In a major shot in the arm for the security agencies, the National Investigative Agency on Saturday arrested a key plotter in the 2019 Vishakhapatnam espionage case from Mumbai for allegedly honey-trapping Navy personnel on social media for gathering sensitive information about locations and movement of Indian Naval ships and passing it on to his Pakistani handlers.
The accused, identified as Abdul Rehman Abdul Jabbar Sheikh, aged 53, was arrested from his residence in Mumbai after inputs received from those arrested in the case and technical analysis. The security agency has retrieved several digital devices and incriminating documents while searching the residence of accused Abdul Rehman.
Rehman is the 15th man to be arrested in the espionage case so far. Earlier, his wife Shaista Quaiser, a Pakistani-born Indian woman, was among the 14 arrested in the case. Last month on May 15, the NIA arrested another key conspirator Mohammed Haroon haji Abdul Rehman Lakdawala, 49, from Mumbai. Before this, 11 Navy personnel were arrested. All of them, including others, have been involved in terror funding.
The 2019 Visakhapatnam espionage case pertains to an international racket involving individuals based out of Pakistan and at different locations in India, including Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. It comprised of agents based in India recruited by Pakistani spies between 2011 and 2019.
Espionage racket busted in an operation code-named “Dolphin’s Nose”
The investigation into this case began on December 20 last year after the Andhra Pradesh Police, Naval Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agencies in a joint operation arrested seven navy personnel who have been allegedly involved in espionage. The racket was busted in Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam, which houses the Eastern Naval Command. The operation was named “Operation Dolphin’s Nose”, after the hill named Dolphin’s nose, which is adjacent to Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam, housing the residential complexes and offices of Indian Navy.
The police had said that all the arrested officials were in touch with Pakistani women who had befriended them on Facebook. It is alleged that officials were paid through a hawala operator for providing information. The chats between these sailors, who were being used by Pakistanis, were sexually explicit. Sources said the women, who honey-trapped the navy officers posing as their friends on Facebook, were set up by the Pakistani ISI operatives. The sailors were later blackmailed and forced to give information. On December 30, 2019, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had taken over the case.
After the misuse of social media by the naval personnel came to light, the Indian Navy imposed a strict ban on the use of smartphones and social media applications such as Facebook by its personnel.