The 26/11 follow-up that didn’t happen

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Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem
Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

When I returned to Pakistan in August 2008, the team of attackers was pruned to ten people. We discussed the details. Sajid asked me about the Blue Synagogue. I told him the Israelis did not go there; only the Indian Jews did. We talked about Chabad House and the jewellery shop in the Taj. There was a plan to loot the shop and use the jewellery to raise funds but I didn’t know how serious they were about this. They were preparing two sets of targets, depending on when the attackers landed. If the attackers reached during the day, the Mumbai Police headquarters would be a target. Sajid had shown me the photographs of all the attackers. One of the attackers who died at the Trident was Abu Qahafa’s cousin. I recollect being shown the photographs of Abu Ismail and Ajmal Kasab. Abu Saeed had reservations about the Chabad House attack; he thought it would unnecessarily add another enemy and that might cause problems for the LeT later. Major Iqbal had issues with the training of the attackers as none of them had combat experience. He said capturing an Indian boat was the most plausible option of sailing to Mumbai.

I insisted that Chabad House be attacked. We discussed the stronghold option as the egress option appeared to be difficult. The LeT gave lectures to the attackers on Faisal Shaheed and Faisali jihad. The attackers were shifted to Muridke. During this period, Hafiz Saeed, Bhutti, Nasir Javed and Abdur Rehman Maki regularly took classes for the attackers in Muridke. An Indian, possibly from Maharashtra, who was considered an asset, was finally dropped as Sajid wanted to use him elsewhere. I have no idea what happened to this Indian boy. He was not part of the Mumbai attackers group. I discussed with Sajid an attack on VT. I said the possibility of many Muslims getting killed was very high. Sajid said we would attack the station during iftar time, which would make it improbable for Muslims to be killed. We bought Chinese backpacks for the attackers.

I went to Wagha border to check one of the SIM cards the attackers were to use in Mumbai. It was a Vodafone SIM card. On September 8, 2008, I shifted my family to the US. Dr Rana’s family received them in Chicago. My wife Shazia and four children stayed in Azim’s house. Meanwhile my other wife, Faiza, met Hafiz Saeed in early September. Before this, she had met senior police officials and created problems for me. I was taken into custody in Lahore on her complaint. I was in the Race Course police station for eight days before my father-in-law, (Shazia’s father, bailed me out. Hafiz Saeed wanted me to reconcile with Faiza. I told him it would be difficult to concentrate on Faiza because I was busy with LeT activities. Hafiz Saeed mentioned that Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray needed to be taught a lesson. I requested for six months to complete my work on Thackeray. However, I found Hafiz Saeed really guarded and diplomatic in his conversations. He would never directly converse on LeT plans.

Around mid-October in 2008, I met Sajid in Lahore. He said they had made an attempt during Ramzan, which failed. The boat hit the rocks and the attackers had to remain in water for some time. They had bought this boat by paying a hefty amount of several lakh rupees. The attackers survived because of their vests. The weapons were in another boat. I wanted to name the Mumbai plan as the ‘Mickey Mouse Project’. Sajid named it the ‘Northern Project’. Though Sajid said there would be a second attempt in October and Yaqoob was trying to rent a boat, it seemed to me that the Mumbai mission was more or less over. Yaqoob was given charge of the LeT’s naval wing. Sajid said the boys were depressed and Zaki would meet them to lift their spirits.

Around November 7, 2008, I went to Karachi on a personal trip. I also met Sajid who said a second attempt to capture an Indian boat had failed. They had taken a boat on rent for Rs 5 lakh. They went at night. As they approached an Indian boat, the crew became conscious and started steering the boat away. There was exchange of fire as well. Sajid was also upset that Abu Alaqama, Abu Yaqub and others were interfering in the Mumbai project. He began to think the secrecy of the operation would be compromised.

On November 26, 2008, I got an SMS from Sajid’s Zong mobile to my Warid mobile asking me to switch on the TV. I did so and saw the telecast of the Mumbai attack. I forwarded the message to Abdur Rehman. I watched the attack on GEO TV and CNN. I exchanged mails with my wife Shazia. I met Sajid after the attack in Lahore. He was looking tired. He said they had used the landing sites I had chosen. Sajid said the explosives were used to cause confusion among the Indian forces. I did not know that explosives would be used and this was first time I heard about it. Sajid said Abu Qahafa had trained the boys in using grenades. He added that one of the groups did not use the stronghold option at VT station and they had hijacked a car and killed senior police officers. He was confused about the person who was arrested. He thought Abu Ismail was arrested but we subsequently found it was Kasab. Sajid told me he had instructed the attackers over phone. He added they tried to get the arrested attacker released in exchange for the people held as hostages in Chabad House. Abu Alaqama, Abu Qahafa and Sajid were present in the LeT control room. In believe Sajid was the person negotiating on Nariman House from the LeT control room.

Sajid played the audio tapes of the Mumbai attack. I could identify the voices of Abu Qahafa, Abu Alaqama and Sajid. Sajid was instructing the attackers from the Karachi control room; I heard him instructing the attackers in Chabad House to kill the women. Abu Alaqama talked to the attackers at the Taj. Abu Qahafa was telling the attackers that the entire Ummah was looking up to them. Zaki was arrested after the Mumbai attack and kept in Udial jail. The ISI DG, Shuja Pasha, had visited him to understand the Mumbai conspiracy. Zaki gets homemade food in jail and his family and LeT members meet him regularly. I recall Dr Rana describing Sajid as Khalid Bin Walid after he heard Sajid’s voice in the audio tape of the Mumbai attack. Sajid had called Dr Rana and thanked him for his support in the Mumbai attack. My father died on December 25, 2008. I was in the US. The Prime Minister of Pakistan had come to our house to condole my father’s death.

After the Mumbai attacks, Abdur Rehman asked me to survey Chabad House and Raksha Bhawan in New Delhi. I was also told to survey a house in Goa, where Israeli soldiers often came for a holiday, and the Osho temple in Pune. I was concerned about my safety and I emailed my will to Tahawwur Rana. I told him to open a shared email account in order to pass the information. I told him about Abdur Rehman’s connection with Ilyas Kashmiri and the al Qaeda.

Accordingly, I took the list of Chabad houses in India. I reached New Delhi in March 2009 and recced Chabad houses in New Delhi, Puskhar, Goa and Pune. I came to New Delhi on March 7, 2009 and stayed in Paharganj. I went to Chabad House; I took videos of the three entry points to Paharganj area. This time I had a new camera my brother-in-law gave me. I visited India Gate. I videographed the Vice President’s house, the Sena Bhawan and the National Defence College (NDC). I made extensive footage of the Israeli embassy and entries to the NDC. I surveyed the routes from Raksha Bhawan to NDC. I found that the bus that ferried the trainee officers from Raksha Bhawan to NDC had minimal security. It seemed to me a vulnerable target. I spoke to Rana from the NDC. I tried to email the contents of my video to Dr Rana but I couldn’t.

On the night of March 10, I went to Pushkar by bus from Paharganj. I checked into a hotel near Chabad House. I changed the room allotted to me at first and moved to a room that gave me a direct view of Chabad House. While I was roaming around Pushkar, I saw a Hindu funeral and videographed it. From Pushkar I went to Jaipur by road and then took a flight to Goa. From the airport I went to Anjuna beach and looked around for Chabad House. It did not look impressive but I still made videos. From there I checked out the Israeli house in Armabole, which Abdur Rehman had mentioned as an old purple building. I did not find anybody in the building and it was locked. I made a detailed video of the Israeli house and people there said very few Israelis visited the place. I took a bus from Goa to Pune where I stayed in hotel Surya Villa, which is 500 metres from Chabad House. I went to Osho ashram and wore a gown I had purchased during a previous visit. I made detailed videos of the Osho ashram and the Chabad House. I videographed the entire Koregoan area including German Bakery. I took some pamphlets which were written in Hebrew and gave them to Pasha when I returned home.

In Lahore I met Abdur Rehman at his house, gave him the reconnaissance videos and discussed every target in detail. I told him we could kill more Indian military officers in an attack on the NationalDefenceCollege than had been killed in all the wars between India and Pakistan. I said the same thing to Dr Rana when I talked to him from India. Rehman was not in favour of a suicide attack as he thought this was done by people who don’t have fresh ideas. We also discussed Raksha Bhawan I told him an attack on Raksha Bhawan would not be effective as everybody stayed inside. Rehman was not interested in Raksha Bhawan. He said a man from Rawalpindi was ready to carry out the attack but he had trouble getting a visa to India. His visa was turned down because he had long beard. Rehman told him to shave his beard and apply for a visa again.

I told Rehman the best time to attack Pushkar is in the winter because of the large number of tourists at that time. I suggested we could hide the weapons in the surrounding mountain. I said there was nothing in Goa. There was no need to attack this place. Rehman kept asking about developments in the Mumbai investigation. When Rehman was arrested in July 2009, I learned that his wife had disposed off the suspect material. After a few days, I met Sajid in Lahore. He said the Denmark project was postponed as there was lot of pressure due to the Mumbai investigation. I started having doubts about Sajid and the LeT. I agreed with Rehman that the LeT was cowardly and pliable. I was getting distanced from the LeT. I told Sajid about my trip to India on Rehman’s directions. Sajid did not believe me but when I swore I did, he was furious. Soon after, Sajid told me that my role in the Mumbai attacks was revealed and advised me not to stay in Lahore. Major Iqbal told me not to contact him anymore as the Mumbai investigation was getting bigger and hotter. Iqbal told me Kasab had revealed everything.

In May 2009, I went to meet Ilyas Kashmiri in FATA. We went to an arms market where I found a lot of foreigners with arms ready to fight in Afghanistan. Kashmiri came in a jeep with his gunmen. I could see many suicide vests being prepared. We stayed in this location for a night. In the meeting with Kashmiri, I was told to concentrate on the Denmark attack at the earliest. They discussed a general attack on Copenhagen. Kashmiri gave me $1,500 and told me to go back to Denmark and take more videos. After this, until my arrest, I concentrated on the Denmark project.

Adapted from the National Intelligence Agency report on David Headley’s interrogation

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