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Mumbai attack was planned a year ago

By Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai
Last updated on: February 27, 2009 15:20 IST
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This is the second part of an analysis of the chargesheet filed by the Mumbai police in the 26/11 terrorist attacks. The first part focussed on the unanswered questions in the chargesheet

The Mumbai police's official synopsis of the chargesheet provided to the media clearly suggests that, "the success of the terrorist operation on 26/11 would simply not have been possible without the inputs and assistance provided by the arrested accused Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin." Both are accused of providing the maps and directions of locations in Mumbai to the terror masterminds in Pakistan.

If what the Mumbai police has mentioned is correct then the most sensational fact is that Mumbai attack was planned in Pakistan since December 2007!

This must be so because police claims in the chargesheet that, "during the month of December 2007 and January 2008 under the alias of Sahil Pawaskar, Fahim attempted to rent a room at Badhwar Park in Colaba, south Mumbai on leave and license; but could not succeed. The location of Badhwar Park was important to the conspirators, keeping in mind its proximity to the targeted locations in south Mumbai."

When he could not get a room in Badhwar Park, Fahim rented a room at 98-B Batatawala Chawl, room number 14, ground floor Patthe Bapurao Marg, Mumbai 400008, according to the chargesheet.

At that time he was staying in distant suburb of Mumbai in Chawl number 303, room number 2409, Motilal Nagar, Goregaon (west).

The Mumbai police claim that after renting a room "he conducted elaborate reconnaissance of the iconic and important locations in Mumbai. For the purpose of communication, he procured under the assumed name of Pawasakar, a Reliance mobile number 9322504557. To camouflage his nefarious activities, he secured admission at Soft Pro Computer Education Council situated near the Mumbai Stock Exchange. This place is close to Badhwar Park."

The police also claim that Fahim conducted detailed reconnaissance of the locations with help of information provided by Sabauddin. Both were in constant touch with help of an instant messenger. Fahim prepared the maps and handed them over to Sabauddin in Kathmandu, Nepal, sometime in January, 2008.

The chargesheet claims that, "The arrested accused Sabauddin Ahmed, who was a very important functionary of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, got in touch with his bosses viz: Zaki-Ur Rehman Lakhvi and Abu Kaahfa and informed them of the receipt of these important documents -- so essential for the success of Mumbai mission. The LeT conspirators then made arrangements for fetching the documents from Sabauddin in Kathmandu. It was these maps and directions which enabled the arrested terrorist Ajaml Kasab and nine dead terrorists to arrive with absolute precision at the targeted locations and comprehend the topography and layout of the targets."

The maps were important and that can't be denied because after off-loading eight of their colleagues at Badhwar Park, two terrorists Fahadullah and Abdul Rehman Chotta alias Sakib sailed further towards the Oberoi hotel in an ultramodern rubber dinghy. These two then landed near the hotel with their ammunition without making any mistake. In an absolutely unknown city, they were spot on.

The chargesheet says in Pakistan during the last phase of their training, the 10 selected terrorists were shown the maps of the targeted sites in Mumbai by co-conspirator Abu Kaahfa. On being questioned as regards the authenticity and accuracy of the maps Kaaahfa informed them that the maps had been meticulously prepared by Fahim and Sabauddin. The maps were handed over to the terrorists by Lakhvi when they were leaving Karachi for Mumbai.

The chargesheet claims that, "Kasab and his nine colleagues could precisely reach the targeted locations due to the maps and other details (not specified in the chargesheet) provided by Fahim and Sabauddin."

Investigations further revealed that a map of important locations in Mumbai was found in the possession of the deceased terrorist Abu Ismail, which was prepared by Fahim Ansari.

Mumbai police have said that Fahim Ansari's real name is Fahim Arshad Mohammad Yusuf Ansari while Sabauddin's real name is Sabauddin Ahmed Shabbir Ahmed Sheikh.

On February 25, when both of them came to court, the media had a chance to look at them. They were medium-built, fair complexioned and young. They didn't seem frightened or tamed by the court room or the media and police's intimidating presence. The chargesheet claims that both have used many pseudo names in the past.

Fahim's lawyer Aizaz Naqvi claims that he lost his parents and went to the Gulf to find work. According to his statement to Uttar Pradesh police, Fahim was brainwashed by Inter Services Intelligence-linked people in the mosques of the Gulf. Naqvi does admit that his client Fahim made the maps of Mumbai's iconic areas.

But he adds that those maps were never handed over to Pakistan-based operatives.

The real background of Sabauddin was not known for long because he was operating from Kathmandu. Long after his arrest, his advocate Naqvi told the court on February 25 that Sabaudin's mother Shagufta has written a letter to Sabauddin The court gave Naqvi permission to hand it over the letter to Sabauddin. Naqvi claims that Sabauddin belongs to Bihar. He is a resident of village and post Gandhwar, police station Sakri, Madhubani district.

The most disturbing fact has been that Fahim was in custody of the Indian police for long and was thoroughly interrogated by the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad and the UP police. The Indian government or the police didn't act on the information he provided.

When Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria was asked if Fahim's statement to the Mumbai Crime branch was similar to what he told ATS some months back, Maria said, "How can I say what they have said during somebody else's interrogation?"

When asked Maria, "Can we say finally now that involvement of Indians in the Mumbai attack was limited to the two accused Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin?"

Maria agreed, almost.

He said, "The secrecy with which they planned the entire thing was amazing. From the day the terrorists left for Mumbai and from the day they were informed about the targets in Mumbai they were not allowed any human contacts. They were not allowed to speak or meet anybody. That was the level of secrecy they maintained. They have ensured that minimum number of people know about their operation."

What Mumbai police seems to convey is that because secrecy was necessary not many Indians were taken into confidence or involved.

Maria repeatedly gave the same reply when asked anything about the "involvement of Indians" or about the involvement of any Pakistan government officer. He said, "Our investigation is going on."

The unanswered question is can Fahim and Sabauddin operate in isolation? Could such small, ordinary poor Indians be contacted by the top brass of the LeT for such an astonishing terror operation?

The chargesheet is absolutely silent on the issue investigation into the dynamics of Fahim and Sabauddin's links to the world of crime that led them to the LeT's door.

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Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai