He's one of the most fascinating figures in the world of international terrorism, a criminal mastermind linked to everyone from al Qaeda to Bollywood starlets to East African drug cartels. Few in the West have heard of him, though he is practically a household name in South Asia.
And now, India is connecting him to last week's attacks in Mumbai.
The Indian government has asked Pakistan to extradite exiled Indian gangster Dawood Ibrahim, who has long been accused of arranging the 1993 bombing attacks in Mumbai. The extradition request is not a new one, and Pakistan has always denied harboring Ibrahim. But now is probably as good a time as any for Indian officials to give it another try -- whether he was involved in the latest carnage in Mumbai or not.
There is precious little reliable information in the public domain on Ibrahim. Some of what we do know comes from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which designated him a "global terrorist" in 2003.
He was born in India -- ironically, as the son of a police constable. His early history is sketchy, but what is known is that he worked his way up to become a top figure in the Mumbai underworld. Indian officals say he fled his homeland for Dubai, fearing prosecution, though different accounts give different dates for this change of address.
OFAC describes Ibrahim in its listing as "an Indian crime lord" who "has found common cause with Al Qaida, sharing his smuggling routes with the terror syndicate and funding attacks by Islamic extremists aimed at destabilizing the Indian government." He is "known to have financed the activities" of Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the listing.
That all seems fairly solid. For sheer entertainment value, though, it's hard to beat this 2001 profile by Pakistani journalist Ghulam Hasnain. The lurid details of the story seem too vivid to possibly be true:
Ibrahim lives like a king. Home is a palatial house spread over 6,000 square yds, boasting a pool, tennis courts, snooker room and a private, hi-tech gym. He wears designer clothes, drives top of the line Mercedes’ and luxurious four-wheel drives, sports a half-a-million rupee Patek Phillipe wristwatch, and showers money on starlets and prostitutes. He bought Lahore model, Saba, with whom he reportedly had a passionate involvement, a house and a car. Nor does he shirk his obligations: Mandakini, of Ram Teri Ganga Maili fame, former Bollywood actress with whom he had a child is reportedly still being supported by him.
His daily regimen is also rather kingly. He wakes in the afternoon. After a swim and shower, he has breakfast. In the late afternoon, he gives his employees an audience where he briefs them on their assignments and they give him daily reports of his myriad businesses.
If in the mood, he engages in a game of cricket or snooker with friends. And as the sun sets, Dawood and his party set off for any one of his 'safe houses' in Karachi for an evening of revelry – usually comprising drinks (Black Label is his preference), mujras and gambling. The long-married Dawood’s passion for women has made him a favoured client for local pimps. His current liaison notwithstanding, he whets his allegedly large sexual appetite with a variety of women.
"He prefers virgins, preferably young girls. And he is a good paymaster. If the market rate for a woman is 10,000 rupees, Dawood pays 100,000 rupees. He is thus always surrounded by Pakistan’s top call girls," discloses one of his family friends.
The most incendiary claim in the article? Hasnain says Dawood is "Pakistan’s number one espionage operative." Indian officials may believe that, but I have yet to see solid, independent evidence. Some have speculated that the piece caused Hasnain's four-day abduction, after which he returned "a broken man" and recanted the article.