to leverage its considerable influence in the Saudi intelligence setup to beat the Indians.

A senior official familiar with the Saudi files said the success rate is about "one in every four", although present results are "encouraging".

The bilateral arrangement also allowed the Intelligence Bureau to station its officials in Riyadh but that has not materialised so far due to inter-agency turf battles and also visa issues with Saudi Arabia. This has meant that India is represented only by the RAW in Riyadh to play the "cat-and-mouse game" with other agencies operating in Saudi Arabia, including a formidable Pakistani set-up.

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