‘The Mumbai ATS is a brand new force today’

The Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad came in for a lot of flak post 26/11 since many believe this high profile police unit was caught napping by the attacks. The ATS also lost its chief Hemant Karkare in the terror assault.
ATS Chief K P S Raghuvanshi tells rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa that the Squad is now fully equipped to take on any eventuality.

Is there a difference in the ATS post 26/11?

There is a huge difference. A lot of thought went into upgrading the force following the Mumbai attacks. I would say that today we are a brand new force fully equipped to fight any aggression.

What makes the ATS different?

The Force One team has given the ATS a big boost. There are several commandos who are trained to fight terrorist groups and equipped with state-of-the-art arms and ammunition. We do not want this force to be lacking in anything. They are being constantly trained.

How will this force operate?

This is a force exclusively dedicated to fighting terrorism. The commandos are specifically trained to fight terrorists. However, I would not like to go into further details. There are certain technical details which are confidential in nature. Revealing such details would not be in the best interest of internal security.

Can you provide Mumbaikars an assurance that a 26/11 type attack will never occur thanks to all these measures that you have undertaken?

We are doing everything under the sun to prevent such attacks. But we must never underestimate the opponent. I am not aware of the strength of the opponent and we don’t want to take any chances. All I want to say is that we are in a much better position to take on the enemy.

You have spoken a lot about the might of the Mumbai police. But you must be aware that there was a lack of coordination where intelligence was concerned. You had once said that the ATS would have a separate intelligence wing. What is the status of this?

I had said earlier that the ATS would have a separate intelligence wing. This wing will become a reality very soon. It has been approved by the government. I feel a separate intelligence gathering wing is very essential for the force to work better.

A dedicated intelligence wing would mean that this team reports to us directly. There would not be any lack of coordination or misinformation.

However, I would like to add that there is a great deal of improvement as far as sharing intelligence is concerned. We are in constant touch with the Intelligence Bureau which keeps us updated and informed about developments.

What about the terror modules in Mumbai?

I would not be able to share information on this. But there is a steep decline in the number of terror modules and cells in Mumbai. We are constantly being updated about the situation and anyone who tries to create any disturbance on our soil will not be spared or dealt with lightly.

How Headley used Rahul as a ‘cover’ for his terror plots

Vicky Nanjappa provides a glimpse of what Rahul Bhatt, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s son and a ‘witness’ in the case against David Headley, revealed during questioning.
The questioning of Rahul Bhatt, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s son, regarding his connection to American national and arrested Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley has revealed several interesting details.

Sources in the Intelligence Bureau, who were part of the team that spoke to Rahul, told rediff.com that according to Rahul’s statements it appears Headley used the celebrity child as a cover for his activities.

The IB sources said Rahul mentioned he never followed clearly what Headley was trying to say each time he made a phone call. The Lashkar suspect used words like ‘jannat’, ‘Allah,’ baraf’, ‘Mickey Mouse’ and ‘maal in his telephone conversations.’

‘I never understood what he was trying to say and I didn’t suspect that there may have been something wrong,’ Rahul told the investigators.

On several occasions, Rahul revealed that Headley had insisted he come along to both the Taj Mahal and Trident hotels. The IB sources feel that by taking along a celebrity’s son to these hotels would have allayed suspicion about Headley’s activities since the staff may have been familiar with Bhatt junior.

Rahul told the investigators that at no point did he suspect that Headley could have been into terror activities.

‘He behaved normally with me and sought help. Although he kept insisting that he wanted to spend as much time as possible at the Taj and Trident, I never went with him,’ Rahul pointed out. ‘I never realised what he was up to and neither did he discuss any of those plans with me.’

Another interesting point Rahul made is that Headley often spoken about Gregory David Roberts’s popular book on Mumbai, Shantaram. He said he was a big fan of Roberts’ and was extremely keen on visiting all the places mentioned in the book.

Headley, Rahul said, was on the phone most of the time. ‘I thought he was talking business,’ Bhatt added.

Rahul came into contact with Headley through Vilas Warak, the American’s gym instructor in Mumbai. Once that contact was made, Headley ignored Warak, the sources said.

“We are going to question the actors who were also seen with Headley and get their version so that we have a water tight case,” the sources said.

Meanwhile, investgators believe ‘Mickey Mouse’ could be code for sleeper cells.

Baraf, which means ice in Urdu, could have meant that all was well.

The targets (Taj and Trident) may have been jannat, which means ‘heaven’ in Urdu.

David Headley’s terror mission in Mumbai

David Headley, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative who was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in October, is proving to be an important link in unraveling the terror network.

Intelligence Bureau agents have informed the Mumbai police that Headley made several visits to the city. The police are now probing Headley’s links with the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, IB sources told rediff.com

According to information available with the IB, Headley visited Mumbai in 2006, 2007 and 2008. He changed his name to David Headley from Daood Gilani around 2006.

Sources say Headley traveled on a business visa; he got in touch with a US firm which specialised in creating fake visas and passports. He located a similar firm in Tardeo, central Mumbai, which helped him procure fake travel documents.

With the help of these fake documents, Headley traveled to India at least five times. During each visit, he made it a point to visit the visa agency.

Headley was present in India when the terror attacks on Mumbai was being planned and he may have been aware of such a plan, the IB sources say.

If investigations reveal that Headley activated a local module to assist the 26/11 attacks, the Mumbai police may file an additional charge-sheet detailing this link, the sources added.

IB agents suspect Headley’s brief in Mumbai was to establish a network of sleeper cells to assist terror attacks.

Headley also traveled to other states including Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, using his business visa. The FBI has revealed that Headley had conducted a reconnaissance of the National Defence College in New Delhi where he planned a terror attack.

‘There is no such thing as Hindu terrorism’

If the Mumbai Anti Terrorist Squad is to be believed, then the Hindu activists arrested in Indore were responsible for the bomb blast at Malegaon in September, which killed six people, to avenge the various acts of terror carried out in the country.

The operation undertaken by the Mumbai cops has put several Hindu groups under the scanner. The Maharashtra government has called for a ban on some Hindu groups which includes the Sanatan Sanstha.

Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil and Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar have sought a ban on the Sanstha, alleging that the organisation had played a major role in the bomb blast at Gadkari Rangaytan in Thane in June this year.

Sanatan Sanstha spokeperson Abhay Vartak spoke to rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa about the demand for the ban, Hindu terrorism and also their activities.

Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil and NCP chief Sharad Pawar have demanded a ban on the Sanatan Sanstha. What are your views on this?

It is a politically motivated move. The government wants to appease Muslims and also wants to cover up its non-performance in handling the law and order situation. Take a look at the violence incited by NCP activists in Nashik where a Vishwa Hindu Parishad office was attacked.

The Sanatan Sanstha, a non-political spiritual organisation, is an easy scapegoat. It is surprising that those who are demanding a ban have not paid any attention to the Sanatan’s activities. It has many public awareness campaigns to its credit over the last 18 years.

Does your outfit encourage Hindu terrorism?

No, we don’t encourage terrorism. We denounce the term ‘Hindu terrorism’. Our so-called secular-minded friends declare openly that terrorists have no religion. We are involved in spreading spiritualism as per the Sanatan Hindu Dharma. Obviously the philosophy we propagate is all inclusive and most tolerant.

Your activists are alleged to be involved in the Gadkari Rangaytan blast in Thane, and the Rabodi riots.

We have nothing to do with both. As far as Gadkari Rangaytan case is concerned we have already and repeatedly made our position clear by denouncing the act and helped the police investigate the case. We have nothing to do with the Rabodi riots, which was a result of Muslim aggressiveness. It is political propaganda to malign us. We have demanded proof and are getting legal advice to take action.

Your critics describe you as the Hindu equivalent of the Students Islamic Movement of India. Are you? What exactly do you do?

We are not. There is hardly any sense in it. We are involved in spreading national feelings, dreaming of an India which will show the path of peace to the world. Compare this with what SIMI aims to do. We are a Hindutvawadi spiritual organisation working in society for its spiritual upliftment. And as the spiritual truths explained by Sanatan Hindu Dharma is all inclusive, there are many non-Hindus who are doing spiritual practice as per the Sanatan’s guidance. I think this much shall be sufficient to stop comparing SIMI with us once and for all.

There has been a lot of focus on terrorism allegedly executed by Muslims, but your organisation is said to be in the forefront of encouraging Hindu terrorism. Do you believe in tit for tat?

The whole statement needs a closer look. If you take terrorism as a problem faced by this country then it is wrong to say there is a lot of focus on terrorism. Actually, there is comparatively less focus on terrorism as compared to the magnitude of the actual problem.

There is nothing called ‘Hindu terrorism’. Actually our secular friends say that terrorism is terrorism and it shall not be labeled as ‘Muslim terrorism’. We believe in firm, impartial handling of terrorism cases by the government. But the government and its political allies are not interested in doing so. The neglect of Hindu genocide in Kashmir and Afzal Guru’s case are worth noting. Despite Hindu genocide in Kashmir there is no tit for tat feeling or counter-terrorist attacks by Hindus and this clearly shows that there is no such thing as Hindu terrorism here.

Critics say the authorities are soft on Hindu terrorism, cracking down only on Muslim terrorism. Isn’t it true? How else will you explain away the inaction in the Nanded blasts, the Kanpur blasts?

There is no such a thing as Hindu terrorism so how can the government act against something which doesn’t exist?

There is a Congress government in Maharashtra and this party never is and was Hindutvawadi. In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati is in power. Better ask them this question. In Maharashtra, the police officers who have honestly worked and controlled the riots at Rabodi are facing punishment in the form of transfer and suspension. It is communalising of the police force. The media seems to have overlooked this angle.

Who do you think planted the bombs at Malegaon and Modasa?

The government agencies are there to investigate. We are not interested in wild speculation.

There have been several appeals made by the Shiv Sena and the Ram Sena in Karnataka to fight terror with an eye for an eye approach. Does the Sanatan Sanstha support this?

To the best of my knowledge, they are seeking resistance to the aggression against Hindus. Now how terror needs to be fought with the government agencies failing, needs debate.

Do you think the only way to fight terrorism is by terrorism?

Terrorism as understood generally is a physical phenomenon. But we understand a physical phenomenon doesn’t appear from nowhere. Behind any physical action there is a thought. And thought is based on beliefs and perceptions. Similarly, terrorism as a physical phenomenon is the result of ideology. An ideology is a product of faith, perceptions etc. The intellectual expression which gives rise to physical acts of terrorism needs to be countered also.

Not only this but any intellectual expression is a manifestation of a spiritual phenomenon. That also needs to be countered. We believe that better attention should be paid to these dimensions if we are considering ways to counter terrorism.

What is your take on the recent anti-Christian violence unleashed by Hindu organisations? Don’t you think such violence shames Hindus, a majority of whom do not share this violent ideology?

No one will support violence on innocents. The violence occurring in Orissa is a reaction to the killing of Swami Lakshmananada and his associates. The reaction is of the common people. Yes a majority of Hindus do not share violent ideology but the majority also don’t want conversions by force and allurement, genocide of their brethren in Kashmir, appeasement of Muslims by instruments like the Sachar report and its implementation, denigration of their deities — the list of such aggression is endless. So if one wants to curb such a physical reaction to violence then one should be willing to address the issues of aggression of various kinds that produce the reaction.

Hinduism today is rife with so many negatives. Caste has become more and more institutionalised, ill-treatment of women is still going on, illiteracy is another bane, and the tribals live beyond the pale of civilisation. Shouldn’t organisations such as yours function as social reformers, remove the negatives from the religion? What are you doing in this regard?

Before we make a list of what is bad in Hinduism, one should make an attempt to see what is good in Hinduism as well. Many things you have enlisted appear as small things blown out of proportion in this context. The issues you mentioned better be discussed individually and separately rather than branding Hinduism as a cause for what you have enlisted in general.

Whatever it is we are actively involved in dharmashikshan (educating people about Hinduism). It is this aspect which has been seriously neglected for various reasons and is an important cause of many of the problems faced by Hinduism today. Apart from this we are active in curbing malpractices in public celebrations like Ganeshostav, moral value education, educating people about stress-free life through spiritual practice. We as an organisation treat all castes and sexes as equal.

There were some photographs being circulated on the internet regarding terror training camps sponsored by the Bajrang Dal. What are your views on this?
We have not come across such a thing. If indeed such is the case then it will be a good question to ask the government authorities.

If the Union government decides to ban the Sanatan Sanstha what will you do?

We will fight the ban in a court of law and on public platforms, apart from praying to God to give some sense to the Union government.

Ilyas Kashmiri plans to spread terror in India

Dreaded terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri runs Al Qaeda’s 313 Brigade. A few weeks ago the United States declared that Kashmiri had been killed in a drone attack. However, Kashmiri resurfaced with an interview to Asia Times this week, declaring he had survived the attack.

In the interview Kashmiri said the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were nothing compared to what was really planned. While India has maintained that the attacks were masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Kashmiri’s statement has come as a surprise.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, chief of Asia Times’s Pakistan bureau who interviewed Kashmiri, told rediff.com that the 313 Brigade is Al Qaeda’s commando force which trains youth for terrorist operations.

Indian Intelligence Bureau sources suspect Kashmiri is planning terror strikes on the lines of the Mumbai attacks, but much larger in scope.

Kashmiri’s statements indicates that the 313 Brigade was involved in the Mumbai attacks. Indian intelligence sources believe that while the Lashkar undertook a major part of the operation, including identifying the terrorists who participated in the attack, the 313 Brigade was also involved.

Shahzad believes Kashmiri was in the know about the Mumbai attacks. The journalist feels the plan for the Mumbai attacks was originally conceived by a Pakistani security agency.

As a run-up to the Mumbai attacks several low profile attacks were carried out in India. Under the direction of General Ashfaq Kayani — then the Inter Services Intelligence director general; now the Pakistan army chief — low key attacks were initially planned in India. This plan continued when General Nadeem Taj took over as ISI chief after Kayani was promoted to his present position.

A few dozen terrorists were trained at the Mangla dam near Islamabad to be later sent to Gujarat from where they were to travel to Kashmir and give the militancy in that state a terror fillip. Lashkar leader Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhwi, who faces a trial for his role in the 26/11 attacks, was part of this plan.

After Al Qaeda representatives stepped in, they suggested that instead of carrying out a low-profile attack on Kashmir, Mumbai be targeted instead. Lakhwi and his ISI minders disassociated with the original plan of attacking Kashmir and decided to go ahead with the Mumbai attacks.

Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade is believed to be one of the organisations that trained the ten men who attacked Mumbai. IB sources say although Kashmiri and his terrorists are currently fighting American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, his primary interest remains India. Kashmiri, a former Pakistan army commando, fought the Indian military in Kashmir before moving on to Pakistan’s western front after 9/11.

Intelligence sources say Kashmiri is building a team to spread terror in India, the Ghazwa-e-Hind.

Shahzad points out that Kashmiri believes India will soon involve itself militarily in Afghanistan. And when that happens the Ghazwa-e-Hind will be launched with a massive terror operation across India. Although Kashmiri has fallen out with the Pakistan security establishment, Shahzad says he continues to be a bigger threat to India than to Pakistan.

Pakistani security agencies, Shahzad adds, believe that without the 313 Brigade’s expertise neither Al Qaeda nor the Pakistani Taliban [ Images ] can successfully operate in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.

‘I felt there were more than ten terrorists’

After the elite National Security Guard took over the operation against the ten terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26 last year, they neutralised the eight terrorists and took control of the Trident hotel, Nariman House and the Taj Mahal hotel.

In an interview with rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa, the NSG’s then director general J K Dutt looks back at the dilemmas, decisions and delays that the force faced during the terror attacks.

You have said that there could have been more than ten terrorists in Mumbai on the night of November 26. What prompted you to come to that conclusion?

It is for the investigating agency to verify that fact. I was the director general of the NSG at that point of time and I was just depending on the inputs given to me by the Intelligence Bureau and other police sources. I did not have independent sources with me to verify this information.

On the basis of the operations conducted by me, I feel that there were more than ten terrorists. Looking at the mayhem and havoc that was created, I felt there were more than ten terrorists.

If there were more than ten terrorists, did the NSG fail to capture them?

That is not correct. We managed to recover all the weapons and ammunition after the operation. I was told by senior officials that I needed to account for ten AK-47 rifles and we would be able to determine the number of terrorists by the number of weapons. We managed to recover all the weapons.

However, two were recovered by the police who had managed to kill one terrorist and nab another.

Since I felt there could be more, I had also told the local authorities to screen every hostage carefully, since we felt that some could have been staying as guests. Our job was to neutralise the terrorists and get the hostages out alive.

Once again, I would like to state that regarding the number of terrorists, it is best for the investigating agency to answer this question.

The report about local support to the 26/11 terrorists has been denied by the investigating agencies. What is your take on this matter?

This again is a question to be posed to the investigating agencies. I personally feel that an operation of this scale would not have been possible at all unless there was local support.

One cannot rule out this aspect at all. We were called in to neutralise the terrorists and we did our job.

Let us come to the most talked about subject at that time — the delay in the NSG team reaching Mumbai. There was also talk of an aircraft not being available. Could you please take us through what exactly happened?

Yes, I know that a big question is whether the death toll would have been lesser had the NSG reached earlier. When our team reached Mumbai, we did not know how many terrorists were there.

In fact, there was no definitive information and we were told that there may be anything between five and 30 terrorists. But that was not the main concern as irrespective of the number of terrorists, we were ready to deal with them.

Please explain why the NSG team was delayed in reaching Mumbai.

The last time the NSG was pressed into similar service was at during the Akshardham temple terror strike. There, the NSG team reached the next day, but such a hue and cry was not raised about that. Maybe because the death toll was lesser there and there was no senseless shooting going on.

The aircraft was available. We did not have a system to keep everything on standby at all times.

The aircraft had to be readied and the NSG had to carry extra arms and ammunition with it. All this had to be loaded on the aircraft and our commandos did it by themselves. This took some time.

How did the authorities in Mumbai respond? Were they late in calling in the NSG?

Initially, the Mumbai police thought it was a gang war and hence they had geared up to fight that battle. They realised it was a terrorist attack only after a while.

I would like to make one thing clear — the NSG cannot act suo motu. Law and order is completely a State subject. The NSG cannot walk into states and undertake operations on its own.

We had to await orders from the state government before we could even go to Mumbai. The siege of the city commenced at approximately 9.30 pm and we received a request at midnight. However, I had told the commandos to be ready and had already moved them to the airport, before the request came in.

After you reached Mumbai, were the state authorities helpful? There was talk about how the transport provided to the commandos was below par.
When we reached Mumbai, the buses were ready to carry us there. I know there were reports stating that we were ferried in BEST buses, but that was not my concern at all.

The fact is that there was transport to ferry us to the target spots. More importantly, after the NSG arrived, we ensured that not a single hostage was killed.

What do you think of the way the Mumbai police handled the situation, before the NSG came in?

The security forces should have pinned down the militants. It was clear that they had inadequate equipment and expertise. They had not undergone counter-terror training.

They were on the backfoot with no protective gear on their bodies and no sophisticated weapons on them.

How would you describe the 26/11 operation? Was it an easy one compared to other operations that the NSG has undertaken?

The operation was not an easy one. The Marcos (the Indian Navy’s Marine Commandos) were called in and they managed to have a brief skirmish with the terrorists at the Taj Mahal hotel.

However, when the NSG came in, there was no information as to where the terrorists were hiding within the hotels.

The first step taken by us was extremely crucial and I had it in my mind that at any cost, I did not want the commandos to become victims.

We needed cover at that point of time. When we stormed the hotels, we were aware of the fact that the terrorists could deceive us and we needed to be on our guard.

The fact is that we took time to establish contact with the terrorists, but once that was done we did not let them get out.

Has the NSG faced a tougher situation in the past?

This was an once-in-a-lifetime type of incident. I would say that this operation was unique and so was the incident. Hotels were targeted for the first time. There were hundreds of rooms. This was not an operation out in the open, where we could have cover.

It was difficult since the terrorists could have been extremely deceptive.

What was the first thing that came to your mind once the NSG landed in Mumbai?

The most important thing was to rescue the hostages. Establishing contact with the terrorists was also important. Each and every room had to be checked. We did not have exact information as to where these terrorists were hiding in the hotels. If we did, we would have stormed the hotel.

What about the layouts of the targets? Were detailed layouts provided to you by the authorities?

Yes, they were given to us. However, the NSG was not looking for extremely detailed layouts. It was important for us to know the nature of the rooms. We wanted to know where the store rooms and the meeting halls in the hotels were, then we would not have to waste time in checking these rooms.

The Taj operation took three days to end even after the NSG arrived. What was the reason for this?

As I pointed out earlier, this was a hostage situation and our primary concern was to get the hostages out safe. The operation was not just restricted to three places for the NSG — it was going on in five places.

Not only did we have to check the Hotel Trident but the adjoining tower had to be combed too. The case was the same at the Taj Mahal Hotel, where we had to check the tower along with the heritage building.

We had an operation to undertake at Nariman House too.

How long was it before the NSG actually established contact with the terrorists?

We had rescued the hostages and ensured that there were no further casualties on November 27 itself. At 3 am on November 28, we established contact with the terrorists at Hotel Trident and by 7.30 am, we neutralised them.

On the same day, we managed to neutralise the terrorists at Nariman House.

On November 29, we completed the operation at the Taj.

Why did the operation at the Taj take such a long time? Was it the toughest operation?

At the Taj, the terrorists kept moving between floors. There was a spiral staircase connecting the first and the second floors that all of us thought was a service staircase. The terrorists kept shuttling between floors via this staircase.

They were extremely deceptive at the Taj. We had to tread carefully since I did not want any causalities.

There were over 400 rooms and we needed to comb each room carefully. We could take no chances. We did not want to storm the hotel and start battling the terrorists until we had checked each and every room and ensured that no guest was trapped inside.

I don’t want to compare and comment on which operation was tougher. All operations were hard and ultimately successful for us.

There was talk that the NSG could have released gas to smoke out the terrorists. Did you consider this option?

Gas was never an option. This was a hostage crisis and that would have only increased the number of civilian casualities.

At any point during the operation, did you feel that you could nab the terrorists alive? Was such an attempt made by the NSG?

We did try and tell them to surrender. In every operation, there is a stage when we know that we have almost won the battle. It happened in Mumbai too.

When we reached that stage, we did tell them to surrender. But they were adamant and each time we told them to surrender, there were nothing but abuses from them.

They repeatedly hurled abuses and got more aggressive. When we tried again, they started intense firing. Then we realised that we were making a futile attempt, so we went ahead and killed them.

The fact they refused to surrender is an indication that they had it in them to go on for longer. Do you share the same view?

After we had finished them, we went around recovering arms and ammunition that belonged to them, and it was clear that they had enough ammunition to fight for another two days.

Do you think India has learnt its lesson following this attack? Are we better prepared to ward off a terror attack of this nature?

There is no fool-proof arrangement to ensure that there would not be such attacks in the future. There are various aspects that need to be changed.

Every wing in the government set-up needs to pull up its socks. The laws and the rules need to change, the inventory of the security and defence forces need to improve. The security forces need to be strengthened.

Vinita Kamte on the goof ups by the Mumbai police

Vinita Kamte, slain Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte’s wife, reveals her long struggle to unravel the truth about her husband’s death on the night of November 26, 2008.

In a book titled To the Last Bullet, co-authored by journalist Vinita Deshmukh, Vinita Kamte details her efforts to piece together information about the sequence of events that preceded her husband’s death at the hands of terrorists Abu Ismail and Ajmal Kasab.

Her inquiries uncovered the glaring lapses in coordination and action by top Mumbai police officers on the night terror struck Mumbai.

“There was a conflict in my mind on whether I should speak out against the police department which my husband loved so very much. Though I was informed about his death immediately, I never got answers about the circumstances leading up to it. The system created a stumbling block in my search for the truth,” Vinita Kamte said at the book launch on Tuesday.

In the chapter titled Will someone tell me the truth, she seeks to know why her husband had gone to the Cama Hospital area in south Mumbai where he was killed by Ismail and Kasab, along with Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar.

She raises questions about whether Kamte’s death was instantaneous as reported and why the investigating agencies have presented multiple versions of the events of that night.

‘After visiting the spot where my husband was killed, I visited Additional Commissioner Sadanand Date who was injured that night in a grenade attack. After that, I visited Hasan Gafoor, the then commissioner of police. Gafoor was not aware why Ashok landed up at the Cama Hospital when he had summoned him to the Trident hotel that night. He also said it was Ashok who had shot at and injured Kasab with his AK-47,’ she says in her book.

‘At the rear gate of Cama Hospital, the terrorists had fired in the direction of Karkare and the others from the terrace. Ashok had responded with a burst of AK-47 gunfire in the direction of the terrorists.’

According to Gafoor, Kasab had admitted during interrogation that the terrorists thought that this type of gunfire was indicative of a trained hand, and presumed that a professional team had arrived. This had made them flee from Cama Hospital in a hurry, leaving behind one of their bags, containing a pistol and AK-47 magazines,’ Vinita Kamte writes.

She claims that beyond a point, Gafoor appeared reluctant to delve into the details of the top policemen’s deaths and she was disappointed by his attitude.

‘I then met Constable Arun Jadhav, the lone survivor of the incident, who told me that they were all traveling in a Qualis when Ashok had spotted something. He aimed with his AK-47 and immediately fired and the terrorists, who were hiding, also returned fire. Minutes later, the terrorists tried to open the backdoor of the vehicle, but it was jammed. They opened the front doors, removed Salaskar, Kamte and Karkare, before occupying the front seat and started driving.’

Meeting with Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria :

‘It was surprising that the Crime Branch officials had been dithering about giving a clear version of what happened, especially when things appeared so simple. We sought a meeting with Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria,’ Vinita Kamte writes.

‘During the meeting, I asked him, “Since you have interrogated Kasab, could you please tell us what exactly transpired?”‘

‘He replied, “What do you want to know?” I asked him what time the incident took place and he said 11.50 pm. I countered him by saying that was not possible; since Ashok’s last call on the mobile phone was at 11.58 pm. Maria kept a straight face. I then asked him who had shot Kasab. He changed his version thrice while replying to this question and finally said that only Ashok could have shot him. I asked him why Ashok went to the Cama Hospital when he was initially asked to go to Hotel Trident, and Maria said he didn’t know.’

‘The days and weeks that followed were not easy and I had a tough task ahead. Slowly, I built up the sequence of events leading up to Ashok’s death. I requested the Mumbai police commissioner for the wireless logs (containing the transcript of the communication between the policemen and the main control room) from that night. This request was forwarded to Rakesh Maria for further action. I waited but no action was taken. I tried to get information through the Right to Information Act and the process was long and painful.’

‘The commissioner of police had called Ashok to Hotel Trident after the mayhem in south Mumbai. Ashok had told me this at approximately 10.45 pm, when I called him on his way to Hotel Trident. The wireless logs which were obtained through RTI clearly indicate the following: During the conversation between Rakesh Maria from the control room and Ashok Kamte’s operator, Maria told Ashok that firing was going on at Cama Hospital and he had to go there. To this, the operator responded by saying that East Regions sir (Ashok) has reached Cama Hospital five minutes ago.’

‘It is so clear. Then why did Maria deny any knowledge of why Ashok went to Cama Hospital. He directed Ashok to go to Cama Hospital and yet he flatly denied the same. Why? Further, the wireless logs also show that Karkare, who was part of the same operation, was lucid and very clear about the situation. Karkare, in his conversation with the main control room, says that they were at Cama Hospital and they needed to encircle Cama, so a team should be sent from the front side of the hospital. This needs to be coordinated so that there is no cross firing.’

‘Despite such specific instructions, they were ignored and the fact that reinforcements did not reach Cama Hospital is inexplicable. Had Karkare’s instruction been complied with, the two terrorists could have been apprehended at the front gate itself. It is clear that even after the incident at Cama Hospital, there were no reinforcements at the front gate for almost an hour.’

‘After sending out the message to the control room, the three officers were discussing their strategy; they did not know that their request for reinforcements had gone unheeded. The last response from the control room was at 11.33 pm and there was no further input for Karkare since there was a lull of over 15 minutes. So much had happened but curiously there was no word from the control room.’

Why did the officers venture out in one vehicle?

‘Despite giving a call for reinforcement at 11.24 pm, sadly there was no response. It was not as though the control room was unaware of the developments; there was enough information from the police officers. The three officers then decided that they will enter the hospital from the front side. The officers were expecting reinforcements at the front gate as per Karkare’s request. However, with scant inputs and meager resources, Karkare had to tackle the situation personally. He had to have his best team with him and it was natural that he took Ashok and Salaskar with him.’

‘An eye-witness pointed out that the terrorists pulled out the people seated in the Qualis and threw them on the road. The bodies were lying there for nearly 40 minutes before another police vehicle came and took them away. The thought of our husbands lying bleeding for 40 minutes with no help haunts all our families.’

Vinita Kamte also questions why Maria feigned ignorance about Karkare’s location when the call logs clearly indicated that the ATS chief was at the rear gate of the Cama Hospital and the fact that Kamte and Karkare were injured.

She also wants to know why the police forces were stopped at the Metro cinema and not allowed to venture near the Cama Hospital. ‘Despite Karkare giving clear instructions, the control room did not send out reinforcements. The Mumbai police claim that 200 personnel were sent to tackle the situation. Then where were they?’ she asked.

‘If only Karkare’s team had the benefit of a proper briefing from the control room on what was happening at the front gate of the Cama Hospital,’ she writes, ‘the story that night would have been different. Karkare’s team manged to injure Kasab even when it had been ambushed. With prior information, which was available with the control room, they would have ambushed the terrorists. This is what stings my heart.’

‘Govt never made up its mind to go to war with Pak after 26/11’

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, or so it was widely believed.

A lot of emphasis, in those anxious days just after the attacks, had been laid on the Indian Air Force which was believed to be kept on standby and was all set to launch an attack on Pakistan.

Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, then the chief of the air staff, was in the thick of action because of the several warnings from the Intelligence Bureau that Pakistan-based terrorists may try and launch an aerial attack on India.

Now retired from the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Major speaks to rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa and looks back at that dreaded day when Mumbai was attacked by 10 terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

In a major revelation, he says while the IAF was ready for battle, the government did not make up its mind on whether to go to war with Pakistan.

The eyeball to eyeball confrontation between the two countries was clear after the Mumbai attacks. We all thought that India would go to war against Pakistan. What made everyone change their mind?

Nobody changed their mind. In fact, the government never made up its mind to go to war.

I know the sentiment of the entire country was that of anger and disgust.

The Indian Air Force was ready to strike at Pakistan. We had our contingency ready and were well prepared. However, ultimately it depends on what the government wants.

There was also talk of an air strike along the border to destroy jihadi camps.

Yes, there was. However, the government was not in favour of an air strike across the border as it felt that it would escalate into a full fledged war.

What was the mood among the members of the armed forces the day Mumbai was attacked on November 26, 2008?

Like all people in this country, we too were shocked. It was an audacious attack on Indian soil and we were all truly shocked. The attack surely shook the entire country up.

How do you see Indian preparedness today to deal with a similar situation? Do you think we are better prepared after 26/11?

I am certain that we are better prepared today. However, it is not correct to expect results overnight. I would not say that the paramilitary forces and homeland security are fully equipped, since procurements would take some more time.

However, what is good is that the process has begun. This is a good sign because this was lacking prior to this attack.

You said the attack shocked everyone including those in the armed forces. Did you at any point of time think that it would be better to strike at Pakistan immediately?

Yes, it did shake us all up. But it is not that easy to strike at a country. Before going ahead and striking at a country, we need to establish a concrete link that the country (Pakistan) was involved in the attack.

This was the thinking in the government too that it first needs to be established that Pakistan had a role to play. However, by the time it was established the will was lost.

There was talk at that point of time that the air force was not in a position to carry out an attack. There was a similar opinion about the other wings of the defence forces.

That is not correct. I would say with a great deal of confidence that the armed forces are in some form of readiness at all times.

Let us talk about the Indian Air Force in particular. There was a warning that there could be an aerial strike by jihadis and somehow there was talk that we were not ready. How serious is the threat of an aerial attack?

We were aware of this threat. Frankly speaking, an aerial attack is not really a threat since the IAF has the capability to tackle this threat with ease.

When one talks of an aerial attack, a comparison is drawn to the one carried out by the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka. That was just one plane and it is not difficult for the IAF to deal with such a problem.

Once again, I would say that our readiness to carry out a strike was always high and there is no doubting the capabilities of the Indian Air Force.

The threat of terrorism is still large. Do you think war would have been the better solution rather than depending heavily on diplomatic pressure?

Personally, I don’t think that war is the right solution to counter a terror attack. If you start going to war for every terror strike then all countries would be at war with each other at all times.

Moreover, following the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the question of whether to go to war or not was a big decision for the Government of India.

We seem to have China phobia and get quite perturbed by their threats. Is it because we cannot match up to their military might?

India does not need to worry too much about China. They may have quantity, but cannot match our quality. Moreover, the scenario is not the same as 1962 and China cannot mess with India as it did in 1962.

Our forces are well equipped and the Indian brain is far ahead when compared to the Chinese brain.

The phobia of 1962 is definitely over and our deployment along the Indo-China border is very good.

Sabahuddin dossier Part II

Vicky Nanjappa delved into the dossier on Sabahuddin Ahmed and revealed how the other Indian standing trial in the 26/11 case embarked on the path of jihad.

Here, Vicky chronicles how Ahmed rose quickly from the ranks of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba to become an important member of the Pakistan-based terror organisation.

From an unassuming native of Bihar to a dreaded Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist, Sabahuddin Ahmed has come a long way in just six years.

His rise came despite his Lashkar minders’s unhappiness over the attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru , which they felt had not gone according to plan. Ahmed was even pulled up for wasting a large amount of money on the terror operation.

This failure not withstanding, Ahmed was elected to meet top Inter Services Intelligence officers in Pakistan and chosen to carry out the New Year’s day 2008 attack on the Central Reserve Police Force camp in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. He also supervised fellow Indian Fahim Ansari’s survey of targets identified for the Mumbai attacks. Ahmed was, by then, Lashkar’s chief of operations in Nepal.

The mammoth dossier on Ahmed available with Indian security agencies suggests that he returned to Pakistan immediately after the IISc attack. After receiving a dressing down from Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhwi, Lashkar’s terror-in-charge, Ahmed stayed at a Lashkar camp to train other youth.

He also involved himself in the technical side of terror and created a database of fake e-mail IDs for terrorists.

Convinced by his keen interest in terror, Lashkar leaders sent Ahmed to Bangladesh. He was sent in at a time when Lashkar and Harkat-ul-Jihadi terrorists were having trouble crossing over into India. Ahmed left for Bangladesh in December 2006 with two satellite phones and several SIM cards, which were to be handed to terrorists there.

In Bangladesh he met a man named Jahangir and with him, plotted a safe route for terrorists into India. Ahmed stayed on in Bangladesh till February 2007.

Impressed with his work, the Lashkar sent him to Nepal. Ahmed told his Indian interrogators that he stayed in Kathmandu for a month doing nothing. He enrolled for a computer course on March 10, 2007, and rented a house.

A few days later, Muzzamil, another Lashkar top terrorist, told him a man named Sohail alias Mohammad Sharif would meet him in Nepal. Muzzamil instructed Ahmed to train Sohail since he was a failed terrorist.

Sohail had been sent to India and asked to target the Kanwarias, devotees of Lord Shiva who carry Ganga Jal (water from the river Ganga) on their heads and walk to Hardwar. Sohail failed in his diabolic mission; Ahmed was asked to meet him and find out why. Later, he told Muzzamil that Sohail’s mission had failed due to lack of hard work.

Ahmed trained Sohail for a couple of months and then sent him back to Pakistan. Impressed with his work, he was asked to take care of Lashkar’s Nepal operations. Several men were sent to him for training; he also set up several routes from Nepal to infiltrate India.

Muzzamil then asked Ahmed to plan the attack in Uttar Pradesh. The CRPF camp in Rampur was identified. Three terrorists — Sahzad, Sohail and Mohammad Farooq Bhatti — were assigned to carry out this attack. Ahmed helped the trio cross the border. The Lashkar leadership deemed the attack a success. Ahmed was nominated a bigger player in the terror network’s future operations.

Ahmed’s statement to Indian intelligence agencies indicates that the plan to carry out an attack in Mumbai began to take shape on January 23, 2008. Muzzamil asked him to meet Fahim Ansari, who is also being tried for his role in the Mumbai attacks.

Ahmed had met Ansari once before, in Kathmandu, in November 2007, when he had traveled from Pakistan.

Last year, he helped Ansari, a resident of Mumbai, cross over to India where he began to collect information on various targets in his native city.

According to Indian officials who interrogated Ahmed, he was extremely crucial to the Lashkar’s plans. The fact that he met with top ISI officers during his stay in Pakistan is an indication that the Lashkar had a lot of faith in him.

Before interrogating him, the police visualised him as a hardcore terrorist. Two officers, who interrogated Ahmed in Bengaluru, told rediff.com that they were taken aback when they began to question him.

Ahmed was very soft spoken and extremely cooperative during the interrogation. The 25-year-old Bihari native attempted being friendly with his interrogators and tried to convince them about the problems that Muslim youth faced in India. He also explained why he was compelled to take to jihad.

He never posed as an accused during the entire interrogation. He portrayed himself as a victim at all times. At one point he took the interrogators by surprise when he said, ‘You people have never operated an AK-47 rifle. I know that and I also know the kind of weapons you people use. I have a great deal of expertise in handling the AK-47. I can teach all of you about the weapon.’

Sabahuddin dossier Part I

A dossier on Sabahuddin Ahmed and reveals the life and crimes of the other Indian standing trial in the 26/11 case.
The chilling tale of how a reasonably bright college student descended into the dark world of jihadi terrorism.

Sabahuddin Ahmed played a key role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. He was the crucial Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative in Nepal, responsible for planning many attacks in India . He has been charged with three major attacks — 26/11, the January 1, 2008 attack on a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Uttar Pradesh and the December 29, 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru.

Sabahuddin, who was arrested in February 2008, is currently being tried in a special court in Mumbai, along with Ajmal Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist captured during the Mumbai attacks, and Fahim Ansari, an Indian national who conducted reconnaissance of like terror targets in Mumbai.

A dossier prepared by the Intelligence Bureau and investigating agencies spells out who exactly Sabahuddin Ahmed is.

Sabahuddin Ahmed alias Saba alias Farhan, aged 25 years, is a resident of village and post office Gandhwar, police station Sakri, Madhubani district, Bihar.

This is his confession to the investigating agencies:

“I was born in Madhubani, Bihar, on January 27, 1984. My father Shabbir Ahmed is an agriculturist and my mother, Shagufta Bano, is a housewife. My father is a panchayat samiti member in the Rahika block since 2001. I have two younger brothers — Imaduddin, 23, and Shahbuddin, 15.

I started my preliminary education in the Darsgah Islami School. Later I joined the J M High School at Kumatul district and passed my SSLC with a first class.

I joined the Aligarh Muslim University, UP, in the year 2000 for 10+2 in physics, chemistry and biology. During my studies, I was staying in room no 28, B Block, Allam Iqbal Hall of the AMU.

One of my classmates, Shariq Anwar of Lavam village, Bihar, suddenly disappeared. His father came to the university in search of him. I offered to help and during this period his father received a call saying that they should call off the search and not to create a scene in the university.

We realised that Anwar was in touch with a person by the name Ajmal, who was a member of the Students Islamic Movement of India. Later we got a letter from Anwar stating that there is no need to search for him since he was taking up the cause of jihad.

Later I was approached by a person by the name Athiq who asked me if there was any complaint against Anwar. I said no.

The Gujarat riots made a big difference to me. I used to meet with a school friend by the name Faraaz Ahmed who was with me in AMU. He introduced me to a person by the name Ajmal with whom we used to have discussions about the riots.

I was influenced by the way in which Ajmal used to speak. Ajmal realised that I had become emotional and I could be used for jihadi activities.

I was then taken by Ajmal to meet Athiq, who was residing in the Jamalpur area of Aligarh. He was running a coaching centre called Fathiq Coaching Centre. He was about 5.8 feet tall, sported a beard and moustache. I later realised that he was the same person who came and inquired about Anwar.

There was a lot of discussion about jihad and often we referred to the Quran. I was finally convinced that jihad is a must in a situation such as this and there was a need to take revenge for the violence in Gujarat.

During the first week of March 2002, Ajmal took me to a person named Salim Salar (Doctor). Doctor was into sending people to Pakistan via Kashmir for training for jihad. I met Doctor at his house in Jamalpur next to railway line and he asked me as to why I was interested in going for jihad. I just told him that I was interested.

I met him again the next day and he took me to Sulaiman Hall where he arranged a meeting with Basharat Jaffrey, who was basically from Surankot in Poonch district. I was told that this man would take me to Kashmir. I was asked to return on March 12 and told that I would be taken to Kashmir.

On March 12, I went to Doctor’s house carrying a small bag with clothes in it. I was given a letter in Urdu which I was asked to hide in my shoe. I was supposed to hand over this letter to a person in Kashmir. I was then taken to the railway station where Basharat was waiting along with his aunt and daughter.

We reached Jammu on March 13 and for the next two days we stayed in Bashrat’s relative’s house. From there we went to Rajouri district and stayed in a hotel that night. Next day we reached Surankot by bus at noon and went to Basharat’s house. After dropping his aunt and daughter, we left for Thana Mandi in Rajouri district.

Close to that place there is a place called Shahdra. From there we continued our journey by walk since it was a mountainous terrain. At this time Bashrat threatened me that if I revealed anything to the police in case I was arrested, he would destroy my family.

He also said that in case both were caught, I had to tell them that he was a doctor and I was accompanying him as his assistant to treat a patient.

After reaching our destination, we stayed a house in a village. Two militants armed with AK-47 rifles visited the house and spoke to Basharat. Later they took me to their hideout for which we had to trek for more than three hours.

Both of them introduced themselves as Abu Hanzala Adnan and Abu Umar Qatada. Both were Pakistan nationals and aged between 22 and 23 years. When I reached another house there were two more militants, Abu Saifulla and Salahuddin Manipur. We stayed there for a week.

From there I was taken to Abu Muslim Jarrar, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba commander of Rajouri. I handed over the letter given to me by Doctor. I then returned to the hideout. Over here I was trained to dismantle and assemble the AK-47 and also was trained to use hand grenades.

After five days, Hanzala came back to the hideout. I was then introduced to three more Lashkar militants, Abu-Al-Qasim, Abu Hamza and Abu Zarrar. I was taken to a different hideout where I spent 15 days. Here was I was given an AK-47 rifle with a magazine containing 45 rounds.

After 15 days I was taken back to the earlier hideout by Hamza and was handed over to Qatada who was present with another militant Abu Jundal. After training for a couple of days, I was taken to Hilkaka where there were around 50 militants. The commander here was Abu Fahadulla.

From here we were asked to go to Pakistan. We waked through Poonch and through several jungles until we were close to the Pakistan army post. We were received by the Pakistan army who took away our arms and ammunition. They gave us breakfast and registered our names and addresses.

We were then taken by the Pakistan army to a point from where the Lashkar men took us. We were taken to a Lashkar camp in a place called Forward Kahota in PoK. This is where militants are trained and later sent into Jammu and Kashmir.

We stayed here for two days and then were taken to meet a Colonel Musa who was in the Inter Services Intelligence. However, he was not there in the camp.

I was then taken to Kotli and from there we reached a place called Ibne-Taima (code for a Lashkar camp). Here we met with Abu-Al-Qama and Azam Cheema, who later trained me.

I was then trained rigorously in this camp. We had to wake up at 3 am and offer prayers. We then had another prayer at 4.30 am and this was followed by physical training. We were then given breakfast following which we had to undergo arms training. We were trained here for four months after which we were taken to an ISI camp in Mianwali. Here we underwent training for 50 days in firing.

When they thought that I was ready, I was introduced to a Major Dogar who took me to Lahore airport. Before I left for the airport I also met Colonel Kiyani. He told me that I should visit my country and establish myself. I flew from Lahore to Doha, Abu Dhabi, and then to Kathmandu, from where I entered India.

I then travelled by road back to my house. My parents were shocked to see me back again. They told me that various cases of my being missing had been lodged. I told them I had gone away to Delhi to prepare for my exams and also worked in a bookshop there. I stayed at home for a couple of months and I kept in touch with the Lashkar in Pakistan.

After a couple of weeks, I was asked to go to Kathmandu. Here I was given to understand that an operation was being planned in Bengaluru. I was taken to Bengaluru in July 2004. Here we did a recee of several schools and colleges. However, this plan was changed later and we decided to carry out a strike on the Indian Institute of Science.

That attack was not a success and we were pulled up by the Lashkar commanders in Pakistan. We had to return to Pakistan immediately after the attack where we were told that the attack was not a success.”

Following the IISc attack, Sabahuddin trained extensively in Nepal and Pakistan following which he helped in the attack on the CRPF camp in Uttar Pradesh.

Sabahuddin also says around this time they also did a recee in Mumbai. He made arrangements to transport Fahim Ansari to Mumbai. Fahim returned to Nepal with sketches of various targets in Mumbai.

Sabahuddin was arrested in 2008 following the UP attack and it was during his interrogation that he spoke about his life and his journey into jihad. During the interrogation he also discussed at length plans for an attack on Mumbai.

Despite being informed by the UP police, the Mumbai police did not act on the information, stating that Sabahuddin Ahmed was not wanted in any case in Mumbai and hence they did not seek his custody.