Pakistan's ISI spy agency blackmailed a middle-aged Indian Muslim widower visiting his relatives in Karachi, using a sex worker to honey trap him so that he would work for them. The ISI, notorious for sponsoring cross-border terrorism, used the services of a young sex worker in Karachi to blackmail 51-year-old Mohammed Arif, a resident of Gorakhpur in UP.
These facts have come to light under 'Op Gorakhdhanda' that was initiated by Military Intelligence (MI) and Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) to unearth a Karachi-based ISI unit aimed at recruiting spies in India.
ATS Additional Director General of Police D.K. Thakur confirmed that Arif was detained.
Officials told IANS that in June, Lucknow-based MI unit received an intel input from its counterpart in Jammu & Kashmir, regarding suspicious activity on a Gorakhpur-based mobile number. The Lucknow MI unit sprung into action and monitored the suspect in Gorakhpur, the eastern UP town near the Indo-Nepal border. The MI codenamed the operation 'Op Gorakhdhanda'.
During the investigation, the input was corroborated electronically and the suspect was identified as Mohammed Arif who had suspicious connections with Pakistan. The MI unit shared all the findings with UP ATS in the first week of July, following which a joint team was formed to investigate the case.
After sufficient evidence was gathered, a team of UP ATS on Friday brought the suspect Mohammed Arif for questioning at ATS headquarters in Lucknow. Arif was questioned by MI and UP ATS officials on Friday and Saturday.
Sources said the suspect during the questioning revealed the details of how he had been recruited by the ISI in Pakistan.
Arif, who runs a tea snacks stall in Gorakhpur, became a widower in 2014. He has several relatives in Karachi, Pakistan including two of his paternal aunts and their families and a close cousin Hazara and her husband Hashim Ansari. Arif also got his sister Zarina married to a Karachi resident named Shahid.
The widower visited Pakistan four times - 2014, 2016, 2017 and December, 2018. On his last visit, Arif entered Pakistan through Jodhpur via Thar Express. In Karachi, two Pakistani officials who called themselves Fahad and Rana Aqeel paid a visit to his sister Zarina's house and introduced themselves as visa officials who had come for verification.
Sources said the two were part of Pakistani intelligence agency ISI and were operating under fake names. After the said verification was done, they visited again a few days later. Their visits became regular and more informal. The two agents pretended to be good friends and started taking Arif around the city of Karachi. The three would roam in the malls, sea beaches, restaurants, would have food and return home.
Around 10 days before Arif's return to India, Fahad and Rana Aqeel took him to a safehouse and offered him services of a young and good-looking sex worker dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. The widower couldn't resist the temptation and eagerly accepted the offer. Little did he know that his acts with the sex worker were being captured by multiple hidden cameras that night.
Arif returned to India in February 2019 on the scheduled date, through Jodhpur. In their last meeting before Arif's departure, the ISI agents handed him a chit with their "+92" mobile number. After a few days of his arrival in Gorakhpur, Arif received a call on WhatsApp from the same number. The caller, Fahad enquired about Arif's well-being and asked him to save his number. Arif saved the number as 'Bhai' in his phone.
After few days Fahad called again and asked him to send some photos of Zafra Bazaar in Gorakhpur on some innocent pretext. Arif clicked and shared some photos with his handler within a few days. Next time, Fahad asked him to send photos of Gorakhpur Air Force Station, which Arif declined, knowing the repercussions involved.
Then the ISI agents sent Arif photos and video clips of him and the sex worker he had taken service of at the shady Karachi lodge. They blackmailed Arif to work for them or they would ensure a CD containing the recordings would reach his sister Zarina. Arif reluctantly agreed and helped them in activating an Indian WhatsApp account by sharing the OTP.
Arif had acquired the SIM using his own identity but removed it from his phone after activation of the WhatsApp account.
Sources said the WhatsApp account was further used by ISI to approach serving Indian security personnel to lure them and acquire classified defence-related information.
The WhatsApp number has also penetrated into or created several WhatsApp groups with serving soldiers and security personnel as members, sources said.
Arif revealed to his interrogators that he sent photos of Gorakhpur Railway Station and main gates of Indian Air Force Station and Kundra Ghat Military Station to his handlers in Karachi. He received a payment of Rs 5,000 from the two for the pictures. Arif also disclosed that he was asked by the two ISI agents to introduce some Indian soldiers or anyone having access to the military establishment in India to them.
Unable to meet their demands, Arif started avoiding them. Subsequently, he stopped using the internet. In the meantime, he got remarried to his second wife Shama Praveen and wanted to lead a trouble-free life. On July 14, he got his mobile handset formatted, claiming that the phone had got locked accidentally.
During examination of Arif's mobile device, SIM cards and other belongings, nothing substantial was found that can be produced as evidence in a court of law.
The investigators decided against filing a case merely on his confessions, sources said.
Keeping in mind his age and economic situation, and the fact that Arif realised his wrongdoing well in time and was not of much help to the ISI agents, the investigators let him go home after suitable counselling and warning.
"This case has unearthed the nefarious modus operandi of ISI operatives against members of poor or lower middle class Indian Muslim families visiting their relatives in various cities of Pakistan," an official said.
It has some similarity with the case of Mohammed Rashid who was arrested in a joint operation of MI and UP ATS in February 2020, which is now being investigated by the NIA.