Mumbai Terror Investigation Leads to Pakistan’s “Epicenter of Terrorism”

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 42

Two weeks after the deadly Mumbai terrorist incidents which claimed 164 lives, including security forces personnel and foreign nationals, Indian investigating agencies have been struggling to unearth a terror trail that appears to point directly towards neighboring Pakistan.

In one of the most prolonged and deadly terrorist attacks the country has ever seen, at least ten Muslim terrorists entered Mumbai on November 26 using sea routes to perpetrate mindless carnage at several places, including the main railway station, a hospital and two luxury hotels. The terrorists holed up in three South Mumbai buildings – the Taj Mahal hotel, the Oberoi-Trident hotel and the Nariman House (a Jewish center), taking guests and inmates as hostage. After a fierce 60 hour long operation, India’s elite security forces rescued most of the hostages while killing nine terrorists and capturing one. The sole prisoner was identified as Muhammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, a resident of Okara, Pakistan and presently in the custody of the Mumbai Police.

An unknown militant group, the Deccan Mujahideen, claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks. The same group also issued a threat to blow up major airports across the country a week after the Mumbai events (Financial Express [Mumbai], December 4). However, for some time now this name-game has been a part of an attempt by Pakistan-based terror groups to give a homegrown Indian flavor to the ongoing jihadi terrorism in the region. In the last few years, names like Lashkar-e-Qahar, Indian Mujahideen, Tehriq-e-Qasas and Inquilabi Mahaz have been floated, perhaps to divert attention from the Pakistan-based terror groups.

Interrogations and circumstantial evidence suggest the complicity of a Pakistan-based and Kashmir-centric Islamist group, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Meanwhile, Mumbai police have released photos of the terrorists and traced their place of origin to Pakistan’s Punjab province, based on the evidence gathered and the confession of Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist (Times of India, December 9). Three of the ten terrorists were from Okara, three were from Multan, two were from Faisalabad, and one each from Sialkot and Dera Ismail Khan.

The probe so far has pointed to four LeT operatives. The “masterminds” are identified as Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, who was seized by Pakistani police after a raid on a LeT camp in Kashmir, and Yusuf Muzammil, whose current whereabouts are unknown. Based on the results of police interrogations, two individuals identified as Abu Hamza and Khafa have been named as trainers who provided maritime lessons and training in the handling of explosives and weapons (Times of India, December 6; Daily Times [Lahore], December 12). According to Rakesh Maria, the Joint Commissioner of Police and a lead investigator in the Mumbai attacks, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD, a charity and front organization for LeT) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed was also involved with Lakhvi, Hamza and Kahfa in the Mumbai plot, from planning to execution (Press Trust of India, December 10). Earlier, government sources claimed that the investigators had “incontrovertible proof” of the names of the ISI handlers and trainers and the locations in Pakistan where the terrorist training was carried out. Police also claimed to have recovered some of terrorists’ communications through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) (The Hindu, December 5). With the help of foreign investigating agencies, especially the FBI, Mumbai police tracked the VoIP number brought from Orlando, Florida, which was used by the terrorists to talk to Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, who is currently under detention in Pakistan along with 20 other LeT and Jaysh-e-Mohammed operatives (Indian Express, December 10).

The fishing trawler in which the terrorists reached the Mumbai coast, the MV Kuber, had an inventory of items that established a Pakistani hand in the attacks, including wheat flour, dental gel and shaving cream all bearing “Made in Pakistan” tags. The Thuraya satellite phone recovered from the abandoned trawler contained records of a conversation between LeT chief Yusuf Muzammil, based in the Kashmiri city of Muzafarabad, and an individual known as Yahya, believed to be a point man for the LeT and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) in Bangladesh. Yahya reportedly arranged SIM (subscriber identity module) cards and fake ID cards, primarily from countries like Mauritius, the UK, the United States and Australia. The satellite phone also has records of calls traced to Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi in Jalalabad in Afghanistan (Times of India, November 30).

Interrogation of the lone surviving terrorist has revealed details of LeT training camps in Danna, Abdul-Bin-Masud, Mangla Dam, Akas, Um-Al-Qura, Badli and Muzafarabad in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. Mumbai’s Crime Branch denied the involvement of more than ten terrorists in these multiple attacks, adding that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks were trained at four places inside Pakistan: Manshera, Muridke, Muzafarabad and Karachi (Daily News and Analysis [Mumbai], December 7).

Tausif Rehman and Mukhtar Ahmed (the latter a constable and former police informant) were two suspects apprehended in Kolkata and New Delhi, respectively, for their alleged role in supplying mobile SIM cards to the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks (The Hindu, December 6). Investigating agencies have also tied two Indian men, Fahim Ansari and his close associate Sabahuddin Ahmed, to the Mumbai attacks. Ansari allegedly carried out reconnaissance missions in Mumbai and was arrested last February with a number of maps highlighting Mumbai landmarks in his possession. Both Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed have been in detention in Uttar Pradesh since their arrest in February in connection with a LeT attack on a police post in the Rampur district (Times of India, December 12).

There was certainly a massive intelligence failure that allowed terrorists to hit Mumbai while evading all security points. Officials at India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), claim to have sent relevant intelligence inputs to other security agencies, including the Mumbai Police, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and the Coast Guard prior to the attack. In return, Indian Coast Guard sources pointed fingers at the spy agency while describing how terrorists spread false information and managed to divert Coast Guard and Naval ships in the wrong direction to enter Indian territory by sea. Mumbai police and the IB also have refuted RAW’s claims of prior warning (CNN-IBN, December 3; Press Trust of India, December 3; for the Indian intelligence agencies, see Terrorism Monitor, March 24).

However, the ensuing blame game among security and intelligence agencies over “actionable inputs” notwithstanding, the newly appointed Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, has admitted that there were intelligence and security lapses and has vowed to bring in a stringent anti-terror law, establish a federal investigating agency, and provide modernization packages for police and intelligence agencies to prevent future attacks by terrorists. He also vowed to introduce bills to strengthen the legal provisions relating to the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of terrorist acts ( December 11).

Meanwhile the United Nations Security Council’s Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee imposed sanctions on Jamaat-ud-Dawa as well as Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and three others individuals, including Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Haji Muhammad Ashraf (the Jamaat’s chief of finance) and Mahmoud Ahmed Bahaziq (Times of India, December 11). Under international pressure, Pakistan has initiated a crackdown against JuD’s establishments in Punjab province and its central office in Lahore (Geo TV News, December 12).

With the wealth of evidence available, the federal government and the investigating agencies, including the Anti-Terrorist Squad and the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police, are confident in making a strong case against the Pakistan-based terrorist groups and their patrons in order to expose to the international community what Indian politicians have taken to describing as Pakistan’s “epicenter of terror.”