In the late interwar period, a few years before the ascendency of Adolf Hitler to the Chancellery, the famed German film director Fritz Lang created a classic of the silent film era. Spione (English: Spies) is a thriller of international espionage, intrigue, and manipulation by a criminal mastermind. Playing diplomats, politicians, and detectives against each other, using prostitutes, opium, and blackmail to control his adversaries, Lang’s arch villain Haghi pushes the world to the precipice of total war before he is brought down by the film’s hero.
There is a man operating like this today. He has control of vast underworld networks, access to the highest echelons of power across several continents, endless amounts of cash, and, like Haghi, plenty of opium and prostitutes. He controls an enormous system of money laundering. His signature touch can be observed in places as far flung as Syria, Nigeria, Belize, Qatar, Pakistan, and India.
Care to hazard a guess who this man is? Here are few more clues.
He is a mafia don as much as a terror master and one of the world’s most influential men, yet chances are you’ve never heard his name. If, as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright says, “To put it mildly, the world is a mess,” it’s the fault of… Dawood Ibrahim.
Dawood Ibrahim is one of the world’s most wanted men, and has been for some time. The son of a Mumbai police constable, he began his underworld career by joining a gang in the 1980s. Following the murder of his brother by a rival gang, Dawood made a strong name for himself by killing all members of the guilty criminal outfit. A truly loathsome legend was born.
Today, it would be difficult to overstate his power. Ibrahim and his enterprise, dubbed “D-Company,” (or “D-Gang”) are rumored to control much of the Indian hawala system, a means of transferring money that allows anonymity and the avoidance of taxes. Hawala is illegal in several countries because it plays a significant role in global money laundering. Besides tax avoidance, hawala is also used in the finance of black markets, including drugs, forced prostitution and labor, and terror.
Speaking of terror, Dawood may very well be the world’s preeminent sponsor. He was implicated in both the 1993 and 2008 Mumbai bombings, which killed and injured hundreds of people. His co-conspirators in these attacks included the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (or ISI, in both instances), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (in 2008), Pakistani jihadist/terror organization.
Islamic terror is a hallmark of Dawood and the ISI. A Lashkar headquarters provided a “hide-out” for Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber. In September 2001, Yousef’s uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, working under the aegis of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, took care Dawood’s unfinished business that morning of September 11. There’s a direct link between Dawood and 9/11: according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bin Laden had a “financial arrangement” with D-Company based around shared narcotics smuggling routes.
I want to be a Part of it, New Delhi!
Like every great crime boss, Ibrahim’s tentacles reach into apparently legitimate industries, and hawala isn’t the only way to wash money. Bollywood, the Indian film industry, and many of its screen stars, have extensive links, and some personal relationships, with the boss. In the United States, when we think of gangsters and the film industry, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack come to mind. Thanks to The Godfather, Americans are vaguely familiar with how Sinatra, with a little help from the mob, strong armed his way into his Academy Award-winning role in From Here to Eternity. But even Lucky Luciano got nothing on Dawood, who has had several love affairs with star Bollywood actresses, finances films, and personally recruits the actors he desires for starring roles.
An interesting aside: Speaking of movies, in 1990, Pakistani producer Sajjad Gul released a nearly three hour long water-boarding session for audiences called International Guerillas. The film was about Pakistan mobster jihadis on a quest to murder a (fictional portrayal of) Salman Rushdie. Should you wish to ruin your otherwise pleasant day, you can watch every kitschy minute of it for free on YouTube. Any resemblance between the movie’s characters and Ibrahim are strictly coincidental. Right.
Where does Ibrahim get all this money, and how is it that he has been so successful, for so long? While it would take a volume to trace all his business interests, with a reasonable degree of certainty we can assume that a sizeable portion of D-Company’s revenues are derived from two primary sources: illegal drugs and slavery, both sex (prostitution) and labor. For protection and business development, Ibrahim depends on the Pakistani ISI, whose ranks operate dually as his official bodyguard, and emissaries. The linked article refers to a source from 2013, but Ibrahim’s arrangement with the ISI goes back to the early 1990s, prior to the 1993 Mumbai bombing.
Regarding the drugs, one source is Taliban-grown heroin. According to Gretchen Peters in her book Seeds of Terror, Ibrahim “‘traveled to Afghanistan’… in the late 1990s and brokered a financial arrangement to share smuggling routes with ‘Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.’” 2013 was a banner year for opium production in Afghanistan, and the upward trajectory of opium growth has paralleled the rise to prominence once again of the Taliban. Capitalizing on the symbiotic relationship between D-Company and the ISI, truck convoys of the Pakistani Army’s National Logistics Cell function as a transport network for Taliban heroin.
Heroin is not the only narcotic that Ibrahim traffics; Latin American cocaine is another valuable commodity, and various Islamist networks provide the smuggling logistics to ensure timely delivery to the end users. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) grew out of the Groupe Islamique Armé, an Algerian Islamist insurgency. They are active in Chad, Mali, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Niger, Morocco, and generally in other North African countries. In 2006, Ayman al Zawahiri, the present-day leader of Al Qaeda, acknowledged that AQIM was part of Al Qaeda’s family of terrorist organizations/smugglers. Latin American cocaine is known to enter Europe via Africa, with countries such as Guinea Bissau receiving transatlantic shipments. In fact, cocaine is one of the ingredients that have led to increasing chaos in West Africa in the last few years. The connections between Ibrahim’s criminal enterprise and Al Qaeda are well documented, and the inception of this relation, explained above, began when Ibrahim was adopted by (or perhaps adopted) the Pakistani ISI. The relationship between AQ and Ibrahim is not breaking news. However, a newer Islamist group, with even more curious linkages, has recently been discovered operating under the corporate umbrella of D-Company.
Boko Haram is known to most westerners as the group that kidnapped nearly 300 Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria this past April. The girls were then sold into sex slavery, and the reaction of the Obama White House was scandalously delayed and impotent – a mere Twitter campaign, #bringbackourgirls. Like AQIM, Boko Haram is in the businesses of smuggling and human trafficking (i.e. slavery), and the Indian authorities have recently discovered their presence on the sub-continent. Last year, Dawood’s “younger brother Anees Ibrahim made several trips to Lagos last year and subsequently met an Al-Qaeda commander close to Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau.” The purpose of the trip? To finalize a partnership between the Nigerian traffickers and D-Company in India. Now Boko Haram can move product from Latin American into India. Anees appears to be the Ibrahim brother with an affinity for travel; in 2009, Anees was granted a passport by the government of Belize. Belize is more and more under the control of drug cartels, and cocaine is the major export.
The Street Walkers and the Pyramid Builders
Kids, drugs are bad for you. They ruin your brain and you can develop life threatening addictions. Additionally, drugs are regularly used as money substitutes to purchase things that are also illegal, such as weapons for insurgent groups – see here. But if there’s one trade that’s even uglier than the drug trade, it’s the flesh trade. And Ibrahim deals extensively in human beings, male and female. The Nepalese appear to be the exploited ethnicity of choice.
Sadly, forced labor ganging is not so uncommon in the Middle East. According to a report prepared in 2013, there are nearly 13,000 people enslaved in Jordan. The same report also fingered Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Sudan as offenders. Pakistan was ranked the third worst offender globally, beat only by Haiti and Mauritania.
So pervasive is the problem in the region that even American military contractors have been caught in the dragnet. Making headlines stateside last year was Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), an American military, engineering, and construction contractor. KBR had contracted with a Jordanian-based construction contractor called Daoud & Partners for the services of Nepalese workers. (Daoud is the Arabic spelling of Dawood; the English name is David.) According to the evidence presented in a Florida court, Daoud & Partners promised 12 Nepalese men safe jobs in Jordan, but they were instead transported to Iraq. On their way to the U.S. Air Force base where they were to be employed, they were captured by insurgents, and 11 of them were killed. KBR, working with Daoud & Partners, have been found willingly violating the Trafficking Victims Protections Act. (Note: Since approximately the time of this lawsuit was announced, the website for Daoud & Partners, www.daoudco.com, is no longer operational.)
Qatar, a so-called American ally where the U.S. military has two large bases, and where CENTCOM operates, is notorious for its slave labor population. Awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Qataris have come under international pressure to reform their labor rights laws, as many of these Nepalese slaves are paid unconscionable wages (less than $1/hour), and many go without pay for months. Coincidentally, or not, Qatar happens to be in a strategic partnership with Dawood’s heroin smugglers, the National Logistics Cell of Pakistan, ostensibly for construction work.
Like forced labor, forced prostitution is highly profitable. (What isn’t when you barely pay the workers?) Internationally, the sex trafficking business is estimated to generate $32 billion annually, or $87 million each day. Mumbai, Dawood’s birthplace, is home to mafia-run brothels where captured Nepalese women are forced to perform sex acts on dozens of clients every day. According to one book published by Columbia University Press, “Up to 20,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked to India each year, and up to 30,000 of the 100,000 prostitutes in Mumbai are Nepalese.” Statistics by NGOs show that as many as 12,000-15,000 Nepalese women are trafficked into Indian sex slavery each year. Not only adults, but also young children are victims of sex slavery.
It is noted here that, consistent with Ibrahim’s affiliations, Al Qaeda depends on human trafficking for revenue.
Dawood in the Qatar
Woven throughout the narrative above are several references to the tiny peninsular country, Qatar. It is in this emirate, ruled absolutely by the al Thani family, where the ISI, D-Company, and al Qaeda intersect. We have already examined the slaves, who employed by Qatar in the construction industry, and the Qatari strategic partnership with the heroin smuggling National Logistics Cell. This makes them in complicit in D-Company’s two most profitable lines of business.
Connecting Qatar to Al Qaeda’s terrorism is as simple as citing a few critical events in the life of 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. KSM lived in Doha, Qatar from 1992-1995. He was an employee of the Qatari Ministry of Electricity and Water. While in Doha, he helped his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. When KSM was captured, it is because of a tipoff from the head of Al Jazeera, an al Thani, who somehow knew exactly where he was.
This crime-terror nexus is stronger than ever today, and remains remarkably consistent in its approach. In June, a document was leaked bearing the signature of Acting Qatari Embassy in Libya, Nayef Abdullah Al Emadi. It states that Qatar had (and likely is still) recruited and trained volunteers for ISIS, now the Islamic State, in Libya. It further recommends these recruits enter the battlefield through a port in Turkey. Qatar, with the United States and Turkey, has been a prominent supporter of the Syrian rebels.
The case for Dawood’s disturbing of the world peace is again bolstered by documents uncovered in Cameroon. On July 27, Boko Haram captured the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister. The Jamestown Foundation explains that “A Cameroonian businessman who serves as an intermediary between Boko Haram and the Cameroonian government in hostage negotiations has exported cars from Cameroon to Qatar, while flight tickets originating in Qatar and Libya have been found in Boko Haram camps.” In other words, the Qataris are already working with same Nigerian narco-terrorists as Ibrahim. According to earlier reports, Boko Haram was originally established by Qatar, through a Mauritanian proxy who now resides in Doha, as a “money making venture.”
The last thing to logically occur in this toxic development would be for Boko Haram to declare allegiance to the Qatari-backed Islamic State. On July 26, this is precisely what happened when Boko Haram leader Abu Baker Shekau gave his “bayah” (oath of allegiance) to the marauding genociders in Iraq.
What’s this mean? For one thing, a larger network means more business for Dawood. And, by the way, it means more money to Islamic terror: in return for the protection provided by the ISI, 30% of D-Company’s revenue is dedicated to supporting terror
Who, Part 2
Ibrahim has been an active criminal since the 1980s. Since the 1990s, he has worked in tandem the Pakistani ISI. (By the way, doesn’t ISI look a lot like ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – and IS – Islamic State? ISISISISI…) Today, the Middle East and Northern Africa are engulfed in a conflagration of war and political uncertainty unseen since World War I. Yet in 2011, beginning with the ouster of Mubarak in exchange for the Muslim Brotherhood, something changed markedly. For the first time, the United States aligned its foreign policy, in the broadest possible way, to benefit the Islamists.
Under Barack Obama, one secular dictator after another was challenged, in some cases overthrown, by Islamists. Benghazi, the mystery thereof, can plausibly be explained as a weapon running operation from Libya to Syria to benefit the rebels, who in turn became the Islamic State. But why did all the weapons have to head north, across the Mediterranean? Boko Haram’s rise in Nigeria suggests that some of these Libyan weapons also went south, into Nigeria, and perhaps into Mali.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State are now two sides of the same pincer, and both backed by Qatar and Ibrahim.
Ibrahim, without question, is a devilish fellow. However, it was not until an American administration got on board with the jihad that things began to look up for the Caliphate.
Who are we to blame?
 The pattern of illicit business activities funding terror, and terror being used to control turf, emerges as a clear dynamic. Going back to the American mafia example, think of Capone’s streak of violence, e.g. flippant murders, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in Chicago during Prohibition. Capone, however, had no grand political aspirations to speak of.