By Sanchita Bhattacharya
At a time when Islamabad is planning to close the cases against the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008, (26/11) Mumbai terrorist attacks, and to set them free, the deportation of one of the principal handlers of the 26/11 operation, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operative Syed Zaibuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal from Saudi Arabia and his subsequent arrest by the Delhi Police on June 21, 2012, has given Indian authorities another opportunity to turn the screws on Pakistan, and to demonstrate Pakistani involvement in the attacks. On June 29, 2012, then Indian Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had noted, “many missing pieces of the 26/11 conspiracy are now known to us through interrogation of Abu Jundal. He was a key operative; he was assigned the key responsibility to putting the 10 terrorists in intensive training and the customs followed by Mumbaikars.”
Jundal, who has confirmed that the voice in ‘terror tapes’ – conversations between the terrorists in Mumbai and their handlers in Karachi (Pakistan) during the 26/11 operation – was his, has disclosed to his interrogators that he was continuously in touch with the Pakistani terrorists over the phone and ‘guided’ them throughout the 26/11 operations. More importantly, he has given ample evidence of the involvement of Pakistani state and non-state actors in the 26/11 attacks.
According to Jundal, a waaris (heir or pointsman) of the “forces”, a likely reference to Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) handler, had overseen the entire 26/11 operation. Indian agencies see this as a reference to Major (retired) Sajid Mir alias Sajid Wajid alias Sajid Majid, who later joined LeT as ‘commander’ and who is also the key coordinator of ISI’s “Karachi Project”. Jundal further confirmed that one Major (retired) Abdur Rehman and Sajid Mir had visited India as ‘cricket fans’ and had conducted reconnaissance of important sites in Delhi and Mumbai. Sources disclose that both had traveled on Pakistani passports bearing fake names, and had come to watch a match between India and Pakistan at Mohali in 2005. Jundal has also named three serving ISI officers, Major Iqbal, Major Samir Ali and Colonel Shah of the Pakistani Army, as being involved in the 26/11 strikes. He is believed to have told interrogators that Major Iqbal provided PKR 2.5 million for the boat that was initially purchased for the operation. Giving details of Samir Ali’s role, Jundal told his interrogators that Ali had also arranged the logistics for the ‘marine training’ of the 10 terrorists at Karachi harbour. Jundal also revealed that Major Ali came to Bait-ul-Mujahideen camp in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to hand over two cartons of AK-47 bullets to the terrorists, who were to carry out the 26/11 attacks. Sajid Mir and Major Abdur Rehman had also been mentioned earlier by Pakistani-American LeT operative David Coleman Headley, as key 26/11 handlers during Headley’s interrogation by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials in June, 2010. In addition, the questioning of one Willie Brigitte in France, believed to be a French LeT militant, has identified Mir as an ISI agent. During his interrogation, Jundal also disclosed that the ISI also coordinates operations of the ‘Dawood Ibrahim Gang’, but that these are kept separate from those of the LeT.
Jundal also indicated that he was taken into the ‘core group’ around LeT founder and Jama’at-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in August 2008, just months before 26/11. He disclosed that, initially, around two dozen youth, including a few Indians, were given the Daura aam and Daura khas training in preparation for the 26/11 attacks, but LeT ‘military commander’ Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi eventually reduced the attack team to just 10.
According to Jundal, Hafiz Saeed was present in the Karachi Control Room during the 26/11 attacks, along with Muzammil Butt (LeT ‘operational commander’). The Control Room was set up at a point between Malir Cantonment, Quaidabad and the Jinnah International Airport, in Karachi. However, following the arrest of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi on December 7, 2008, the ISI destroyed the control room. After Lakhvi’s arrest, Muzammil Butt was made the ‘operational commander’ of LeT. The 26/11 attackers, Jundal said, were trained in al Qaeda camps situated in Afghanistan, Karachi (Sindh) and also on the Pakistan-Iran border.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan also helped Jundal to escape from PoK to Saudi Arabia, with a fake passport (Number – QL1790941). His address in the fake passport was shown as village Daowkay, Post Office Mohammad Rehman Pura in District Sheikhupura (in Pakistan’s Punjab Province). His identity was given as Riyasat Ali, a resident of Pakistan, from Muridke near Lahore.
In troubling revelations indicating a Chinese link, Jundal disclosed that he, along with Fayyaz Kagzi from Beed (Maharashtra) and Mohammad Rahil Sheikh from Thane (Maharashtra), had been trained in paragliding in Pakistan’s Baltistan Autonomous Area, bordering the Chinese Xinjiang Province, with the help of Chinese experts.
Jundal confessed that a 26/11-type terror strike had been plotted way back in 2006. However, when Indian security agencies tracked down arms, ammunitions and explosives from Aurangabad in Maharashtra in May 2006, the attack was postponed, and he was asked to come to Pakistan by his LeT bosses.
Describing the nexus between state authorities in Islamabad and the LeT, Jundal indicated that the Pakistan Government could not take action against the group because it remained loyally ‘pro-Pakistan’. The organisation had a presence in each District and tehsil (revenue unit), with more than 250,000 donation boxes across the country. Abu Jundal disclosed that Hafiz Saeed often met top Pakistan Army Corps Commanders to plan major terror strikes in India. India’s key intelligence agencies as well as the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had information about Saeed’s meetings with top Pakistan Army commanders, which were confirmed by Jundal’s disclosures. Abu Jundal also told interrogators that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was being guarded in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi (Punjab) by LeT militants, and that he remained constantly in touch with the group’s leadership and cadres.
Jundal described the LeT’s chain of command in detail, confirming that the group was led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, followed by Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Muzammil Butt, Rehan alias Junaid alias Wali, Abu Qahafa, Abu Al Qama, Abu Zarar, Abu Jundal, in that order constituting the subordinate hierarchy. Muzammil Butt and Major Samir were said to play a key role in planning LeT’s anti-India operations. Butt is now LeT’s ‘operational commander’, while Major Samir is the main link between various India-oriented terrorist outfits and ISI.
Jundal’s interrogation highlighted the international web of LeT’s operations. In the course of his ‘preparation’ for the 26/11 strikes, Jundal was sent to Kathmandu (Nepal) in 2004-2005, for two months training in arms and explosives. Jundal also revealed that he had recruited 50 persons during his nearly two-year stay in Saudi Arabia, and was also instrumental in hawala (illegal money transactions) funding through his contacts in Riyadh and Dubai, to LeT’s sleeper cells in Kerala and Maharashtra. The recruits were chosen from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Jundal provided first-hand evidence that the “Karachi Project” continued to constitute a danger for India. An ISI-LeT brainchild, the project was set up to serve two principal functions: to indoctrinate Indian youth into jihad; and to recruit them for operations under the LeT. ISI has allegedly trained and inducted a number of LeT cadres to carry out attacks in the Indian cities. Though Indian agencies have known about the Karachi Project for long, both Headley’s and Jundal’s revelations have brought out direct evidence, and provided details regarding fresh initiatives under the “project”. An intelligence source disclosed that, “The scheme is funded by ISI and Gulf investments.”
Jundal confirmed that LeT ‘reactivated’ its ‘naval wing’ in 2011, with terrorists training for ‘maritime operations’, including sailing, off the Karachi shore. The LeT was also considering 9/11-style kamikaze attacks in mainland India. The Nashik Police Academy (Maharashtra) was on the LeT’s ‘terror radar’, he said.
Abu Jundal told Police interrogators that LeT had jointly set up bases with Students Islamic Movement of India/Indian Mujahideen (SIMI/IM) all over India for future operations. Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, who are now in Karachi (Pakistan), had directed Jundal to maintain contact with Yasin Bhatkal, the “Indian chief” of IM, for all anti-India operations. Jundal indicated that Yasin Bhatkal was currently residing in Bangladesh. Jundal claimed he had played a crucial role in IM’s operations as he believed the necessity of creating a strong ‘home grown’ outfit in India.
Jundal also disclosed that LeT ‘operational commander’ Muzammil Butt, then operating in Kashmir, along with a dozen terrorists in Army fatigues, had gone to Chhattisinghpora village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag District on March 25, 2000, and killed 35 Sikhs.
Meanwhile, based on Jundal’s account, the NIA has begun profiling suspected subversive groups, particularly those operating from south India. The outfits being tracked include the Popular Front of India (PFI), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Jamiat Ahle Hadees, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), Wahadat-e-Islami and Jam Iyathul Ansarul Musalmeen (JIAM). A number of operatives of JIAM are wanted in terror cases since 2006 and are suspected to have been taking refuge in Pakistan, UAE and Bangladesh.
Jundal’s revelations offer confirmatory evidence, and some new detail, regarding Pakistan’s continued support to Islamist terrorist groups operating against India, and to the networks of terrorism that the LeT has been able to establish internationally. It is likely that agencies will now be able to develop much of this intelligence to bring the wider web of terror under increasing surveillance. Crucially, hitherto recalcitrant countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have demonstrated a growing awareness of the dangers of Pakistan backed terrorism, and their cooperation with Indian authorities in Jundal’s deportation suggests that past trends in their intentional neglect of such operatives on their soil may now be under review. Jundal’s arrest, in itself, may be no more than a blip in the extended trajectory of Pakistan-backed international mischief, but it can only add to Pakistan’s rising problems with its long-term engagement with terrorism.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management