Mumbai, November 26, 2021.
On the night of 26 November 2008, ten Kalashnikov-wielding terrorists attacked Mumbai. They struck simultaneously at five locations, shooting dead 140 Indians and 25 foreign tourists. The attack was unique as it targeted Western nationals apart from Indian civilians to ensure greater global interest and attention. A Pakistani-American jihadist named David Headley (original name: Dawood Gilani) had been tasked as a reconnaissance agent for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). He undertook several trips to Mumbai over the course of three years, beginning in 2006 and continuing until after the 26/11 attack. It was due to his reconnaissance videos and photographs that LeT was able to plan and rehearse for a precision strike.
1. According to Headley’s testimony in a US court, he had been trained by the ISI in intelligence collection techniques. Of the $29,500 he received from Pakistani sponsors, $28,500 came from a serving ISI officer. This officer, identified as ‘Major Iqbal’ in American court documents, became the first Pakistani intelligence operative to ever be indicted by the US government for terrorism. The remainder of the money came to Headley from a LeT operative called Sajid Majeed (often referred to in international media reports as ‘Sajid Mir’). Majeed was deputy head of LeT’s external operations department and handled jihadists worldwide. Headley stated that the Mumbai operation had been coordinated by Majeed. He also claimed that the ten gunmen who attacked Mumbai had been trained by former members of the Pakistani army special forces, thus corroborating what Pakistani journalistic research had uncovered that LeT was being advised by professional soldiers.
2. During his interrogation by Indian investigators, Headley claimed that in 2007-2008, LeT was facing internal rifts as younger cadres wanted to break away from the group due to its subservience to the ISI. To keep LeT united under a pliant leadership, some ‘S’ Wing operatives seemed to have arranged for an offensive against India which would earn LeT respect within the Pakistani jihadist community and prevent further defections. All that was necessary to de-link Islamabad from the attack was to ensure that the attackers would fight to the death. Controlling the gunmen via telephone was possibly intended to bolster their morale in this regard. The unexpected capture of Ajmal Kasab by the Mumbai police during the night of 26 November 2008 robbed the plan of its key asset – deniability. Zabiuddin Ansari who was extradited from Saudi Arabia in 2012 further revealed that the weapons and ammunition used in Mumbai had been provided by the ISI. Indeed, he went on to state that ISI officials had been present in the LeT control room in Karachi during the attack. One ISI officer identified by Ansari in this regard was Major Sameer Ali, whom Headley had also named as the ISI official who first referred him to LeT.
3. On 3 August 2015, former FIA chief Tariq Khosa, who supervised the Pakistani side of the Mumbai investigation, published an op-ed in Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English newspaper in which he stated that in unambiguous terms that the ten gunmen had been members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, that forensic evidence of their training had been obtained from a camp in Sindh province, that their control room in Karachi had been located and that the ship which had transported them to Indian waters had been seized by the FIA. He further observed that Pakistan has to deal with the Mumbai mayhem, planned and launched from its soil. This requires facing the truth and admitting mistakes. The entire state security apparatus must ensure that the perpetrators and masterminds of the ghastly terror attacks are brought to justice.
4. Yet, as on date none of the perpetrators have been either charge sheeted or convicted for the 26/11 attacks. Lives were lost because a particular nation only thinks of making a mark by unleashing violence and terror.