26/11: Two years on

Updated: Nov 26, 2010, 10:55 AM IST

Saswat Panigrahi

It’s been two years. The scars of a 60-hour-long terror siege which scripted a gory tale in blood is very much alive. The fidayeen style attacks were coordinated shootings and blasts on multiple targets across India’s financial capital unleashed by Pakistan based jihadi elements.

The attacks took place at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, Nariman House, Metro Cinema and a lane behind the Times of India building and St. Xavier`s College. There was also an explosion at Mazagaon, in Mumbai`s port area, and another one in a taxi at Vile Parle.

The unprecedented terror strikes, which startled India and the world -- started on November 26, 2008 and ended on November 29, 2008 -- snuffed out the lives of at least 166 innocent people and wounded more then 300. Among the dead were 136 Indians and 28 foreign nationals from 10 countries.

Mumbai police, Rapid Action Force personnel, Marine commandos and National Security Guards commandos performed their duties with remarkable bravery and professionalism in their battle with the terrorists. 15 policemen and two NSG commandos sacrificed their lives in the counter-offensive. Assistant Police Sub-Inspector Tukaram Omble (who succeeded in capturing a terrorist alive), Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte, Encounter Specialist Vijay Salaskar, Senior Inspector Shashank Shinde were among the 15 policemen killed in the operation. NSG Commandos Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Hawaldar Gajendra Singh were also killed during the counter-offensive.

What may be the most well-documented terror strikes of the recent times, the attacks which were carried out by ten trained Pakistani young jihadis, were meticulously planned several months ahead of time. The attacks were executed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) inside Pakistan. Reports say former officials from the Pakistani Army and its ace intelligence service Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) helped training the Mumbai attackers. The sophistication in the design of the terror strike also clearly points to an official backing from Pakistani agencies. However, a possible involvement of local elements in the role of facilitators can’t be ruled out either.

Indian investigations reveal that the ten jihadis, who travelled to Mumbai from Karachi via Porbandar across the Arabian Sea, hijacked Indian fishing trawler `Kuber`, killed the crew and entered Mumbai on a rubber dinghy. They had a detailed lay out plans of their targets. To navigate to Mumbai by sea and to find their targets, the terrorists used Global Positioning System handsets. They also used Google Earth to familiarise themselves with the locations of their targets. Moreover, the attackers were constantly directed by handlers from inside Pakistan via mobile phones and Voice over Internet Protocol.

The investigation further reveals that each jihadi carried a dozen hand grenades, a 9 mm handgun with two 18-round clips and an AK-47, seven to nine 30-round magazines and more than 100 rounds of loose ammunition. Each attacker also carried a 17.6-pound (8 kg) bomb. Type 86 Grenades made by China`s state-owned Norinco were used in the attacks.

Reports say the terrorists used at least three SIM cards purchased on the Indian side of the border with Bangladesh, pointing to a local involvement. Reports further suggest that one SIM card was purchased in New Jersey, US.

Blood tests of the jihadis indicate that they had taken cocaine, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide drugs and steroids during the attacks to sustain their energy for long hours.

Investigations revealed that the attackers were in their twenties. Nine of the ten attackers were from the Pakistan’s Punjab province and one was from the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Nine of the ten gunmen were shot dead during the counter offensive by security forces while one captured alive.

After a series of denials to India’s dossier on Mumbai attacks, Pakistan which continues to be a safe haven for terrorists buckled under tremendous international pressure. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik finally agreed that "some part of the conspiracy" did take place in Pakistan and promised to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.

The Pakistani authorities have also admitted to their Indian counterparts that the LeT plotted and financed the attacks. Pakistani investigations conducted on LeT camps in Karachi and Thatta revealed diaries, training manuals, maps of India and operational instructions relating to 26/11. "The investigation has established beyond any reasonable doubt that the defunct LeT activists conspired, abetted, planned, financed and established [the] communication network to carry out terror attacks in Mumbai," said a report of Pakistani investigation handed over to India.

However Pakistan which is not abandoning its policy on supporting terror groups, lets Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the mastermind of the terrorist siege in Mumbai, continue to make hate speeches and incite jihadis. Saeed, against whom an international arrest warrant was issued by Interpol, was freed by a Pakistani court from detention on the ground that the “Pakistani Government did not have enough evidence against him”, outlining Islamabad`s lack of seriousness in its ‘commitment’ to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice.

Obviously, behind the doors diplomacy of the Congress-led UPA Government has failed to bend Pakistan. Moreover, it had shocked the nation by delinking terrorism from composite dialogue in the Sharm el-Sheikh Indo-Pak joint statement, issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in July, 2009, replicating a Charles De Gaulle line. It is to recall that after 26/11, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had categorically stated that there was no question of holding dialogue with Pakistan unless it gives enough proof of taking action against its nationals who masterminded Mumbai attacks, and initiate steps to dismantle terror infrastructure on its soil.

Date after date has been set for Pakistan to display action against the perpetrators of 26/11. Home Minister P Chidambaram held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik in Islamabad on the sidelines of SAARC Home Ministers` conference in June, 2010. “Time for giving dossiers is over. It is time to act and bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage swiftly to justice,” Chidambaram said. But, two years after 26/11, there is zero progress by Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the carnage to justice.

David Coleman Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin plotted the Mumbai attacks along with his associate Tahawwur Rana, another Pakistani origin Canadian citizen. Headley, who is a step brother of Danyal Gilani, the Public relations officer of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was formerly known as Daood Sayed Gilani and changed his Muslim name to Christian. The LeT operative, many believe was a CIA agent once. The FBI investigations reveal that Headley had attended militant training camps in Pakistan between 2002 and 2005. Between 2006 and 2008 he made several surveillance trips to India scouting targets for the Mumbai attacks. He was also plotting similar terror strikes in strategic locations of the country.

Pakistan had confirmed the arrest of a retired army major for his links with Headley and Rana. Reports indicate that the notorious Pakistani intelligence agency ISI could be linked to Headley. There are reports which also suggest Headley’s link to Bollywood.

Both Headley and Rana are currently in FBI custody. Headley has pleaded guilty for his role in 26/11. The US has promised to share the outcome of findings of `full review` on Headley. But, India is yet to get a chance to interrogate the 26/11 plotter.

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone 26/11 terrorist captured alive was sentenced to death by a special court in Mumbai in May, 2010. Now Kasab is facing another trail on the same case in Bombay High Court. His lawyer says he is not even interested in the case. Reports suggest that the cost of keeping the lone gun man alive is as much as Rs 60 crore and counting.

At a time the country is paying tribute to the heroes and victims of Mumbai terror attacks, let’s discuss the naked truth. 26/11 has laid thread bare an abysmal intelligence and a spineless security, which helped the terror siege to succeed. Further, there are questions which continue to haunt the Government. How bullets traversed through the bullet-proof jacket of three top Mumbai cops -- ATS Chief Hemant Karkare, ACP Ashok Kamte, and Encounter Specialist Vijay Salaskar. Intriguingly, Hemant Karkare’s bullet-proof jacket reportedly went missing, and so did the file on the procurement of those jackets. An inept RR Patil, ‘famous’ for his utterly ridiculous remark right after the terror siege -- “Bade shehron mein aisi choti baatein hoti rehti hai” – enjoys his old portfolio of Maharashtra Home Minister. Two years after 26/11 rehabilitation still elude scores of victims and their families.

In the larger reckoning, the problem remains. India is being systematically targeted by jihadi elements. Two years on, is India alert and prepared to thwart future terror attacks?