The audacious terror attacks jolted Mumbai like never before. Even as they mourned, the residents of Maximum City demanded answers. But the information they got in return-accounts of the investigation, government rhetoric, newspaper reports, television features, books and even a film-was sketchy at best. Meanwhile, the courts continued with their prosecution of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving 26/11 gunman.
The broad picture available to the public is of the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and its ringleaders such as Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi training, arming and dispatching ten young men in a boat to attack India’s commercial capital. All we have been told about Kasab is that he was just another recruit brainwashed into carrying out the plot against Mumbai.
Kasab: The Face of 26/11 breaks new ground by painstakingly piecing together Kasab’s terror trail. The narrative follows Kasab through the bylanes of Pakistani villages and cities as he made his way towards PoK; the dense forests where the terrorist-training camps are situated; the trains, buses and jeeps he boarded; the Indian vessel he and the others hijacked en route to Mumbai’s shores; Kasab’s capture and incarceration.
Rommel Rodrigues’ path-breaking investigative journalism fleshes out for the first time the well thought out planning and organization that lay behind the attacks of 26/11.
Mumbai has been scarred by many macabre terror attacks in the past two decades. The serial bomb blasts in March 1993 killed more than 250 people and maimed hundreds in a single day; in August 2003 deadly RDX bombs exploded in the busy bylanes of Zaveri Bazaar and near the iconic Gateway of India, killing 52 people; the July 2006 bombings in jam-packed train compartments killed 187 passengers and injured more than 800.
In most cases it has been proved conclusively that the perpetrators were holed up in Pakistan. The direct involvement of the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba with the backing of that country’s Inter-Services Intelligence in over half a dozen terror cases, too, has been evident. Pakistan has, of course, always denied that its territory has been used for terror activities.
The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, however, changed everything.
On 26 November Lashkar-e-Taiba’s fidayeen jihadis-carrying haversacks full of deadly arms and ammunition-traversed the Arabian Sea, merrily stepped out from a small rubber dinghy on to the shores of India, and unleashed a carnage that extended for hours and days at length at several iconic locations of Mumbai.
But this time, Lashkar’s direct involvement was almost immediately discovered.
Within a couple of hours into the attacks, Indian securityagencies-especially the technical experts of the Mumbai Police-were tapping into conversations between the terrorists and their Pakistan-based Lashkar masters, who were motivating and directing the jihadis holed up at the Taj Mahal Palace, the Hotel Oberoi Towers and the Nariman House.
And soon Mohammed Ajmal Arnir Kasab, the lone attacker to be captured alive, came clean about the plot and the people behind it.
Though I had started my career as a journalist before the March 1993 serial bomb blasts and had, over the years, covered most of the terror assaults on Mumbai, I was numbed by the brazenness of the 26/11 attacks.
As I covered the events for my newspaper, and later when I followed the investigations into the attacks, I, like everybody else, gathered bits and pieces of information about Ajmal Kasab's life. Sketchy accounts of the ten terrorists' voyage to Mumbai and the events during the attacks appeared in various media, a couple of books were published and there was even talk of a film based on Ajmal Kasab's life.
In due course, Pakistan accepted that the 26/11 terror attacks were indeed planned on its soil and that the ten terrorists and their masters were its citizens. It even pressed charges against several people and set up a trial court to prosecute the perpetrators. The legal process being followed in Pakistan, the arrests, the charge sheets, the case proceedings, etc. were extensively reported in the media. As a result, more details about the background of the attacks found their way into the public domain.
By now I had become curious about Ajmal Kasab, the baby- faced monster. How was he indoctrinated in the idea of jihad? Where all did he go before he landed into Lashkar's arms? What was the terror outfit's training process like? Where were all the camps located? How did the terrorist manage to reach the shores of Mumbai?
Though thousands of different accounts were available, I started compiling a tight narrative about Ajmal Kasab. The video of his questioning in hospital, which soon appeared on video-sharing websites, became my starting point. Since that was not enough, I began to piece together an account of his life (till he landed at Mumbai) from Indian and Pakistani media reports. Several reports were about his village, his family, his places of work; some listed certain locations he visited during his association with Lashkar and the marine camps where he trained. The accounts of some of those who were being prosecuted in Pakistan were also helpful.
Later, the summary of the charge sheet filed in the Mumbai courts and some details from the dossiers exchanged between India and Pakistan appeared in the public domain, giving further substance to the storyline.
I relied on my sources in Pakistan, most of whom are in the media, to corroborate the information I intended to use. All along, my endeavour was to have as many precise details in my account as possible.
In the weeks following the 26/11 attacks, I was deeply moved by the accounts of the victims. In the second part of this book- which covers the events at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where Ajmal Kasab and his accomplice fired at a huge crowd- I have tried to record the pain they were subjected to.
For me, this book is less about Ajmal Kasab or his life and more about what goes into the making of a deranged fidayeen jihadi, whose mission is to kill and get killed. I have taken up Ajmal Kasab's story to merely build up the plot and chart his journey towards becoming a cold-blooded murderer. It is an attempt to expose, perhaps for the first time, the life history of terrorists bred in Pakistan-based camps.
The book also tries to describe the modus operandi of Lashkar-e-Taiba, its various centres in the towns and cities of Pakistan and the training it imparts to recruits in the dense jungles of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Lastly, I consider it important to list a few key observations made by the court that has convicted and sentenced Ajmal Kasab to the gallows.
While most of the events detailed in this book are based on the reports that came out during the course of the investigations and the revelations reported to have been made by Ajmal Kasab, Additional Sessions Judge M.L. Tahaliyani's judgment that sentenced him to death on several counts contains an account on his life which is different from mine in many particulars. I think it is important to list those differences so that the facts observed and presented by the court are not presumed to be distorted.
According to the judgment, Ajmal Kasab dropped out of school in 2000 to work as a labourer, and he left his house along with his father to look for work in Lahore. In Lahore he lived with his father and uncle, Gulam Rasool, for five years. In 2005, his father and his uncle left for Depalpur. Later, on one of his occasional visits there, Ajmal Kasab quarrelled with his father over the amount he had earned in Lahore. After that, Ajmal Kasab began to live independently at the dargah (Sufi shrine) of Ali Hajweri in Lahore. There he met Shafiq; soon, both of them started working at Welcome Tent Service at Rawalpindi Road in Lahore. At this place of work, Ajmal Kasab got acquainted with Mujjafar Lal Khan.
The court's account further states that in 2007 Ajmal Kasab and Khan left for Rawalpindi in search of a better job. While staying at Bangash Colony in Rawalpindi, they saw some Lashkar members purchasing goat skin in the name of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The Lashkar supporters were calling upon the people to extend help to liberate Kashmir. Ajmal Kasab and Khan watched in admiration and decided to attend one of the regular camps organized by the Jamaat. They obtained the address of a Lashkar office situated in Raza Bazaar in Rawalpindi, and soon volunteered to participate in jihad.
Thereafter, much of the court judgment and the account given in this book regarding the training given at various Lashkar camps, the ten terrorists' journey to India and Ajmal Kasab's later incarceration are, generally speaking, similar. Though I have made all attempts to verify the information used in this book, I accept that there could be some shortcomings. I would be satisfied if readers feel this book is a sincere attempt to comprehend the enormity of 26/11.
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