"He said all my travelling and talking around had probably gotten us exposed already. He said if I didn't pull my socks up he'd send me back." "Shah-Sahib pulled out a pistol with a silencer and looked at him [the hostage] the way a cat does a mouse. I held his hands and gave him the 'everything will be okay' speech."
"He said all my travelling and talking around had probably gotten us exposed already. He said if I didn't pull my socks up he'd send me back."
"Shah-Sahib pulled out a pistol with a silencer and looked at him [the hostage] the way a cat does a mouse. I held his hands and gave him the 'everything will be okay' speech."
In a 35-page handwritten diary, Omar Sheikh, a British Muslim who turned his back on his comfortable middle-class upbringing in London for a life of terrorism, describes how he lured four backpackers in India into a trap to kidnap and, if necessary, kill them.
Sheikh, a 20-year-old recruit to a group closely linked with Osama Bin Laden, explains in a matter-of-fact manner how he befriended three Britons and an American over tea and chess in Delhi before taking them to safe houses where, instead of dinner, they were confronted with silenced pistols and an AK-47 assault rifle before being chained up.
He wrote the diary while he was in prison after he and his accomplices were caught when police stormed the houses and freed the hostages. The pages provide the first detailed insight into the mind of an Islamic terrorist on an operation, graphically illustrating how Sheikh and his fellow conspirators were prepared to wait for months to achieve their aims, stalking their victims, building false identities and spinning plausible yarns.
The diary emerged last week after languishing in the archives of the Patiala House Court in New Delhi for six years, evidence that was not used in a trial that never took place. Sheikh was freed in December 1999 by the Indian authorities in exchange for the safe release of passengers on an Indian Airlines jet that had been hijacked by members of his terrorist outfit.
He has since disappeared but is believed to be a key member of Harakut-ul-Mujaheddin (HUM), a fundamentalist group fighting Indian troops in Kashmir. He joined the group after training in Bin Laden camps in Afghanistan.
Until the age of 19, he had been a model student: a prefect at the £8,000-a-year Forest school in east London, a chess champion and a promising undergraduate at the London School of Economics. His conversion to terrorism came during a charity trip to help Muslims in Bosnia when, he says in his diary, he met some mujaheddin, Islamic guerrilla fighters, who recommended he go to the Afghan camps.
It was September 1993. He wrote: "Enter my name for Jundula [a four-month course given only to those dedicating their lives to jihad]. Got introduced to small arms and heavy arms." By the following year he had graduated to become an instructor before being chosen for a special mission: to force India to release six HUM leaders by taking British and American tourists as hostages.
There is evidence of his naivety. Instructed to spend his first night in India in a good hotel, he chose the Holiday Inn. "The bill was an astounding $210 a night. I did not know I had picked the most expensive hotel in town." After meeting up with his accomplices, Sheikh worked on his kidnap plan. "Over the next month, every place I visited I analysed from various points of view as a 'future conqueror' as I fondly imagined myself to be, as a social scientist, a traveller, noting down the intricacies of a new country. I went to mosques and madrasses and talked about ideas pertaining to jihad."
However, his somewhat intellectual approach to his task angered his superior, Shah-Sahib: "He said all my travelling 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 our mission I ought simply to have stayed in a room and relaxed."
The team initially planned what Sheikh described as a "stick 'em up and grab 'em" approach, where they would seize hostages at gunpoint. HUM had already kidnapped six westerners in Kashmir. Of those one escaped, another was beheaded and four have never been found. Instead, they chose to use subterfuge. Sheikh's role was to use his middle-class charm to entrap tourists. He was told by Shah-Sahib: "Your responsibility is the foreigners . . . remember, American first priority, then British and French."
His first "catch" was an Israeli, who he thought would be an ideal hostage. But on his arrival at the safe house Shah-Sahib was furious. "Shah-Sahib gazed at me incredulously, peered out of the window and saw the 6'3" hulking Israeli standing there, alarmed at seeing so many bearded men sleeping in one room. 'You fool!' hissed Shah-Sahib. 'You'll get us all killed. Take him back to his hotel at once and come back in the morning'."
Sheikh returned the confused Israeli to Delhi before resuming his hunt for hostages. This time, he refined his cover story, pretending to be an "Indian-blooded British national" whose uncle had left him a village. "Given that the feudal system had died out in India for a long time, it seems amazing that the story was greeted with such credible enthusiasm. But the newly arrived traveller to India yearns to hear stories that will increase his insight."
Over games of chess, he persuaded a Briton, Rhys Partridge, to visit his "uncle's village" in a van hired by the gang, where he was taken captive and chained by his ankle. Two other Britons made the fateful journey weeks later.
Sheikh was sent out again, this time to find an American. At a cafe in Delhi he met Bela Nuss, an American about to leave India. "He was a lonely sort of fellow who found in me someone he could talk to," wrote Sheikh. He invited Nuss to dinner, but en route picked up two of his co-conspirators.
Nuss got nervous, but before he could do anything Shah-Sahib pulled out a pistol. They taped his mouth and put him in a burqa, the women's cloak, to stop questions at checkpoints.
From their hideout, Sheikh and his fellow kidnappers sent letters to the Indian authorities demanding the release of HUM terrorists. "It was going to be a waiting game, said the Big Man [Shah-Sahib]. I was forbidden from leaving the house, so I settled myself down to catch up with my Arabic." Within days, however, they were arrested after they were challenged by a police patrol in a lane leading to one of the houses. "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 - the comrades had disappeared. I turned towards him and Bang! I felt the anger being drawn out with the blood."
Sheikh was taken to Meerut jail where he wrote his diary. Now free and being sought by British and Indian authorities, Sheikh, regarded by Indian police as a potential leader of Islamic terrorism, left a haunting threat that he planned to continue his jihad. The last line of his diary warns: "I thought it was the end. It was the end . . . of one era and the beginning of another."