Mumbai massacre story unfolds in terrorist’s interrogation
— PHOTO: AFP
Prize catch: Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman, the only terrorist arrested in Mumbai, is undergoing treatment at an undisclosed location in the city. This handout photo has been released by the police.
MUMBAI: For the past week, newspaper readers across the world gazed at photographs of the dark young man who, sack slung over his shoulder, was caught on closed-circuit camera minutes before he opened fire at commuters at a busy Mumbai railway station.
Based on interviews with key officers involved in the investigation and on the interrogation records of the terrorist, The Hindu has been able to assemble key parts of the story behind the face.
Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman (wrongly identified earlier as Kamaal and Kasav) began his journey to Mumbai on September 15, 2008. He was part of a group of ten men who had spent months training in marine combat and navigation skills in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Punjab.
Lashkar military commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, Iman has told investigators, showed them detailed maps of south Mumbai, and films of the targets they had been tasked to hit. Iman and his partner ‘Abu Umar’ — whose name, he learned, was in fact Mohammad Ismail — were tasked with attacking the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Iman and the other terrorists were set to leave for Mumbai on September 27.
For reasons he claims to be unaware of, they were ordered to hold back. Late on November 22, Lakhvi finally gave the team a heads-up. At 4:15 a.m. on November 23, Iman and Ismail rowed out to sea along with four other groups: men Iman knew as Abu Akasha and Abu Umar; ‘Bada’ [Big] Abdul Rehman and Abu Ali; ‘Chhota’ [small] Abdul Rehman and Afadullah; Shoaib and Umar.
Each man was equipped with a Kalashnikov rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition and grenades. The group also had at least one state-of-the art Garmin global positioning system set, and several mobile phones fitted with SIM cards, which have now been determined to have been purchased in Kolkata and New Delhi. Three men had larger bags, packed with five timer-controlled Improvised Explosive Devices.
Near Indian coastal waters, the men hijacked a fishing boat. On reaching Mumbai, they rowed the last few nautical miles to Budhwar Park in an inflatable dinghy. From Budhwar Park, they travelled on to their targets by hailing taxis. Iman and Ismail reached CST as planned, and opened fire on the assembled commuters. While Ismail was killed when policemen at the site returned fire, braving grenades thrown at them, Iman was injured and is now in the Mumbai hospital.
Mumbai police officials were able to defuse two of the IEDs planted at the Taj Mahal hotel and a third at the Oberoi hotel, even as fighting broke out. This police action saved dozens of lives. However, two bombs went off in taxis used by the group, possibly after being abandoned in the vehicles.
Iman has told interrogators that right through the fighting, the Lashkar headquarters remained in touch with the group, calling their phones through a voice-over-internet service. In all likelihood, Indian investigators were able to intercept these calls, which would then form part of a compelling body of evidence to corroborate Iman’s account. In addition, Mumbai police sources said, investigators have succeeded in reconstructing the group’s journey through the Garmin GPS set that has been seized.
Corrections and Clarifications:
The lead story “Mumbai massacre story unfolds in terrorist’s interrogation” (December 2, 2008, page 1) said, in the third paragraph, that Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman (wrongly identified earlier as Kamaal and Kasav) began his journey to Mumbai on September 15, 2008, while the fifth paragraph said Iman and the other terrorists were set to leave for Mumbai on September 27. Confusion arose over the two dates mentioned. The clarification is that the terrorists concerned began to leave Muridke, near Lahore, on September 15, travelling in groups of two to Karachi. They were ready to leave Karachi on September 27.
(The Hindu, 2 Dec 08)
A journey into the Lashkar
Iman’s story shows it preys on the most vulnerable poor
MUMBAI: It is improbable that Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman’s family has seen the photograph that has made his face known across the world.
Hours before he began firing at commuters waiting at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) last week, Iman, one of ten Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, was caught on closed-circuit camera.
After he and his partner, Mohammad Ismail, had killed 55 commuters at CST and three senior police officers, including Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Chief Hemant Karkare, Iman was injured and captured — and the story he has since been telling Mumbai police investigators casts new light on how the feared terror group preys on the most vulnerable in Pakistani society to further its agenda of hate.
The man in the photo was born on July 13, 1987 at Faridkot village in Dipalpur tehsil of Okara district in Pakistan’s Punjab province. His family belongs to the underprivileged Qasai caste. His father, Mohammad Amir Iman, runs a dahi-puri snack cart. His mother, Noori Tai, is a homemaker.
Iman is the third of the family’s five children. His 25-year-old brother, Afzal, lives near the Yadgar Minar in Lahore. His sister, Rukaiyya Husain, 22, is married locally. Iman’s younger siblings, 14-year-old Suraiyya and 11-year-old Munir, live at home.
Iman’s desperately poor family could not afford to keep their second son, an indifferent student, at the Government Primary School in Faridkot past the fourth grade. He was pulled out of school in 2000, at the age of 13, and went to live with his older brother in Lahore. Afzal, who lives in a tenement near the Yadgar Minar in Lahore, eked out a living on a labourer’s wages, and could barely afford to look after his brother. For the next several years, Iman shuttled between the homes of his brother and parents. Adrift
After a row with his parents in 2005, Iman left home, determined never to return. No longer welcome in Afzal’s home, he stayed at the shrine of the saint Syed Ali Hajveri until he could pick up some work. He began working as a labourer and by 2007 his work brought in Rs. 200 a day. Iman, however, found the work degrading. He soon began spending time with small-time criminals in Lahore. Along with a friend, a one-time Attock resident named Muzaffar Lal Khan, Iman decided to launch a new career in armed robbery.
On Bakr Eid day in 2007, Iman has told the Mumbai Police, the two men made their way to the Raja bazaar in Rawalpindi, hoping to purchase weapons. In the market, they saw activists for the Jamaat-ud-Dawa — the parent political organisation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba — handing out pamphlets and posters about the organisation and its activities. After a discussion lasting a few minutes, Iman claims, both men decided to join — not because of their Islamist convictions but in the hope that the jihad training they would receive would further their future life in crime. A life in Lashkar
But at the Lashkar’s base camp, Markaz Taiba, Iman’s world view began to change. Films on India’s purported atrocities in Kashmir, and fiery lectures by preachers, including Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, led him to believe that the Lashkar’s cause — the greater glory of Islam, as the organisation presented it — was worth giving his life to. It is possible, an official involved in the interrogation suggested, that the atmosphere of the camp gave him the sense of family he had lacked for much of his life.
When he returned home for a two-month break after his indoctrination at the Lashkar base camp, he found a respectability within his community and family that had eluded him most of his life. Where Iman had earlier been seen as a burden, he was now self-sufficient — and bore the halo of religious piety.
Later that year, Iman was chosen for the Lashkar’s basic combat course, the Daura Aam. He performed well and was among a small group of 32 men selected to undergo advanced training at a camp near Manshera, a course the organisation calls the Daura Khaas. Finally, he was among an even smaller group selected for specialised marine commando and navigation training given to the fidayeen unit selected to target Mumbai.
According to Iman, Lashkar military commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi promised that his family would be rewarded with Rs. 1.5 lakh for his sacrifice.
A jihadi slogan by a Tauheedi (Salafi/Ahl-e-Hadith/Wahhabi organization)
People in Faridkot
Sleepy village baffled by link to captured terrorist
* Saeed Shah in Faridkot, Pakistan * The Guardian, Tuesday December 2 2008
A sleepy village in Pakistan has found itself at the centre of the Mumbai terror plot, leaving locals bewildered.
Faridkot, a settlement in the south of the Punjab province, has been overrun by Pakistani intelligence agents and police for the past three days after it was reported by Indian officials that the lone gunman captured alive in Mumbai came from a place called Faridkot.
Agents from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were still questioning locals yesterday.
“All the agencies have been here and the (police) special branch,” said village elder Mehboob Khan Daha. “We have become very worried. What’s this all about?”
A dusty backwater, the inhabitants are peasant farmers who own small parcels of land and are poorly educated. Water buffalo and goats roam the dirt tracks of the village.
Men sit around gossiping on traditional woven rope beds, placed out in the open, wearing the usual baggy shalwar kameez pyjama suits, some with turbans. Roughly built small brick homes and little mud huts are dotted around the village, which has a population of about 3,000. It is 34 miles east from the nearest large city, Multan.
“There are no jihadis here,” said Ijaz Ahmed, 41. “I can think of maybe 10 or 20 people here who have even been as far as Multan.”
The Faridkot link is a key plank of India’s accusations against Pakistan. The captured gunman, variously named as Ajmal Amir Kamal, Azam Amir Kasav or Azam Ameer Qasab, is said to come from Faridkot, which is described as being near Multan. He is said to speak fluent English and a clear photograph of him shows a young man in western clothes. Shown a picture of the alleged militant, Daha said: “That’s a smart-looking boy. We don’t have that sort around here.”
In Faridkot, no one appeared to be able to speak much English; most could only converse in a dialect of the provincial language. None of the villagers recognised the face in the photograph.
They said the intelligence agents wanted to know if there was any presence of the radical Deobandi or Al-Hadith religious movements in the village, to which they were told “no”. The agents mentioned five names, villagers said, including Ajmal, Amir, Kamal and Azam, all common names in Pakistan. There were five Ajmals in the village, all present except one who is living in provincial capital Lahore, and none fitted the description of the militant. The Azam in the village is a 75-year-old retired railway worker.
One of the Ajmals, a man who thought he was about 30, has worked in a nearby tea factory for the past 12 years, he said. The police and intelligence agencies have been asking his whereabouts.
“All I ever do is go to work, which is about 3km away. I have never been beyond Kanewal (the closest town),” said Muhammad Ajmal. “I’m uneducated.”
Faridkot lies in a part of Punjab known for extremist activity but the village itself did not show any signs of being a hotbed of militancy. Written on a board at the entrance to the village mosque, it is declared that members of the hardline Tablighi Jamaat “are not permitted”. [This is a sign of Salafi/Wahhabi control (the Lashkar-e-Toiba creed of Islam) on this village, as is also evident from the pictures above).
Also read the following report on evidence that Ajmal Kasab belonged to Farid Kot: