x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Political crisis grows over Mumbai attacks

India claims Pakistan link "established". Sole militant survivor tells investigators group hoped to kill 5,000 after training in Kashmir for months.

People carry placards as they participate in a demonstration near the landmark Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India, on Nov 30 2008.
People carry placards as they participate in a demonstration near the landmark Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India, on Nov 30 2008.

LONDON // Two Indian government ministers tendered their resignations yesterday following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Shivraj Patil, the Indian home minister, and M K Narayanan, the national security adviser, both submitted their resignations amid growing criticism of the government's failure to prevent the terrorist attack that killed almost 200 people. Additionally, the slaughter is markedly increasing tensions between India and Pakistan. Although the government in Islamabad denies any involvement, Shahkeel Ahmad, India's deputy home minister, told the BBC it was "very clearly established" that all the attackers were from Pakistan. The sole survivor among the young militants who carried out the Mumbai bloodbath after being ordered to "kill until the last breath", has also confirmed that all the attackers were of Pakistani origin. Described as looking like "backpackers with assault rifles", the 10 terrorists had hoped to kill up to 5,000 people, Azam Amir Qasab, a 21-year-old from the Pakistan Punjab, is reported to have told Indian investigators. Qasab, who was photographed nonchalantly carrying his semi-automatic rifle at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), revealed that his group had begun training for their deadly mission more than seven months ago in Kashmir and that terrorist teams had carried out a full reconnaissance of the targets in Mumbai one month ago. He has apparently said the aim of a mission was not to bring worldwide attention to the Kashmiri question but was devised as a revenge attack for the deaths of Palestinians. According to media reports quoting sources inside the Indian police service - some of which are contradictory - the terrorists had pre-booked Room 630 at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which they used as an ammunition store for the attack. Qasab has said at least five men living locally assisted in the logistical arrangements. Police have not ruled out the possibility that Dawood Ibrahim, who masterminded the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings, which killed 257, organised the latest slaughter from his current base in Karachi. Mr Ibrahim has developed links to both al Qa'eda and the banned militant group, Lashkar-i-Taiba. According to Qasab, who speaks fluent English, he and about 20 Pakistan nationals underwent more than five months' training in Kashmir. They were taught to use sophisticated arms and explosives and received instruction on communication devices and tactics to be employed once in Mumbai. At the end of their training, the terrorists were given one month's paid leave before being told to report to Karachi, where, according to some reports, members of the Pakistani navy gave them instruction in boat handling and swimming. They were then handed maps of Mumbai and computer discs containing pictures of their targets, including railway stations, Chabad House, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels. Qasab said the group left Karachi in a stolen fishing boat. According to one report, the group was intercepted by two coastguard officers near Porbandar. While they were being questioned, a fight broke out and one of the terrorists slit one of the coastguard's throats. The other was then forced to help them navigate to Mumbai where, four miles off the coast, he was killed, too. Qasab said the group then transferred to speedboats waiting for them. They reached the Colaba jetty in Mumbai on Wednesday evening where the terrorists split up into groups of two and headed for their various targets. Four of the men headed for the Taj Mahal hotel, two the Oberoi, two towards Chabad House and two - Qasab and his partner, Ismail Khan - to the CST. Each man was equipped with six to seven magazines with 50 bullets each, eight hand grenades per terrorist with one AK-57 - the "big brother" of the AK-47 - an automatic revolver and a supply of dry fruits. At about 9.50pm local time, Qasab and Khan began their carnage at one of India's busiest railway stations, lobbing hand grenades and firing indiscriminately at passengers. The pair walked about the station almost casually and, by the time they were done, more than 100 people were either dead or wounded. After apparently receiving new instructions by mobile phone from the mission commander, Qasab and Khan left the CST in a stolen Skoda and headed for Girgaum Chowpatty, a Mumbai beach area popular with tourists. Their plan, apparently, involved attacking the Times of India building. But en route, at about 1am on Thursday, they got involved with a shootout with police from the Gamdevi police station who had set up a roadblock. Qasab shot dead an assistant police inspector, Tukaram Umbale, before being shot in the hand himself and captured. Khan was shot dead in the exchange of fire. Qasab was then taken to Nair Hospital, where antiterrorist police questioned him and recovered a satellite phone, maps of the CT and ammunition. He was transferred to a secret location after four hours' treatment during which a bullet was removed from his hand. He has since told police that the plan was to blow up the entire Taj Mahal Palace & Tower. He also he had no regrets about embarking on a mission that left almost 500 people dead or wounded. "This was an extremely well planned operation: the logistics, the timing," said Robert Ayers, an international security expert at the Chatham House think tank in London. "The operational planning was very, very professional." Intelligence sources have told Agence France-Presse the attackers were "all well-built and at the peak of their health", in their twenties, and had been extensively trained in military tactics. "The brazenness of this attack has taken everyone by surprise. Nobody believed that gunmen would walk into five-star hotels and begin shooting indiscriminately," said Amit Chanda of the Risk Advisory Group in London. Although a number of Indian officials blamed the Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba, which carried out the assault on the Indian parliament in 2001, the group itself has denied involvement. Analysts have also pointed to the similarities between the Mumbai attacks and the al Qa'eda modus operandi involving suicidal assaults on multiple, high-profile sites designed to cause maximum casualties, chaos and publicity. According to a senior European diplomat in India, the terrorists managed to plan, finance and train for the gruesome operation in total secrecy. "We all feared there would be some kind of attack against Mumbai. After the bombings in so many other Indian cities this year, I think everyone assumed Mumbai would be hit at some point," he told AFP. "But as far as I know, no western intelligence service had any specific, actionable information. It seems these particular guys managed to slip under everyone's radar." dsapsted@thenational.ae