The mysterious name, Rahul, mentioned extensively in LeT operative David Coleman Headley’s e-mails to handlers in Pakistan has finally been identified. It’s neither Shah Rukh Khan nor Rahul Gandhi, but the son of famous filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt.
And nor is Rahul Bhatt, 25, a fitness instructor and a body builder, on the LeT hit list; he is in fact a friend of Headley who was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Chicago last month.
However, investigating agencies, who have already questioned Rahul, have almost given him a clean chit, saying that he appears to be innocent.
An officer privy to the investigations said, “He has admitted to being friends with Headley. But, in all probability, he didn’t know Headley’s actual background and took him to be a foreign national in India on a job. That was exactly the guise Headley had been living under in India between 2006 and 2009.”
It has also come to light that it was Rahul who helped Headley rent a flat near Breach Candy hospital.
The two met at a gym where Rahul who at one point weighed 122 kilos, had come to lose weight and get fit.
Rahul Bhatt at that time was supposed to be launched in a film, Suicide Bomber, under his family banner Vishesh Films, based on the London bombings which was eventually scrapped.
Headley, a US citizen of Pakistani origin who had been arrested by US’s Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) on October 18 with a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin Tahawwur Rana, at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, had told FBI interrogators that Rahul was a prominent Indian actor. Headley had been arrested on the information that he was planning terror attacks in Denmark and India.
The two men became friends and when Headley expressed that he was looking to rent a flat, Rahul even helped him get one near Breach Candy through a property broker. All this while, say investigators, Rahul was not aware that Headley had LeT links.
During his stay in Mumbai, Headley was ostensibly functioning as a consultant for an immigration firm in Tardeo. That was, possibly, the only identity that Rahul knew of Headley. Earlier, there were theories among intelligence agencies that Rahul could be a code word either for Shah Rukh Khan, who has played several character by that name, or even a place that could have been a terror target.
When contacted, Rahul’s father Mahesh Bhatt neither confirmed nor denied that his son had been questioned by the police in connection with the Headley case. He simply said, “This is an issue of national security and not something trivial related to Bollywood. Ask agencies that deal with national security. I will not say anything more.”
All efforts to reach Rahul failed as his phone was switched off. Text messages sent to him did not elicit any reply till the time of going to press.
Investigators also suspect that Headley may be holding dual passports of US and Pakistan (as Pakistan allows it) and thus escaped the scrutiny of immigration officials as he may have travelled to Pakistan using his Pak passport while to India using his US passport.
The rahul emails
In a few e-mail conversations with an LeT operative, Headley has mentioned Rahul several times. The FBI affidavit notes: In an e-mail on July 2009, Headley told Lashkar-e-Taiba Member A that “I think when we get a chance we should revisit our last location again and say hi to Rahul.”
A reply from LeT Member A on the same day read: “To see Rahul is a good idea coz have some work for you over there too. Matters are good enough to move forward...”
On July 9, Headley writes again: “When you say ‘move forward’, do you mean in the north direction or towards Rahul...” To this Member A replies: “Towards Rahul.”
On July 10, Headley writes another mail to Member A: “The visit to Rahul’s place, is it for checking real estate property like before, or something different and if so please tell what you can please. Also is it in Rahul’s city or different one?” To this Member A replied: “There are some investment plans with me, not exactly at Rahul’s city but near that. Rest we can decide when meet according to your ease.”
Investigations handed over to NIA
Meanwhile, the union government has asked the National Investigation Agency to probe Headley’s activities during his stay in India.
The NIA has registered a formal complaint, charging Headley and his accomplice Tahawwur Rana for plotting terror attacks in India. Sources said, the complaint does not mention any suspicion of Headley’s involvement in 26/11 attacks.
An NIA team is expected to shortly arrive in Mumbai to start investigations. The Crime Branch will assist the team after it arrives here.
Notably, the Ministry of Home Affairs team that had visited the US to interrogate Headley was not allowed to do so by the FBI.
The agency argued that it was technically not possible as no offence against Headley had been registered in India. However investigators have come across a list of 24 places in India of which arrested LeT suspects David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana may have done recee, which also includes targets in three cities of the state, namely Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.
During the seven visits the two made to India from 2006 to 2008, the two are suspected to have done recee of these targets, but the investigating agencies in the US have not come across any video of the India targets during the search of Headley’s possessions after his arrest.
According to sources, apart from Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, the two are suspected to have visited Siddhivinayak and Mahalaxmi temple in Mumbai, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Southern Command headquarters in Pune and also perhaps the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.
Rana is a bigger catch
Sources said Tahawwur Hussain Rana was a bigger catch than David Headley since Headley was merely executing what ever directions Rana gave. Headley was shown as an employee of First World Immigration Services, a company used as a front by Rana to hop across the world.
Posing as owner of the company, Rana had visited several countries including India and Denmark on the directions of the LeT bosses, while Headley’s expenses for travel and living, which Rana used to bear, were legitmised by showing Headley as an employee of the firm, sources added.
According to information available with central intelligence agencies, even the e-mail accounts of Headley were operated at times by Rana. During one of his visits to Denmark, Headley had placed an advertisement for his immigration company in a Danish newspaper.
The FBI has found that when represenatives of the newspaper replied to Headley on e-mail, the IP address of the computer from which the response was given was traced to Rana.
How they made e-mail IDs
Rana used to guide Headley on creating e-mail Ids. In an e-mail to Headley, Rana once wrote, “One of my brothers is Brigadier Movadat Hussain Rana and the other is Sibte Hasan Rana Monie. They are in Rawalpindi.
I really admire e-mails making it instant ‘half mulaqat’ specially Yahoo as it seems superior to Hotmail.” Subsequently Headley started using email with the ID firstname.lastname@example.org, drawn from first names of Rana’s brothers.
In another mail, Rana had directed Headley to use e-mail ID Liyaqatwing11@gmail.com and told Headley that in subsequent e-mails, he should keep liyaqatwing and change the digit by multiplying it by two and substracting two out of it. Headley then used email@example.com