Praveen Swami and the informed art of speculating

By M Reyaz and Amit Kumar,,

New Delhi: National daily The Indian Express was not pretty sure where the alleged Al-Qaeda’s Head of the Indian subcontinent hailed from, but it nevertheless thought of making an informed guess before finally correcting themselves when questioned. And, after arrests had been made elsewhere in the country.

On December 15, the paper’s National Security Expert, and National Editor (Strategic and International Affairs) Praveen Swami decided to tell its readers where the Al-Qaeda’s Indian Chief was from. In a story titled, ‘In Heart of Asia, why hope is fading’, Swami wrote “The camp, Afghan intelligence sources told The Indian Express, housed over 150 fighters from across South Asia, flying the banner of the newly-formed al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, led by Gujarat-origin jihadist Asim Umar.


However, on December 17, the same newspaper and the same author wants its readers to look at a district in Uttar Pradesh. In a story titled ‘Head of al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent is from Uttar Pradesh’, Swami writes: “The head of al-Qaeda’s South Asian wing is Sanaul Haq, a one-time resident of Sambhal, in Uttar Pradesh, over 150 km from the national capital, intelligence sources have confirmed to The Indian Express. Known to the world as Maulana Asim Umar, Haq was appointed amir of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, by its overall chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, last year." .He goes on to add, “Haq was identified, sources said, on the basis of the questioning of Sambhal resident Mohammad Asif and Cuttack-based cleric Abdul Rehman, who the Delhi Police said, had been tasked by Haq with setting up “AQIS recruitment networks” in India.””


Later in the evening, PTI’s report, titled, ‘Third al-Qaeda operative held in Uttar Pradesh’, said, “The accused, identified as Zafar Masood, was arrested by one of the Special Cell teams that were raiding several places across western UP.

Masood’s arrest follows the nabbing yesterday of Mohammed Asif (41), who is also a native of Sambhal, and a Madrasa teacher, Abdul Rahman (37), said a senior police official.” This report, in fact, goes on to add, “Police sources added that two more suspected operatives of AQIS have been detained at Sambhal, which has emerged as a recruitment hub for the terror wing."

According to mainstream media reports, Sambhal, it seems, is the new Azamgarh.

However, when the discrepancy was conveyed to the Chief Editor of The Indian Express Raj Kamal Jha, he said in an emailed reply: You are right, we should have pointed out the discrepancy. When the last piece was written, information then led us to speculate that he was from Gujarat...until the latest interrogation... ”

‘To speculate’.

Swami and The Express did not feel like adding the word in the story, of course. Remember, as the story on December 15 says, the Afghan intelligence ‘told’ the Indian Express.

Now that Swami told his readers who the Al-Qaeda's ringleader was, he of course went on show how he knew a lot about him.

Today’s story adds, “From Pakistani sources familiar with the jihadi movement, though, The Indian Express learned that Haq arrived in Pakistan that year, beginning studies at the Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia-a Karachi seminary that has produced several jihadist leaders, including Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad; Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who headed the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil, the leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Haq, sources said, was mentored by Nizamuddin Shamzai, a cleric closely linked to the Taliban who once bragged of being treated as a “state guest” in Mullah Muhammad Omar’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Mind you the information in the first report was given apparently to the author from “Afghan intelligence sources”.

He even tells the readers what Haq what actually said, in quotes. Today's story says, “In 2013, Haq delivered the first exhortations specifically targeting Muslims in India — the first of its kind in global jihadist writing. He invoked anti-Muslim communal violence in India, saying “the Red Fort in front of the mosque cries tears of blood at your slavery and mass killing at the hands of the Hindus””.

All this information comes from his ‘sources’ across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. No wonder, Swami's credentials have been questioned in the past by Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, here and through a petition on, here .

Sambhal, meanwhile, has been put on alert after the arrests. A report by PTI says, “Directives have been issued for verification of workers in factories and a search operation has been started,” said Superintendent of Police Atul Saxena. Hotels and guesthouses, too, are being checked, he added. Asif is believed to be one of the founding members and the Indian head (amir) of al Qaeda in the Indian sub-continent’s (AQIS) motivation, recruitment and training wing.

Several of Swami reports, particularly his theories published in The Hindu on conspiracy and plots in the Mecca Masjid blasts, Ajmer blasts, Malegaon, etc. fell flat in past, in all of which earlier Muslims youths were falsely accused of terror, but it was later revealed by the security agencies that those were in fact conducted by Hindutva extremist groups.