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Before '08 Mumbai attacks, U.S. was warned key figure in plot had terror ties
"He . . . helped the DEA infiltrate the very close-knit Pakistani narcotics dealing community in New York," prosecutors said in a 1998 letter recommending a lenient sentence. He also "traveled to Pakistan . . . to develop intelligence on Pakistani heroin traffickers."
Gilani was sentenced to 19 months in prison, but was freed on probation in less than a year. Records show that while he was on probation he got permission in 1999 for a trip to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. Previously casual about his Muslim faith, he became radicalized. He sought out new recruits, raised funds for Lashkar and began preparing for its mountain training camps, getting corrective eye surgery and taking horse riding lessons, according to a person close to the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Gilani's mix of extremism and Pakistani nationalism pushed him toward Lashkar because of its popularity in Pakistan and its fight against India, anti-terrorism officials say. Although Lashkar is a longtime al-Qaeda ally, it still functions largely unscathed in Pakistan, officials say.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Gilani told associates that he planned to train with Lashkar as part of a secret mission for the U.S. government, the person close to the case said.
"The FBI and DEA have joined forces and I am going to work for them," this person quoted him as saying. "I want to do something important in my life. I want to do something for my country."
Federal officials say Gilani was never an FBI informant, however. The DEA and FBI work together on task forces, and the DEA sometimes shares informants with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The unusual circumstances of Gilani's departure for Pakistan reinforce the theory that he may have been working with the government in some capacity at that time. A federal court discharged him from probation in December 2001, well before the scheduled end date in 2004, court records show. Within two months he was training in Pakistan with Lashkar, which had just been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Pakistan, documents say.
Gilani did five stints in the Lashkar camps over three years, learning about ideology, firearms, combat, countersurveillance and survival skills, court documents show. He underwent more advanced training than many Western recruits, with one course lasting three months. He reported on his progress at a mountain complex near Muzaffarabad during calls, e-mails and visits to New York and his family home in Lahore, praising the bravery of fellow militants and the medical care he received for an ankle injury, according to the person close to the case.
Wife contacts task force
In December 2002, Gilani married his girlfriend of eight years in New York. He used return visits to buy ropes, hiking boots and military books, and to research prices for night-vision goggles. He also continued to claim he was a paid U.S. informant, the person said.
The court documents that outline Gilani's odyssey do not mention the domestic dispute that led his wife to contact authorities in August 2005. She had demanded a divorce after learning he had a wife and children in Pakistan. They argued at his store and on Aug. 25 she filed an assault complaint, alleging that he "struck her several times in the face," according to officials and a law enforcement document.
On Aug. 26, she phoned a tip line of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, an FBI-led, multi-agency unit with hundreds of investigators. Her tip was assigned an FBI lead number under guidelines developed after Sept. 11, 2001, to improve the response to potential threats. Procedure requires an FBI supervisor to begin an inquiry, decide in 90 days whether it merits a preliminary or full investigation, and report the outcome.
On Aug. 31, New York City police arrested Gilani for alleged misdemeanor assault, according to police officials. He was released on bond and was never prosecuted for reasons that remain unclear, officials say.