Headley and i, p.14
HEADLEY AND I,
S. Hussain Zaidi
I stayed at Chabad House for a day and interacted with everyone, including the rabbi. I did not notice any signs of Mossad activity. Since I had been well trained, I knew what to look for. If I couldn’t find anything, it meant that my handlers were wrong. However, I agreed with Lashkar’s basic principle—that Jews had to be eradicated from the face of the earth—and I decided that a bomb should definitely be planted at Nariman House and it should most certainly be one of the target sites.
My handlers liked my findings and my idea that Nariman House and its rabbi and his family should be a target. However, they didn’t confirm anything.
Earlier, in September 2007, I had convinced Vilas to take me to the golf course of the Willingdon Sports Club to see if I could get a membership. I had learned to play golf in Lahore and had even bought a golf kit. I knew that an attack on a posh high-society golf club in Mumbai would be the icing on the cake. However, the club had very strict rules about membership and I couldn’t get in. Since I had little use for my golf kit, I gave it to Vilas before leaving India that time. Almost a year later, armed with a camera, I recorded the layout of the club in detail.
In the guise of an affluent businessman on a work trip to Mumbai, or as a tourist, I managed to sneak into all the corridors and nooks and crannies of the Taj, which is an old Gothic structure, and realized that the old building of the Taj was connected to its new building. During my reconnaissance of the hotel, I even recorded the interior of Jazdar, the jewellery shop inside. Nobody suspected a thing. I walked around the entire perimeter of CST, from the old terminus to the new one, recording every minute detail. I even got some videos of the Mumbai Central railway station, another busy spot. Nobody would get lost if they memorized the details captured on these videos. My work was appreciated by my handlers too; they especially liked my video of Chabad House.
In April 2008, I identified and filmed one of the most important sites: a safe and secure landing spot for the attackers who would arrive in Mumbai.
The assignment was slightly tricky. There was no way that the attackers could enter via the land route, and air travel was, of course, out of the question. The Lashkar strategists had worked their way around this problem. Karachi has a geographical proximity to the Mumbai Harbour via the Arabian Sea, and so the attackers, I was told, would come from the sea.
My handlers and several others met in Muzaffarabad to discuss this matter. The meeting was held at Zaki’s place. Initially, Sajid didn’t show much interest in taking me to the meeting, but at the last minute, he changed his mind and asked me to accompany him. Apart from the two of us, the others who were present at the meeting were Zaki, Muzammil and Abu Kahafa. Also at the meeting was a clean-shaven man with a crew cut, who appeared to be in his mid-thirties. Remember the frogman I told you about, the one I had met in Muzaffarabad? It was the same man—Abdur Rehman. I was introduced to him as Abdul Qadir. His manners and the way he held himself showed that he was from the Pakistan Navy.
Zaki wanted to figure out the transportation and landing of the attackers with the help of the frogman. They discussed various landing options along the coast of Mumbai, using a sea chart the frogman had brought with him. A plan was floated: the attackers would be dropped off at some place around sixty or seventy kilometres from Mumbai city in order to avoid detection. But the frogman vetoed this plan, saying that the sea would become rough after June.
On the second day, Rehman told me to check the position of Indian naval vessels in the Arabian Sea to avoid the possibility of a gunfight before the attackers even entered Indian waters. I said I would find out as much as I could. That was the last time I saw the frogman.
I came back to Mumbai on 10 April 2008, armed with instructions to find an entry point, and also to conduct a recce of BARC, which I’ve mentioned before. Apart from my trusty camera, my handlers had given me another piece of equipment to help aid my assignment—a Garmin GPS instrument. All I had to do was enter the coordinates of all the possible landing sites as well as the exact location of the targets, and it would acquaint my LeT masters with the layout of the city and help them figure out the best place to land in Mumbai.
Armed with these two gadgets, I set about my assignment. After having completed the BARC recce, I came back to south Mumbai, hired a boat at the Gateway of India, and started cruising along the Mumbai Harbour.
Very soon, I was openly filming along the coastline, expecting to be intercepted at some point by either the coastguard or the navy, especially since there was a naval base very close to the Taj. But to my amazement, I was not stopped even once, anywhere, by anyone. I managed to move around unhindered and undetected, without a single restriction or question. The men who handled the boat kept quiet too, as I had not bargained with them over the cost of hiring it out. They were glad to assist me with whatever I wanted.
From the Gateway of India, I carried out video surveillance of all the places that would be attacked, but somehow, I could not locate one place that would be perfect as a landing spot for the attackers. As usual, according to our arrangement, I called Rana and informed him about my mission and all that I had done. But before signing off, I told him that I was not very happy with the video recording and told him that I needed a little more time to identify a suitable landing site. Rana concurred with my decision to carry out further surveillance.
The next day, I went recording again, but this time from the Trident Hotel end of the city. Again, I moved around with my camera and took pictures and recorded everything without being stopped or questioned even once. The assignment was turning out to be easy, but I was still not happy.
I made another trip by boat in the vicinity of the Taj. That day it so happened that I landed up near Budhwar Park at Cuffe Parade. It wasn’t thronging with people like the other beaches along the Mumbai coastline, and once the sun set, the place was quite dark. I realized that if the attackers came by night, they would have the perfect cover—the darkness of mother nature. Throughout my recce, I kept updating and loading the GPS device with all the coordinates.
I made one final boat trip into the waters of the Arabian Sea, this time from the Worli side. I took the boat all the way from Haji Ali, the famous mosque in the middle of the sea, to the Taj at the Gateway. By now I was quite used to not being intercepted. My activities, which could clearly be deemed very suspicious, went completely unnoticed—surprising, since Mumbai is supposed to be constantly on the radar of terrorists.
In between these trips, I also indulged in a little fishing to calm my mind. That too went unquestioned, even though I knew that I cut a strange spectacle, a white man on a local boat, catching fish with the local fishermen. I caught a decent number of fish, and gave them to Mrs Kripalani, the owner of Outram Hotel where I was staying.
I finally settled upon the Cuffe Parade area as the most promising landing spot. I was pleased with my work, and felt sorry for the complacent and self-important, pompous Indians for their ‘oh, we are so secure’ attitude. They would soon discover the perils of overconfidence and arrogance.
I called Rana and informed him that I had completed my assignment and found a good landing spot.
During my next visit to India in July 2008, I continued recording the targets, getting as much information as I could. I had done everything that the LeT and the ISI had asked me to do. By the end of July 2008, I had quite a substantial amount of recorded material. I was quite proud of my videos and knew that any attacker relying on these films would have no problem in finding their way around these landmarks.
In August 2008, when I went back to Pakistan, I faithfully reported to my bosses all the work I had done and the conclusions I had drawn. I had played my part in the scheme of things, and all that was required now was for them to identify the men who would attack Mumbai. I heard on the grapevine that ten men were already being trained for the attack, and wished them well.
When I met Sajid and Zaki, I learned that they had finally gone ahead with my recommendation and designated Chabad H
I was most satisfied that they had chosen Chabad House as a target. I suppose Sajid had a hand in this; after all, he was a Saudi Salafi and he believed that Jews should be the number one target. And he was not the only one. When I had told Pasha about it, he too had liked the idea. It was at his insistence that I had recommended that Nariman House also be designated as a target.
Another point we discussed at that meeting was the egress of the attackers once the operation had been executed. The consensus was that the attackers would take a train or a bus bound for some place in north India, make their way to Kashmir, and take refuge there. Later, when I met Major Iqbal, he too emphasized the egress option for the attackers. We discussed the VT train schedules and the bus timings to figure out an escape route. Sajid even told me that he had dropped a couple of boys who were being trained because if the number of attackers became unwieldy, it would make an undetected escape to Kashmir that much more difficult.
However, the more we discussed it, the more the egress option appeared difficult. So we thought of establishing a stronghold somewhere, as an alternative. This slowly took precedence over the egress option. I believe the LeT, in keeping with the decision, started giving lectures to the attackers on Fazail-e-Shaheed and Fazail-e-Jehad (the merits of martyrdom and the excellence of jehad).
The next day, Abu Kahafa joined the meeting. We talked of the jewellery shop at the Taj. There was a plan to loot the shop and use the jewellery to raise funds, although I don’t know how serious they were about actually doing it.
Meanwhile, Sajid and Zaki had come up with a Plan B, and prepared two sets of targets depending on the time of landing. Should they reach during the day, the Mumbai Police headquarters would be their first target. I must say I was impressed by the level of detail that went into planning the attack.
After a few days, I found out that Sajid had been shifted to Muridke, and so had the attackers. During this period, Hafiz Saeed, along with others like Bhutti, Nasar Javed and Abdur Rehman Maki, made regular trips to Muridke and helped in training and motivating the boys. I also found out that an Indian, probably from Maharashtra, who was considered an asset, was finally dropped as Sajid wanted to use him elsewhere. I don’t know what became of this Indian boy, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t part of the group that attacked Mumbai.
Sometime in August 2008, Sajid gave me one last assignment. He told me to go to the Wagah border, which is a thirty-minute drive from Lahore, to check the cell phone connectivity of one of the SIM cards which the attackers would use in Mumbai. It was an Indian SIM card of the Vodafone company.
In September 2008, on the instructions of my Lashkar masters, I returned one last time before the attack to Mumbai, to give finishing touches to my reconnaissance, to tie up any and all loose ends, and conduct final, last-minute checks of the targets. When I returned to Pakistan, my handlers congratulated me on my work and told me that my job was done.
I had performed my role to their expectations. Sajid and Zaki told me not to bother about the operation any more, and advised me to lie low for a while. For safety’s sake, I shifted my family—my wife Shazia and my four children—to the US on 8 September 2008. Tahawwur Rana’s family received them in Chicago.
My handlers also told me that my larger mission was far from over. I would have to go back to India and carry out reconnaissance of other Jewish centres across the country. I happily agreed.
Meanwhile, there were a few personal upheavals in my life. Faiza Outalha, my other wife, met Hafiz Saeed in early September. Earlier, too, she had met senior officials in the police and created problems for me. In fact, I was even taken into custody by the Lahore Police on her complaint, and had to spend eight days in the Race Course police station before my father-in-law (Shazia’s father) bailed me out. Major Iqbal also helped to procure my release. Hafiz Saeed then wanted me to reconcile with Faiza, but I told him that it would be difficult as I was busy with the LeT’s operational activities. He understood my compulsions.
There were a couple of hiccups with the Mumbai attack mission as well. The first attempt in September 2008 during Ramzan had to be aborted. Everything had been readied for the attack, but the boat that had been bought for the travel to Mumbai from Karachi, with five lakh rupees that were provided by Major Iqbal, hit a rock and had to be junked. The attackers were safe, as they had all been wearing life jackets, which had been procured at my insistence. Major Iqbal assured all of us that it wouldn’t happen again, and that the next boat was ready, with weapons, ammunition and equipment. He told us that the government would clear it. Hafiz Saeed too had given his full approval for the attack. In fact, he was abreast of each and every stage of planning. Sajid Mir too confirmed this.
The plan received another setback in the second half of October. I was in Karachi in November 2008, and met Sajid at a MacDonald’s outlet. He told me that the second attempt to capture an Indian boat had failed. When they approached the boat, the Indian crew aboard had become suspicious and steered it away. There was an exchange of gunfire, but the boat got away.
I knew how important the attack on Mumbai was to the LeT and the ISI. In December 2007, I had received instructions from Sajid to meet him—in Rawalpindi this time, instead of Muzaffarabad. I reached ’Pindi on 27 December 2007, the day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Abu Hamza came on a motorcycle to pick me up from the bus stand at ’Pindi. Soon, word of the attack on Benazir reached us, and we all assembled at a Lashkar safe house near Ayub Colony. We talked about the assassination attempt, and how it would affect the future of Pakistan. I recollect that all those present at the safe house, including Abu Hamza and Sajid, were praying that Benazir should not survive the attempt. But even then, the most important thing on everyone’s mind was the Mumbai attack. Despite the events of the day, we still had serious discussions about it and about the Taj Hotel in Colaba.
In fact, the plan to attack Mumbai had not been formed overnight. It had developed from a split in ideology, the main issue being, whether the focus should be on the jehad in Kashmir or Afghanistan. People like Abdur Rehman and Pasha had already split from the LeT. They were more interested in carrying on the jehad in Afghanistan than in Kashmir. Zaki had a serious problem holding the LeT together and convincing them to fight for Kashmir and against India.
There were several reasons why the jehad in Kashmir was of paramount importance to Zaki. Firstly, the ratio of deployment of forces in Kashmir vis-à-vis the general population was one of the highest. So it became a legitimate struggle, to fight the occupation forces in Kashmir. Plus, there is no denying that Lashkar was closer to the Kashmir situation and population than it was to Afghanistan, which is why it could continue the jehad better in Kashmir than in Afghanistan. Over the years, the LeT had become known as an outfit struggling for the liberation of Kashmir, and this would not be easy to replicate in Afghanistan.
Also, at the time, I knew that the ISI was under tremendous pressure to stop any integration of Kashmir-based jehadi organizations with Taliban-backed outfits. It was always in the interest of the ISI to keep these two sets apart. So Zaki was only reiterating the ISI’s official line.
However, the aggression and commitment to jehad shown by the several splinter groups in Afghanistan influenced many committed fighters to leave Kashmir-centric outfits and join the Taliban. This, in a way, compelled the LeT to think up a spectacular terrorist strike in India, and in the ISI it found a willing partner. The strike would essentially serve three purposes: to control further splits in Kashmir-based outfits, give them a sense of achievement, and shift and minimize the theatre of operations from the domestic soil of Pakistan to India.
All of this simply accelerated the Mumbai attack project. Where, initially, it was only a limited plan to attack the Taj with a couple of men, it grew into a grand plan to strike Mumbai at multiple locations with multiple attackers. That was where I had come in, and why my role was so crucial to the ISI and the LeT. And they agreed that I had fulfilled this role with aplomb.
After September 2008, my part in the Mumbai attack was over, and the mission was fully handed over to Lashkar. It was now their turn to show what they were capable of.
My friendship with David had grown stronger than before, and I felt as if no two human beings could ever be closer. Our association was the most special thing in my life, and even though David was away for several weeks at a time, we kept in touch with each other by phone, SMS or email. With a dysfunctional family like mine and an absentee father like Mr Mahesh Bhatt, David’s presence was the best thing that had happened to me.
Ironically, Vilas had become more of an appendage. My relationship with David was warmer, and more intense than his with Vilas. I couldn’t figure out why this was so; maybe there was a language barrier between them, because all said and done, Vilas’s English was not exactly the best.
I even wondered whether David actually understood the expletives that Vilas often used in front of him, some of which were even aimed at him—words like madarchod, behenchod and chutiya. Of course, I know now that not only did David understand every expletive as well as any conversations between us in Hindi, he probably knew far more abusive words than we did and could have put both our Hindi and broken Urdu to shame.
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