Correction: This report incorrectly states that Omar Saeed Sheikh was imprisoned for his involvement in a plane hijacking. He was imprisoned for his involvement in the kidnapping of American and British nationals and released in exchange for the hostages of a plane hijacking.
Details have emerged regarding who was responsible for the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, with the evidence pointing to the Pakistani-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). But the trail doesn’t end there.
Indications of a coming attack were reportedly received by intelligence agencies well in advance. US signals intelligence (SIGINT) picked up a spike in “chatter” indicating something was brewing, which was supported by information from assets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some of the information that was received by US intelligence was passed on to India as early as September.
The details were specific. The CIA station chief in Delhi reportedly met with his counterpart at India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), to pass on intelligence that LeT was planning a major attack that would come from the sea.
Less than a week before the attacks, a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan purportedly killed a British citizen of Pakistani descent named Rashid Rauf, who was suspected of planning to blow up commercial airliners flying from Britain to the U.S. He fled Britain in 2002 after being suspected of stabbing to death his uncle, Mohammed Saeed. He settled in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, and married a relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of another militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Besides being linked to JeM, he was also suspected by some intelligence sources of having connections to the ISI. Pakistani authorities arrested him in Bahawalpur in August 2006 at the behest of British authorities, but he escaped police custody when they allowed him to enter a mosque ostensibly to say afternoon prayers. While police waited outside, Rauf walked out the back door. He may have just escaped, but there were also rumors that he was secretly taken into custody by the ISI in a plan that kept him under wraps while preventing him from being extradited to Britain.
The location of Rauf was reportedly given to U.S. officials by the Pakistani government, and may have been a move calculated to appease the U.S. over charges that elements of the ISI are still assisting militants engaged in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. Earlier this year, terrorists bombed the Indian embassy in Kabul, and both India and the U.S. claimed that the ISI had been involved in the attack.
The airstrike that killed Rauf may also have been the result of early information obtained on the attack on Mumbai, as intelligence agencies reportedly had learned that he was involved in the planning of a major upcoming terrorist event. They may have sought to take him out before such an attack could occur.
Indian intelligence had obtained its own warnings of an attack. One indication was a request from a LeT operative to obtain international SIM cards for an upcoming operation. There was also information that a LeT team was training at a camp near Karachi, and that part of their training was to prepare for launching attacks from the sea. The team was trained under Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, also known as “Chacha”. Also among the information received was that the Taj Mahal hotel was pinpointed as a major target.
As a result, security at the hotel was increased, but was lessened again just a week prior to the attacks because of complaints from the hotel’s clients. Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, which owns the hotel, acknowledged that warnings of a possible attack had been received.
The Tata Group is also invested in the energy sector, and stands to gain from the recent deal between the U.S. and India, which would provide India with nuclear resources outside of the framework of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards system. Pakistan has voiced its opposition to the U.S. deal with its nuclear-armed neighbor.
On November 18, RAW intercepted a satellite phone conversation made to a number in Lahore, Pakistan, known to be used by the military commander of LeT known alternatively by the names Yusuf Muzammil or Abu Hurrera, also known as “Yahah”. The caller notified his handlers that he was heading for Mumbai with unspecified cargo.
As a result of the intelligence it had received, India’s Navy and Coast Guard were on the lookout for suspicious ships entering Indian territorial waters, and were specifically told to watch for an unidentified ship coming from Karachi.
Only one of the terrorists in the Mumbai attacks was captured alive, Azam Amir Kasab, a resident of the territory of Punjab in Pakistan. According to reports, he has told his interrogators a great deal about how the attacks went down.
Kasab confessed to being a member of LeT. He and his fellow terrorists were instructed to target foreigners, particularly Americans, British, and Israelis. They had set out from Karachi in a ship called the “MV Alpha”, which is allegedly owned by Dawood Ibrahim, a terrorist wanted by India in connection with bombings in Bombay in 1993 that resulted in 250 deaths. Ibrahim is also wanted by Interpol, and has been designated a global terrorist by the U.S.
Confronted with increased naval patrols that were boarding and searching suspect vessels, the team hijacked a fishing trawler called the “Kuber”, registration number 2303, and killed most of its crew except for Amarsinh Solanki, whom they kept alive to help navigate.
On November 26, as the terrorists neared their target destination, they killed Solanki by slitting his throat. An associate of Ibrahim’s in Mumbai had arranged to pick the team up in inflatable rubber dinghies. They went ashore at about 9pm. Witnesses reported seeing them land in the dinghies, which were unusual among the common wooden fishing boats, and unloading a number of large bags.
Once on shore near the Gateway to India, Mumbai’s main landing point near the Naval dockyard, the team split up. Four men went to the Taj Mahal hotel, where an advance team had already checked in on November 22 and set up a control room. Two went to the Nariman House, the Mumbai headquarters of Chabad Lubavitch, an ultra-orthodox Jewish group. Another acquisitioned a taxi and drove to the railway station. Two others headed to the Leopold restaurant, a hot spot for foreign visitors to Mumbai.
At about 9:20pm, one team arrived at the Nariman House, where they took hostages, while another opened fire at the Leopold café. At 9:45, terrorists entered both the Taj Mahal and Trident Oberoi hotels, where hostages were again taken. At 10:15, two of the men began firing indiscriminately outside the Cama hospital. At 10:30, terrorists entered the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station and again opened fire.
According to Pakistan’s Daily Times, the terrorists identified and killed two U.S. intelligence officers at the Taj Mahal hotel.
Indian officials are now saying that just 10 men were responsible, indicating that two-man teams were able to strike one target and move on to the next. Teams held out under siege the the Nariman House and the hotels, with the Taj Mahal the last to be cleared. By the end, it had taken Indian forces 60 hours to kill or capture the attackers, with their reign of terror finally ending on the 29th with nearly 200 people reported dead.
According to police, the men were aged 18 to 28. They were found to have drugs in their system, and traces of cocaine and LSD were found at one or more scenes of their attack, which they apparently had taken for an additional adrenaline boost to keep them going for the long siege and battle with Indian special forces.
A Mauritian government identity card was discovered with the terrorists who attacked the Taj Mahal hotel, along with credit and debit cards of a number of different banks, including HSBC (headquartered in London and named after its founding member, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, with global branches), HDFC, and ICICI (both banks in India). The Republic of Mauritius is a former British colony and member of the Commonwealth off the east coast of Africa, near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
They were reported to be using AK-47 assault rifles. Photos shown in the press reveal what appear to be variants with a folding stock. They were also reported to have handguns and grenades. Additionally, police recovered sub-machine guns used by the terrorists. An Associated Press photo of the confiscated guns reveals what appear to be Heckler & Koch MP5-N sub-machine guns. The “N” model is a version of the MP5 designed specifically for the U.S. Navy and used by Navy Seals teams.
BlackBerry cell phones were also recovered from the terrorists, containing international SIM cards investigators believe correlate with the early intelligence further connecting the team to LeT. During the attacks, they received calls from outside the country, which is apparently among the evidence leading government officials to early on state publicly that the terrorists had ties to a foreign nation.
A global-positioning system (GPS) and satellite phone were found in the abandoned Kuber fishing trawler. Navigation routes plotted in the GPS revealed the planned route from Karachi to Mumbai and back again, indicating that the terrorists hoped they might possibly be able to escape and return to Pakistan. Investigators determined that this was the phone used to contact Muzammil, the LeT military commander. Calls from the phone were also traced to Lakhvi, the LeT training specialist.
The MV Alpha was also intercepted after the attacks by the Indian Navy.
Responsibility for the attacks was claimed via e-mail by a previously unknown group calling itself Deccan Mujahideen. This appears to be a front, apparently designed to direct blame upon groups within India and give the appearance of a home-grown terrorist attack. Deccan may refer to a neighborhood in the city of Hyderabad or to the Decaan Plateau that dominates the middle and south of India.
The RAW traced IP addresses used to send the e-mail to an account in Russia that was opened on the Wednesday just prior to the attack and used to relay the message to media in India. The e-mail was further traced to a computer in Pakistan, and investigators have also said that it was generated by dictation using voice recognition software.
India has called for Pakistan to hand over 20 individuals it has alleged were involved in the attacks. Among the wanted men are Dawood Ibrahim, Hafiz Saeed, and Maulana Masood Azhar.
As noted, Ibrahim is among Interpol’s most wanted. The U.S. designated him as a global terrorist in 2003, stating that he had ties to al Qaeda and that he funded attacks by militant groups, including LeT, aimed at destabilizing the Indian government. Ibrahim’s organization is known as the D-Company and is known to be heavily involved in drug trafficking. According to the U.S. government, D-Company is involved in large-scale shipment of narcotics into the U.K. and Western Europe. He is also alleged to have ties to the CIA through casino operations in Nepal.
Ibrahim is the son of a police constable and worked as a police informant, only to become involved in crime. He rose through the ranks of the underworld in Bombay (now Mumbai) to become one of the city’s leading organized crime bosses. He later fled to Pakistan, where he is believed to have stayed in Karachi under the protection of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Some Indian analysts have suggested that it was at the behest of the ISI that Ibrahim planned the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has denied that he is in the country.
Wanted along with Ibrahim for the 1993 Bombay attacks is Aftab Ansari, also an Indian national. Ansari is linked to Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin. Omar Sheikh is an associate of Osama bin Laden and has been accused of masterminding the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal.
Omar Skeikh was also the paymaster of the 9/11 hijackers and wired $100,000 to Mohammed Atta in Florida. According to Indian intelligence, working with the FBI a link was established between Omar Sheikh and the head of Pakistan’s ISI, Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed. Sources revealed to the media that the evidence obtained from Omar Sheikh’s cell phone indicated that it was at the behest of Mahmud Ahmed that the money was sent to finance the 9/11 hijackers. While this has widely been reported internationally, including by the Press Trust of India, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, Agence France-Presse, and UK’s The Guardian and The Times, it has not received any mention in the U.S. mainstream media.
Hafiz Saeed is the founder of LeT. He travelled to Peshawar to join the CIA-backed effort to overthrow the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan. Peshawar served as the command base for both the CIA and Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK). Haiz Saeed became the protégé of Abdullah Azzam, who, along with Osama bin Laden, founded MAK to recruit and train foreign fighters to join the mujahedeen. The CIA worked closely with the ISI to finance, arm, and train the mujahedeen.
By about 1988, MAK had been evolved into the group known as al-Qaeda by bin Laden. The name “al-Qaeda” literally means “the base”, and may either refer bin Laden’s base of operations for the mujahedeen war effort or the actual database of names of jihadist recruits. While numerous terrorist attacks have been attributed to al-Qaeda over the years, it isn’t so much a centralized organization as a loose network of individuals and affiliate groups having roots or otherwise associated with the CIA-backed effort against the Soviet Union.
Maulana Masood Azhar is the head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, and is also wanted by Interpol. Like LeT, JeM is said to have close links with the ISI, which has used the groups to wage a proxy war against Indian forces in Kashmir.
Like Hafiz Saeed, Azhar was numbered among the veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war. He was educated at Jamia Binoria, a madrassa (religious school) in Karachi that also served as a recruitment center for the mujahedeen.
He later became a leader of Karkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistani militant group, and was captured by India in Kashmir in 1994. He was tried and acquitted, but spent six years in jail before being freed in exchange for the release of the crew and passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in 1999. He formed JeM after returning to Pakistan.
Omar Saeed Sheikh was also caught and imprisoned by India for involvement in that hijacking, and was likewise released in exchange for the hostages. Like Azhar, Omar Seikh is reported to have close links to the ISI and, according to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, was also an agent of MI6, Britain’s spy agency, which sent him to engage in operations in the Balkans.
Relations between India and Pakistan also reached a crisis point in December 2001, when gunmen attacked the Indian parliament. JeM and Let were held responsible for that attack as well, and both countries amassed troops on the border, a situation that led to fears of war between two nuclear-armed countries. The U.S. helped mediate an end to the crisis, pressuring Pakistan to crack down on militant groups and setting in motion the plan to assist India with its nuclear program that was finally realized this year.
LeT was banned in Pakistan in 2002 following the attack on the Indian parliament, but remained active in the country nevertheless. The group has denied responsibility for the attacks in Mumbai last week.
Pakistan has on one hand said it would formulate a response to India’s request to turn over the 20 wanted men, and on the other hand indicated it would not do so, insisting that the men are either not in Pakistan or that they have been under Pakistani surveillance and no indication seen that they were in any way involved.
While the evidence strongly points to LeT and a network of associates affiliated with the group or with each other, that web also includes the CIA and MI6. One early report said that some of the Mumbai terrorists were, like Rashid Rauf, British nationals. This was picked up by numerous press accounts around the globe, but the Indian government official this information was attributed to denied ever having said such a thing.
Theories that this was a false flag operation have already begun to spread around the internet, with varying culprits and motives. Whatever the truth is, what is clear from the facts one is able to piece together from media accounts is that there is more to the Mumbai attacks than meets the eye.