December 14, 2008 11:04:20 pm
By Sagnik Chowdhury
As security agencies attempt to piece together the plot and identify the key players behind the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, the investigations hinge largely on the information provided by Ajmal Ameer Kasab, the only terrorist—of the ten who landed on Mumbai’s shores—caught alive.
Kasab, who belongs to Faridkot village in Okara district of Punjab province in Pakistan, is currently in the custody of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, and the details he divulged on his indoctrination and training point a finger at the Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan.
Educated till class IV in a government school, Kasab left his native village in 2000 to stay with his elder brother who worked on a farm in Lahore. The 21-year-old worked there as a casual labourer for some time and stayed in touch with his parents, Mohammed Ameer (46) and Noor Elahi (34), occasionally visiting his village.
In 2005, however, Kasab had a fight with his parents and walked out of his home, taking to robbery and dacoity to earn money. Kasab’s recruitment into the terror fold began in mid-2006 when he wanted to buy a firearm and was asked to contact an LeT operative in Rawalpindi. It was through this contact that he was introduced to top leaders in the terror outfit and radicalised through sustained indoctrination by Zaqi-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Kasab has told interrogators that the ten terrorists were handpicked from a larger group and that they attended training camps at Mansera, Muridke, Muzaffarabad and a location near Karachi. Top LeT operatives, identified as Abu Hamza—said to be involved in the December 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore—and Kahafa were in charge of their training.
“Kahafa was a sort of course co-ordinator and was constantly shepherding the group. Hamza was involved during the advanced training in firearms and explosives,” says Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria, the officer in charge of the investigations.
LeT commander Hafiz Saeed too visited the group during their training. According to the Crime Branch, several of the handlers at the different training camps were names that had been dropped by arrested operatives of the Indian Mujahideen when grilled about their training in Pakistan.
The LeT operatives chosen for the operation attended a general training camp called Daura-e-Aam, a more rigorous one called Daura-e-Khasa, survival training, intelligence training known as Daura-e-Ribat and explosives training. For the last three months of their training, the ten were kept away from all other operatives and were trained in marine operations to prepare them to reach Mumbai by sea. It was during this last arduous phase of training that the men—grouped in pairs—were briefed about their specific targets in the city. While Kasab was given the code name Abu Mujahid, the other nine terrorists were given the names Abu Ismael, Abdul Rehman (Bada), Abu Ali, Soheb, Abu Umer, Abu Umar, Abu Akasha, Abdul Rehman (Chhota) and Abu Fahad.
According to investigators, the Daure-e-Aam training programme lasted for 21 days and began with offering tahjud ki namaaz, fazr ki namaaz and physical exercises in the morning. This was followed by breakfast and then a training session in weapons such as the AK-47, automatic pistols and other firearms, as well as in handling grenades. Besides, there were preachings on the Quran, Hadith and lessons on jihad. After offering the prayers of namaaz-e-maghrib and namaaz-e-esha, the groups were made to keep night vigil at different security vantage points in the camp. After the completion of this training, the operatives were given several rounds of firing practice with AK-47 guns.
Trained to survive
The initial training was followed by three months of Daura-e-Khasa. The recruits were trained in dismantling and assembling weapons, in firing, in the use of maps, compass, GPS and live exercises in several guerilla warfare techniques. Training on hideouts, raids, ambushes, storage of weapons and survival training, which included a stay in a forest without food and water for over 50 hours, was also imparted. The intelligence training or Daura-e-Ribat involved lectures on propaganda, intelligence gathering, agent handlers, sub-agents, sabotage, raising agents in an enemy country, surveillance, briefing and debriefing of an agent, rendezvous spots and coded writing.
The next stage of training was a one-month course in preparing improvised explosive devices and detonators. The operatives are trained in the use of chemicals like lead azide, silver azide, mercury filament, hexamine-peroxide and other locally available materials.
Preparing for Mumbai
During the last stage of training, the terrorists were provided training in sea navigation, using inflatable motor-powered dinghies and hijacking routines. Photographs and videos of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway station, Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi-Trident hotels and Nariman House were shown to them. The police are now probing whether the photographs and videos shown to them were the ones taken by LeT operative Fahim Arshad Ansari alias Abu Zarar, who was arrested by the UP Special Task Force in February for the attack on the CRPF centre in Rampur.
The ten terrorists chosen for the suicide squad were also instructed on what directions to give taxi drivers while asking to be taken to the targets. They were provided bogus Indian student ID cards of colleges in different cities, and were asked to dress in western wear to look like students. They were even asked to wear a red string around their wrists to appear as Hindus.
On November 22, when they were about to set sail from Pakistan on the vessel Al Hussaini, Lakhvi again met the group to wish them luck and see them off. “They were told to create an international incident and fire indiscriminately causing the maximum deaths possible. They were also instructed to take hostages in order to ensure that the gun battles could be prolonged,” says Maria.
According to Kasab, the ten terrorists were kept in a room below the deck of Al Hussaini and it was here that they got to know each other’s real identities as well as the different targets assigned to the sub-groups. Kasab has told the police that after a considerable span of time, he and the other nine terrorists felt a thud on the hull of the boat and were called up to the deck. There, they saw four men getting onto Al Hussaini from a trawler (identified as MV Kuber) and they themselves boarded the trawler keeping the ‘sarang’ of the boat (identified as Amar Singh Solanki) hostage. Abu Ismael led the entire group and was in charge of handling the GPS. A diary recovered from Kuber also contains a duty list and schedule for the ten, with two of them on guard duty at any given time.
On reaching a spot about four nautical miles from Mumbai’s coastline, the terrorists slit Solanki’s throat. They inflated their brand new dinghy that had been painted to appear old, and hugged each other. According to Kasab, they did not say a word to each other on the last leg of their journey to Badhwar Park where they got into four taxis and headed to their destinations. Each was carrying an explosive device weighing approximately 8 kg.
Kasab and his partner Ismail Khan alias Abu Ismael wreaked havoc at the CST railway station, before heading to Cama Hospital and the Special Branch office. They were accosted by state Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar in a police vehicle at Rang Bhawan. The duo opened fire, killing the three officers and hijacking the vehicle. Kamte, who managed to fire rounds at the terrorists using an AK-47, injured Kasab in both his palms, which prevented him from firing. This ultimately helped in nabbing him alive during an encounter at Girgaum Chowpatty in which Abu Ismael was killed.
Presently in police custody, Kasab has written a letter which he wants the police to send to his parents. “In the letter, he tells his parents that he was misled, and asks them to warn all the young boys in his village to not fall prey to bad influences like he did,” says Maria.
‘Doctors check his health every 48 hours’
By Smita Nair
A bullet injury is all it took for Ajmal Ameer Kasab to panic, police believe. The wound suffered by him during the attack against top cops Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar got him “completely frantic and panicky”. After the shootout, he fled with his accomplice Ismail Khan, carjacking a Skoda and looking for some “quick first-aid at gun point” on the way.
Since the car was intercepted and Kasab arrested after the encounter on Marine Drive, he has been in the custody of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch and has been questioned by a host of security agencies including some from abroad. Officers say there has not been even the “slightest indication of remorse” in Kasab’s words or attitude over the manner in which he is said to have killed people.
Due to fears over his security, the investigators have ended up becoming his protectors. Over the last two weeks, he has been moved several times between various Crime Branch lock-ups to ensure that his location remains a secret. Even the remand hearing for his police custody was held in the lock-up on Thursday.
The first bits of information he revealed included the route the 10 men took to reach Mumbai and the presence of the body of the captain of the fishing trawler Kuber in the engine room of the boat. Thereafter, it took many “Crime Branch techniques of interrogation” to make him sing. Now, he apparently even wants to communicate with his family through a letter.
Doctors visit Kasab to check his health every 48 hours and he is served the “same old food given to any criminal”—mixed vegetable, rotis and dal. But officers ensure that every dish served to him is tasted thrice by their own men. Three Crime Branch officers take turns to question him and Kasab gets sufficient breaks to “de-stress”.
“He is a fidayeen and a trained Lashkar man,” said a senior officer who has questioned Kasab. “He came here to die and kill and take as many people with him as he could.”
A senior Crime Branch officer said it was ironic that “he came prepared for death, but could not handle an injury, and today remains the only one alive to tell the story of those dead.”
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