Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Stephen Tankel
Columbia University Press
ISBN: 978-0-231-70152-5
Chapter 8: Storming the World Stage Pages 207-221

Ten men were part of the fidayeen squad that attacked Mumbai in November 2008. Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab was the only one to survive. Born in 1987 in Faridkot, Pakistan, Kasab dropped out of school thirteen years later to work as a laborer in his hometown. Within a year he left for Lahore, where he again worked as laborer for nearly five years. After quarreling with his father, Kasab struck out on his own. He landed a job in Jhelum city, north of Lahore. Unhappy with his meager income, Kasab quit in November 2007 and moved to Rawalpindi with a colleague named Muzaffar. A month later Kasab came upon Lashkar members collecting animal hides in the name of Jamaat-ul-Dawa during Eid al-Adha. He and Muzaffar obtained Lashkar’s office address and showed up declar- ing their desire to wage violent jihad. After giving their names, addresses and other details they were told to return the following morning with extra clothes, whereupon the two received 200 rupees for the bus trip to ‘a place called Marqas Taiyyaaba, Muridke’ where ‘LeT is having their training camp.’ Upon arrival there the two were promptly enrolled in Lashkar’s Daura-e-Suffa training. They were among approximately thirty recruits who took part in the twenty-one day training between December 2007 and January 2008. During the Daura-e-Suffa all of those who were not already adherents to Ahl-e-Hadith Islam converted.1

In February the recruits moved on to the Daura-e-Aama, which took place in the hills of Mansehra. This training also lasted for three weeks and consisted of running, climbing and weapons instruction. Like many trainees before him, Kasab then had to do khidmat, the performance of supervised service at a Lashkar office or camp.2

After three months of service, Kasab enrolled in the Daura-e-Khasa at the beginning of summer 2008. He traveled, along with the remaining recruits, to Lashkar’s office in Okara district’s Model Town and then on to the Bait-ul-Mujahideen outside of Muzaffara- bad. The camp where they trained was located in the mountains, and once the recruits arrived they were not allowed to leave without their trainers’ permission. The Daura-e-Khasa consisted of advanced weapons training as well as further religious indoctrination. The physical element was strenuous, and ten recruits deserted during the two-and-a-half month long training program.3

Kasab and the remaining recruits then returned to Muridke for additional classroom instruction, after which they traveled to Kara- chi for maritime training.4   They lodged in a house in Azizabad, where Pakistani investigators later found a treasure trove of evi- dence at the house, which they documented in a dossier delivered to Indian authorities the summer after the Mumbai attacks. Evi- dence included ‘militant literature, two inflatable life boats, differ- ent maps including [a] detailed map of [the] Indian coastline, hand-written literature on navigational training, [and a] manual of [an] intelligence course meant for operation[s].’5 Indian and Paki- stani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations state that Lashkar made use of a total of four houses and two training camps in Kara- chi while preparing for the attacks.6 From Azizabad the recruits traveled to the coast and then out to sea where they learned to navi- gate using maps and GPS devices. After completing this initial maritime training they returned to the Bait-ul-Mujahideen near Muzaffarabad, at which point six of the remaining thirteen men were deployed to Indian-administered Kashmir.7 Three new mem- bers were added to the group a day later, and soon after the ten- man squad was told they would be attacking Mumbai. They were divided into five two-person teams, with each team assigned a target: the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus [CST]; the Leopold Restau- rant and Café; the Taj Mahal Hotel; the Trident-Oberoi Hotel; and a Chabad House [previously known as Nariman House].8

All of the men studied maps as well as photographs and video footage of their targets. Lashkar handlers also equipped the recruits with cover identities. The men were given false identification cards with Hindu names, showing them to be students at Indian colleges. Following his arrest police found Kasab to be in the possession of an identification card showing him as a student at Arunodaya Degree College in Hyderabad.9 Kasab said during one interrogation session the purpose was to fool the Indian coast guard or other law enforcement officers in case they stopped the gunmen prior to the attacks.10 However, the choice of Hyderabad is also notable given its location in the Deccan Plateau and the fact that Lashkar invented a fictitious group called the Deccan Mujahideen to take credit for the assault on Mumbai. In addition to their fake identities, the men were instructed to tie thread around their wrists, a common prac- tice among Hindus.11   An Indian national who was working as a Lashkar trainer also taught them Hindi.12

The would-be fidayeen then set off once more for Karachi for another day at sea, during which they were taught how to operate the inflatable dingy that would take them the final leg of their sea- borne journey. The men also learned how to open the sea valve on a boat so they could sink the ship that would take them most of the way there. It was September and the men were ready for their mis- sion. They set out to sea with their handlers, but the boat purchased for their journey hit a rock. The attackers bound for a martyrdom operation in Mumbai almost drowned. Another boat brought them back to shore and Lashkar planned a second attempt. In October the squad set off once again with several handlers, this time in a rented vessel. They intended to capture an Indian ship to sail them into Indian waters, but as they approached their target its crew became aware of the impending danger, there was an exchange of gunfire and the Indian vessel evaded them.13 Lashkar made its third attempt on 21 November. The ten-man fidayeen squad left Aziza- bad for a house by the seashore, and set out from there the follow- ing morning for the Arabian Sea, along with their handlers. Each of the ten men was equipped with a rucksack, an assault rifle, eight magazines with thirty rounds each, a 9mm pistol with three clips of ammunition, eight hand grenades, materials to make an improvised explosive device (IED), a knife, a water bottle, dried fruit and a mobile phone pre-programmed with their handlers’ contact details. Every two-man team was given a GPS device. Kasab’s partner, Ismail Khan, was chosen to lead the fidayeen squad and he received a satellite phone as well.14

The men boarded a small launch and set off to rendezvous with a ship named the Al-Husseini, which they boarded on 23 November along with other Lashkar members. Later that day, having entered Indian waters, the Al-Husseini took control of an Indian fishing ves- sel named the MV Kuber. The ten fidayeen boarded the fishing trawler. Four members of the Kuber’s crew were transferred to the Al-Husseini and killed not long after. Amar Singh Solanki, the Kuber’s captain, was kept on board to help guide the attackers the remaining 550 nautical miles to the Indian coast.15   The terrorists also made use of their GPS, which was programmed with the coor- dinates from Karachi to Mumbai, and kept in contact with their handlers in Pakistan via the satellite phone given to Khan.16 Accord- ing to a log the attackers kept, the trawler reached a point 4 nautical miles off Mumbai’s coast at approximately 16:00 hours on 26 Nov- ember.17 They waited until nightfall and then slit Captain Solanki’s throat.18 The fidayeen then abandoned the MV Kuber for an inflat- able dingy. While they were in the process of doing so, another boat came close to theirs’. Believing it was the Indian navy, all of the men jumped quickly into the dingy. Crucially for investigators, they left the satellite phone behind and forgot to open the sea valve, which would have scuttled the Kuber and with it much of the evi- dence eventually used to prove Lashkar’s involvement.19 Once on board the dingy, the attackers traveled to Badhwar Park Jetty, where they had been instructed to dock. On the night of 26 Novem- ber they moored in Mumbai.

After alighting the ten men broke into five pre-arranged teams, one of which pushed back out to sea for the short journey by boat to the Trident-Oberoi Hotel at Nariman point. The other four teams split up and took taxis to different locations. Two of the teams planted IEDs, timed to explode later in the evening, inside their taxis. Another three IEDs were planted at locations along the routes taken from Badhwar Park to various targets. These too were timed to explode later in the evening, but either failed to detonate or were rendered inoperative by the Indian bomb squad.20 Causing multiple explosions at various locations was intended to create confusion and give the impression of a larger strike force.21

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab [a.k.a. Abu Mujahid] from Farid- kot and Ismail Khan [a.k.a. Abu Ismail] from Dera Ismail Khan traveled to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, headquarters of India’s Central Railways. The two removed their weapons from the bags they carried, began firing indiscriminately and lobbing gre- nades. When Kasab was later asked by police at the hospital who he was meant to kill, he replied, ‘Whoever was there.’22 One boy who survived the carnage said that when a Muslim man began praying out loud the gunmen promptly shot him down.23 The two terrorists rampaged relatively unchallenged for almost ninety min- utes. A police officer present at the time has since stated that he and his poorly-armed colleagues initially hid for cover. When three of them decided to challenge the gunmen, they did so with only one bolt-action rifle and one pistol among them. Several were gunned down and the killing continued until better-armed police arrived.24

By the time Kasab and Khan fled the railway station they had mur- dered fifty-two people and wounded more than 100, making this team responsible for approximately one third of the total deaths during the close to sixty hour siege of Mumbai.25

The two men fled the terminus as additional police arrived, rather than holding their ground and fighting to the death. They looked for a taxi or car to commandeer outside the CST, but under fire from police arriving on the scene instead made their way to the Cama & Albless Hospital for woman and children. Finding many of the rooms locked, they abandoned the hospital. Meanwhile more police were speeding to the scene. Among them was Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and two other senior commanders. They had four additional policemen with them. The commanders had made repeated calls for backup, but it never came and the seven men drove to the hospital alone hoping to cut off the terror- ists’ escape. As they neared the hospital, their vehicle suddenly came under heavy fire from the two fidayeen. None of the seven escaped the fusillade of bullets. Kasab and Khan pulled the three wounded commanders from the front, and drove off with the four wounded or dead policemen still in the rear. Karkare and his two colleagues lay dying near the hospital—200 yards from police head- quarters. All three were dead by the time additional police reached the scene.26 Following another vehicle-born gunfight, the fidayeen hijacked a civilian vehicle, but soon confronted a police barricade where Khan was killed in an exchange of gunfire. A wounded Kasab pretended to surrender, before pulling out his rifle and kill- ing another policeman. Several other officers overpowered Kasab and beat him unconscious.

Not long after Kasab and Khan commenced their killing spree at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Shoaib [a.k.a. Abu Shoheb] from Sialkot and Nazir Ahmad [a.k.a. Abu Umer] from Faisalabad walked into the Leopold Café and Bar. It is one of Mumbai’s best- known bars, and a popular hangout for foreigners. The two-man team confirmed with the staff that they were in the right place, and spent the next several minutes laughing with one another. Sud- denly one of them pulled a grenade from his bag and threw it toward a table of patrons.27 Several minutes of indiscriminate firing followed, during which time the gunmen stopped only to reload. After killing eleven people and wounding another twenty-eight the two left and ran toward the Taj Mahal Hotel located several hun- dred yards away.28

A Mumbai icon, the Taj Hotel has two wings: the Heritage Wing and the Taj Towers. At approximately the same time as the attack on the Leopold Café commenced, Hafiz Arshad [a.k.a. Abdul Reh- man Bada or Hayaji] from Multan Road and Javed [a.k.a. Abu Ali] from Okara entered the main lobby of the Taj Hotel. The two opened fire immediately and indiscriminately, killing close to twenty people within the first few minutes.29 The attackers from the Leopold arrived soon thereafter. The two teams linked up and together they moved to the sixth floor of the Heritage Wing. The terrorists at the Taj, as well as those who attacked the Trident- Oberoi and the Chabad House, were in touch with handlers in Pakistan via their own cell phones as well as those taken from hos- tages and victims. At the Taj, the fidayeen contacted Lashkar han- dlers in Pakistan as soon as the two teams had linked up. They were directed to start a fire immediately. Video shows that instead of doing so the fidayeen spent several minutes wandering around the luxury hotel in awe. During a follow-up call to check on the status of the fire, one of the Lashkar fidayeen responded with non- sequiturs about their palatial surroundings: ‘There are computers here with thirty inch screens’ and ‘The windows are huge. It’s got two kitchens, a bath and a little shop.’30 Their Lashkar handler kept pushing for a fire, which was intended to propel potential hostages from their rooms. It would also draw media to the scene and make for great theater. One handler told the gunmen that the Taj was the most important target, and pictures of the iconic hotel engulfed in flames have since become an enduring image of the Mumbai attacks.31

As with the Trident-Oberoi and Chabad House, each discussed below, a hostage situation developed at the Taj. Most of the thirty- six people who were killed throughout the course of what became a three-day siege died during the initial onslaught.32 Many guests locked themselves in their own or other people’s rooms; others hid along with hotel staff in common areas. The attackers phoned ran- dom hotel rooms to narrow their search, while hotel staff did the same, warning guests to lock their doors, switch off the lights and not to flush the toilet or make any other sounds. One guest recounted receiving received three calls, which he did not answer, and subsequently discovered two came from terrorists checking to see if the room was occupied.33

The Trident-Oberoi Hotel also has two wings. Immediately after entering the Trident wing, Abdul Rehman Chhota [a.k.a. Saakib] from Multan Road and Fahadullah from Kasoor Road began firing indiscriminately before detonating an IED in the hotel’s tea lounge.34 The two gunmen killed or wounded a number of people in the hotel’s Tiffin restaurant, before rounding up hostages and heading to the Oberoi wing of the hotel. Among their hostages were two Muslims, a husband and wife from Turkey. Obeying instruc- tions not to kill Muslims at the hotels, the gunmen spared the Turks telling them ‘No kill. You brothers.’ A Lashkar handler later instructed the fidayeen to kill their remaining hostages, all of whom were women.35   One of the attackers at the Trident-Oberoi also phoned the news media and, claiming there were seven terrorists in the building, demanded that India release all the imprisoned mujahideen in return for the hostages.36 This contributed to confu- sion among the authorities about the number of terrorists they faced and the nature of the operation; i.e. whether it was a hostage situation or a mass casualty attack. Seventeen hours elapsed before Indian forces retook control of the hotel and killed the two terrorists who, by then, had murdered thirty-five people.37 Fahadullah took refuge in a bathroom after his partner was killed. It took several phone calls from a Lashkar handler before he was ready to emerge for a final showdown. During those conversations, recorded by Indian intelligence, Fahadullah was told he mustn’t allow himself to be arrested. ‘For your mission to end successfully,’ his handler sternly reminded him, ‘you must be killed.’38

The Chabad House is as obscure as the Taj Mahal and Trident- Oberoi hotels are famous. Formerly known as Nariman House, it was purchased in 2006 by the Chabad Liberation Movement of Hasidic Jews and subsequently renamed. A rabbi lived there along with his family and the building generally accommodated Jewish tourists, especially Americans and Israelis, visiting India. One of Lashkar’s handlers in Pakistan told the attackers that because this was a Jewish target, every person killed there was equal to fifty killed at the other targets.39 Immediately after breaching the build- ing, Nasir [a.k.a. Abu Omar] from Faisalabad and Imran Babar [a.k.a. Abu Aakasha] from Multan killed Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who together managed the Chabad House. The fidayeen also killed two guests. Imran took Rabbi Holtzberg’s mobile phone and called an Indian television channel. He claimed credit for the attacks on behalf of the Deccan Mujahideen, a phony group ostensibly comprised of Indian Muslims and concocted to hide Lashkar’s involvement.40 A Lashkar communications specialist also sent an email from Pakistan on behalf of the fictitious group warning the government to ‘stop the continuing injustice against the Muslims’ and demanding it ‘return all the states seized from the Muslims.’41

The fidayeen kept two women as hostages, and once news of Kasab’s arrest was reported their potential value increased. From a Lashkar command center in Pakistan Sajid Mir directed the terror- ists to force one of the women to call the Israeli consulate in the hopes that the Israeli government could secure Kasab’s release.42

She was also made to give a status update directly to Sajid who, speaking in fluent English, promised he would release her and the other hostage in exchange for Kasab. He even suggested she might be free by the beginning of the weekend, in time to ‘celebrate your Sabbath with your family.’43 However, by the night of the second day, it was becoming apparent that India was not about to release Kasab and Lashkar handlers in Pakistan did not want to risk the chance that the hostages might get away should the fidayeen come under attack. The gunmen were ordered to kill the hostages, all of whom were dead by the time Indian forces assaulted the building. The Holtzbergs’ maidservant, who managed to hide from the attackers, escaped with the couple’s two-year old son.

In total, 166 civilians and security personnel were killed and 304 were injured.44 The attacks dragged on for almost three days, pro- longing Lashkar’s moment in the spotlight and embarrassing the Indian security forces. Dividing their forces and moving from target to target had created the impression of a larger strike force, which the fidayeen fed by inflating their numbers in calls to the press. Erroneous media reporting subsequently overestimated the actual size of the fidayeen squad. The one major cost associated with the use of multiple strike teams was that the small size of each limited their capacity when engaged by well-armed Indian forces. This also helped minimize the body count in the hotels where potential vic- tims were able to disperse and hide. The number of dead easily could have been much higher at the hotels considering the length of the operation and large number of potential victims present. Because terrorism is a form of expressive violence intended to induce reper- cussions far beyond those immediately victimized by it, the opera- tional success of the Mumbai attacks cannot be measured by body account alone. The fact that they were so successful owed partly to a seriously flawed Indian counter-terrorism response.

US officials issued several warnings to their Indian counterparts about various aspects of the attack. The first came in early 2008 and contained general intelligence regarding Lashkar’s ambition to strike Mumbai. A second, more specific, warning followed in May 2008 and included information that the Taj might be a target. A third alert regarding the Taj was issued in September, at approxi- mately the time when the attacks initially were intended to take place. Finally, on 18 November, days before the fidayeen finally set sail, US officials issued a warning to India about a suspicious vessel believed to pose a potential maritime threat.45 RAW immediately disseminated a specific advisory to the coast guard requesting it intensify patrols and look out for suspicious vessels, most likely of Pakistani origin. However, the MV Kuber blended in with the thou- sands of other Indian-registered fishing vessels.46 Monitoring an expansive coastline is a challenge facing many littoral states, but this was compounded by a dearth of resources necessary for coastal surveillance. The committee that investigated the attacks found the Maharashtra government took no significant measures to improve coastal security despite repeated alerts.47 There were fewer than 100 boats guarding over 5,000 miles of shoreline at the time of the attacks, and Maharashtra State had refused money set aside by the central government for the purchase of twenty-six additional ves- sels because it lacked the funds necessary for maintenance.48

India was hardly the first country to have prior warning of a ter- rorist attack and yet remain powerless to stop it. Connecting the dots is always easier in hindsight. More troubling was the degree to which the various security forces in India were unprepared to respond to the attacks once they began. After the September warn- ing, hotel security and the police implemented limited security measures at the Taj. However, no significant steps were taken to harden its perimeter or increase police vigilance and the temporary security enhancements were lifted weeks before the attacks. The police admitted they did not have the overall manpower to main- tain a presence, nor were the personnel they could have posted at the hotels trained to deal with a terrorist attack.49 This was borne out during the assault. As first responders, the Mumbai police were wholly unprepared to deal with the situation. To begin with, there simply were not enough of them. Ajai Sahni, a terrorism analyst based in Delhi, had been criticizing India’s low police-to-population ratio since well before the 2008 attacks. The United Nations recom-mends, on average, 250 police per 100,000 citizens for normal, peacetime policing. India, which is forced to contend with numer- ous active insurgencies, had approximately 125 police per 100,000 people as of 2007, or half of the recommended number. Most police officers did not have the proper weaponry or body armor to con- tend with the threat posed by well-trained and well-armed com- mandos. Many of them were unarmed and some of those who initially responded to the attacks were equipped with 0.303 bolt- action rifles, similar to those the British army used in the 1950s. Most officers also had only a 5mm plastic protector—useful as riot gear—rather than bullet-resistant vests.50

Local army units arrived five hours after the attacks began. The Marine Commandos [Marcos], who were the first special response team on site, got there soon afterwards. However, they pulled out before engaging. An Indian cabinet minister proclaimed that 200 National Security Guard Commandos [known as the NSG, or Black Cats because of their uniforms] would be deployed in the next two hours. Because Lashkar handlers were monitoring the news from Pakistan and communicating with the attackers in Mumbai, this enabled them to provide two key pieces of information to the fiday- een.51 The terrorists were now aware that no special operators were active in the area and, based on those operators’ scheduled arrival, they also knew when to expect a rescue mission to begin.

The NSG, modeled on the British Special Air Service [SAS] and created for this type of counter-terrorism operation, did not arrive until 08:50 the next day. Their tardiness exposed inadequate plan- ning and logistical capabilities. First, the NSG were headquartered in Delhi and at the time of the attacks had no bases anywhere else in the country.52 Nor did they have an aircraft dedicated to round- the-clock transport in the event of an attack. The only plane avail- able that night was a Russian transport carrier located 165 miles north of Delhi. Additional time was lost because the pilot needed to be woken, the crew assembled and the plane fueled before it could even take off. By the time it arrived in Delhi to take the NSG to Mumbai it was already 02:00. Despite the fact that a commercial flight takes 2 hours from Delhi to Mumbai, the NSG transport took 3.5 hours. 53

Most counter-terrorism experts assert that a rapid-reaction force must be on site within thirty minutes. The NSG arrived almost a full twelve hours after the first shots were fired. It was almost another hour before they were able to begin search-and-rescue activities. By the time they engaged, most of the hostages who were killed at the two hotels and the Chabad House had been dead for hours.54 The standoff, however, continued. This owed in part to poor operational planning. Despite all of the time it took the NSG commandos to travel to Mumbai, they reportedly were never informed at any point during the trip that two hotels were under attack. The commandos arrived believing it was only one. Nor were they told that the floors at the Oberoi encircled an atrium, enabling the terrorists to assume vantage points on higher floors and fire on those entering the building. Yet the Mumbai police, army and Mar- cos were all on the ground and so could have transmitted this infor- mation to the NSG commandos in advance of their arrival.55 The army had even established an operations hub, which should have facilitated information sharing, but it was never converted into a joint operations center. Nor did the NSG set up an operational com- mand center of its own to coordinate the rescue mission, leaving commandos to storm the hotels without adequate real-time intelli- gence. Inadequate equipment also constrained their operational choices, as the lack of night vision goggles and thermal-imaging systems meant they could only operate during daylight hours.56 The NSG commandos charged with securing the Taj also had only one electronic-swipe master key, and it took NSG teams up to five min- utes to open or force there way into each room.57

Before they could even begin an assault on the Chabad House surrounding buildings had to be cleared. The NSG did not have the authority to do this and so the Mumbai Police were called in. Local residents opened their homes to those being temporarily displaced, but the process took almost an entire day.58 When operations did begin at the Chabad House none of the authorities involved stopped the television media from broadcasting the assault live. This was despite the fact that the NSG, intelligence agencies and Mumbai police all knew that the terrorists were in contact with Lashkar handlers who were watching Indian television and relaying operationally useful information. When an Indian air force heli- copter air-dropped NSG commandos on the roof of the Chabad House, the terrorists inside were ready for it. They waited patiently on the fourth floor and opened fire as the commandos descended, killing one of them.59

Yet, as confused as the Indian counter-terrorism response was, the investigative pieces of this savage puzzle fell quickly into place. Despite the communications claiming credit on behalf of the Dec- can Mujahideen, the attacks had all the hallmarks of a Lashkar operation. Even as many Western pundits reflexively pointed the finger at al-Qaeda during the first days of the attacks, Indian inves- tigators were compiling a strong case against Lashkar. Evidence came to light over a period of time, but it did not take long before India could credibly claim that the attacks originated on Pakistani soil and that Lashkar was the most likely culprit. A thoroughly pre-planned attack would have required no contact, but Lashkar’s leaders may have foreseen the need to provide guidance and encour- agement to the fidayeen. The group has a history of using electronic communications to increase command-and-control, stretching back to the 1990s when commanders in Pakistan directed foot soldiers in their attacks on security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir. Lashkar’s leadership may have wagered that the benefits of main- taining contact with the fidayeen, some of who did waver once in the midst of battle, outweighed the potential costs. Lashkar han- dlers in Pakistan were speaking with the fidayeen via a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service, which uses the internet as a medium of communication and is difficult to trace. However, Indian intel- ligence was able to lock onto the VoIP number, at which point they could listen to all of the calls being made. Some 284 calls were recorded totaling almost 1,000 minutes of conversation among Lashkar’s handlers and the terrorists at the Taj, Trident-Oberoi and Chabad House.60 Within hours of the attacks’ commencement, those listening heard one of the Lashkar fidayeen describe how they failed to scuttle the MV Kuber.61 The coast guard found the aban- doned trawler the next morning, and with it a wealth of informa- tion including the forgotten satellite phone, which contained contact numbers for several Lashkar leaders.62

Capturing Kasab alive was another breakthrough, and it enabled Indian authorities quickly to build a compelling case. A video filmed by Indian police shows him lying on a hospital trolley on the first night of the attacks, confessing to his membership of Lashkar and to the group’s responsibility for the attacks.63   In addition to identifying the operational masterminds, Kasab provided an in depth description of how the team prepared for the attacks and the instructions they were given. Kasab later retracted his confession, only to reaffirm it unsolicited and in more detail before a magis- trate.64 Rama Vijay Sawant Vagule, the magistrate to whom Kasab confessed, testified that he volunteered his confession and was given several days to reconsider before doing so.65 Kasab also offered a verbal confession in open court, speaking for several hours about his training with Lashkar and role in the attacks. The media published parts of this verbal confession, which were strikingly similar in detail to the account Kasab gave to the magistrate.66 He later retracted these confessions too, but in May 2010 the court in Mum- bai found him guilty on all charges, sentencing him to death on multiple counts and awarding life in prison on several more.67

The government of Pakistan initially denied that Lashkar or any other Pakistani played a role in the attacks, despite the mounting evidence. This position became particularly tenuous when a jour- nalist in Pakistan broke the story within weeks of the attacks that proved Kasab was from Faridkot. The report also alleged that the security services had spirited away his parents from their village and were feeding misinformation to reporters looking for evidence of his origins.68 Despite this report and subsequent new stories reconfirming Kasab’s identity, Pakistani officials continued to stonewall.69 In early January, India handed over to Pakistan the first of numerous dossiers containing evidence of the involvement of Pakistanis. The dossier included information on interrogations, weapons and data gleaned from satellite phones used by the sus- pects. India said the material proved Pakistan-based militants had plotted and executed the attacks.70 Pakistani Interior Minister Reh- man Malik admitted that part of the planning occurred in Pakistan. He also confirmed Kasab was a Pakistani national, but initially declined to confirm the identities of the other nine terrorists. Malik announced Pakistan was seeking additional information from India and said all the accused who were in Pakistan would be tried there, rather than extradited.71 Six months after receiving India’s first dos- sier and only days before the prime ministers of the two countries met at a summit of non-aligned countries in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Pakistan presented its own dossier to India. It contained the first official admission that Pakistani nationals from Lashkar were responsible for planning and executing the Mumbai attacks.72 The group had undertaken or supported many attacks against India over the years, but the target selection and operational theatrics meant that Mumbai was like no other it ever perpetrated. What still remained unanswered was what led Lashkar to stage such a terrorist spectacular.

Making Sense of Mumbai

The Director General of the ISI, Shuja Pasha, reportedly sought to answer this question when he visited Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi in jail following the latter’s detention in the wake of the attacks.73 The picture that emerges is one of a more modest operation in the works for some time, which rapidly expanded at the end as a result of internal dynamics. David Headley, the Pakistani-American who conducted surveillance for the Mumbai attacks, has provided the most thorough accounting to date of how the plan developed. US authorities arrested Headley in October 2009 in connection with another terrorist plot, and he agreed to cooperate in order to avoid the death penalty in America and extradition to India.74 Investiga- tors from India’s National Investigation Agency interrogated Head- ley for thirty-four hours in the presence of his lawyers and officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in early June 2010. This section draws heavily on the testimony he gave to them, which places significant explanatory power in the hands of one witness. Nevertheless, it is a thorough insider account of how Lashkar planned the Mumbai attacks and one which US and Indian officials told the author they have corroborated through other evidence, including Headley’s travel records, Kasab’s testimony, communica- tions intercepts and various intelligence sources.

© Stephen Tankel, 2011

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