Headley and i, p.15
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       HEADLEY AND I, p.15

           S. Hussain Zaidi
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Whether David had decided that Vilas was too foul-mouthed a person to be in close touch with, I shall never know. I never used such abusive language, either aimed at or in front of David. Of course, I am no novice and can match the average street thug word for word as far as uttering gaalis is concerned. I actually think an expletive or two helps you express yourself more accurately. But I refrained from using such language with David because I loved and respected him. I told myself that even though David was an American and probably did not understand the words of abuse, I would never use such language with him. Vilas, unfortunately, had no such reservations. And I have to hand it to David—he always kept such a straight, innocent face that I never managed to figure out that he was following the entire conversation.

  Those were good days, when David was in Mumbai, and we all hung out together. We would watch movies, eat out, or simply wander around together. We liked spending time with each other.

  One day, we were talking about women in general—who would make a good wife and who a better lover and so on—when David told me that I should get myself a Moroccan wife. I was most surprised and asked him why. David laughed and told me that he had a lot of experience when it came to women, and Moroccan women were especially hot and sensuous. ‘Rahul,’ he said, ‘you will never find a woman like a Moroccan woman.’

  There was one thought I never could shake off: that David could not be an immigration agent. Or even if he was, it was just a cover. There were too many things the man knew that made me certain that he was part of some intelligence agency.

  On 20 September 2008, we were in my Maruti SX4 on our way to watch Hannibal Rising. We planned to have dinner together after the movie. As we were crossing Kemps Corner, we heard on the car radio that an explosive-laden truck had detonated just outside the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing at least fifty-four people and injuring over two hundred and fifty. The massive explosion had left a sixty-foot wide and twenty-foot deep crater outside the hotel.

  We had been laughing and chatting till then but when we heard about the attack, all of us, including David, fell silent. The enormity of it was disturbing and no one spoke for a long while. David looked grim and thoughtful. After a while, he broke his silence and said, ‘You know, Rahul, this kind of thing may soon happen in Mumbai too. So you guys should watch out and keep safe.’

  At any other time, I would have laughed, assuming that David was joking, but this time he seemed to be serious. I found the sudden warning rather out of character for David; I had never heard him make such statements before. But because I always thought that David wasn’t just an ordinary American immigration lawyer, I didn’t question him. Maybe he had some sort of inside information or intelligence. In fact, he had once told me that he had been with the United States Army Rangers. Were they the ones who had given David some inside dope about an attack in Mumbai? After all, he seemed to have inside information about a million things. For instance, he had once told me how terrorists were being trained by the SSG, Pakistan’s Special Security Group, and many things about them that I had never heard before.

  I kept quiet, wondering if Mumbai was indeed a sitting duck for terrorist organizations. If the earlier blasts at the Gateway of India and on the local trains were anything to go by, David might well be right. We never seemed to learn from our mistakes.

  A few days later, David left Mumbai again, ostensibly to go to the US. But we maintained contact. He used to call me at 10.30 or 11 p.m., when I was ready to retire for the day; it was the perfect time to talk to him. Perhaps he knew that, or perhaps it was just convenient for him to call me at that time, but I soon grew used to his calls at night.

  He once told me that all these calls he made were from a satellite phone. It surprised me no end, and I asked him, ‘Agent Headley! How the fuck did you get hold of a satellite phone?’ He laughed, but he never answered my question.

  David’s concern for me was touching. For instance, when the swine flu epidemic hit India in May 2009 and the number of deaths kept rising, David called me to find out how we were. He said he found the sight of people roaming around with masks on their faces alarming, and enquired if Vilas and I were safe and if our families were all right. I told him that everything was cool. When I asked about his next trip to Mumbai, he only said he hoped to come soon.

  I vividly remember one particular phone call from David. It was on 10 November 2008, at 10.30 p.m., when I was about to go to bed. My phone rang, and when I picked it up, I saw the numbers 00000, which told me that it was a long-distance call from a satellite phone. For some strange reason, I felt uneasy as I answered the call, but it was only David, and I breathed easy. Once I started speaking to him, the fleeting apprehension I had experienced before picking up the phone dissipated.

  However, the feeling returned soon enough. After we had exchanged news about each other and made small talk for a couple of minutes, David said, ‘Rahul, don’t venture out towards south Mumbai for the next few days.’

  I was puzzled and didn’t know how to respond. He asked me if I’d heard him, and I said yes, but when I asked him why, David refused to elaborate, only repeating what he had said. ‘Just avoid going to south Mumbai for some time. I thought I should tell you this.’

  I was sure that David was not joking, so I said okay, and told him that I would heed his advice. I read in his serious, friendly tone a kind of paternal concern for me, as David had become like a father figure by then. So I did not question him, and agreed to do as he said.

  It so happened that there was never any reason for me to go to south Mumbai in the next few days as my work, my gym, everything was concentrated in the western suburbs.

  And then it happened. Mumbai was attacked on 26 November 2008 and my life changed.

  Like everyone else that night, I watched the horror unfold on the various news channels on TV. Ten commandos were ripping my city apart, there were explosions at the Trident, there had been firing at CST and at Metro, the Taj was up in flames; Mumbai was reeling under an unprecedented, ruthless terror attack. Despite the combined might of the National Security Guard, the elite Marcos, short for Marine Commandos, the navy, army and the Mumbai Police, we took nearly sixty hours to neutralize those ten boys from Pakistan, who later turned out to be mere rookies. They left 166 people dead and several hundred injured. But more damagingly, they left a city and a nation forever scarred.

  I remember staying frozen in my seat, numbly watching the carnage unfold. I still cannot believe what happened, and how Mumbai was set aflame and very nearly destroyed by just a few boys from Pakistan. Since then, I have often wondered what would have happened had there been not just ten people but a force of 100. Would the NSG commandos and the army and all our security agencies have been able to stop them even in 600 hours?

  As we discovered later, two of the terrorists, Ajmal Aamir Kasab and Abu Ismail, were neutralized right at the beginning. They had drawn their AK-47 rifles and fired indiscriminately at the crowd at CST, wreaking havoc within seconds; fifty-eight people were killed at the railway terminus and over a 100 wounded in the hour-long assault. Two others from the team of ten were at Nariman House, taking Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his family hostage. These two received real-time instructions from their handlers in Pakistan, and were told to kill all the Jewish hostages, as ‘the lives of Jews were worth fifty times those of non-Jews’. They killed the rabbi and his wife, who was six months pregnant, and four other hostages, before they were taken out by the NSG. At the Taj were four of the terrorists, two who had gone there directly and two who had first shot and killed ten people at Leopold Cafe before proceeding to the Taj. The other two were at the Trident.

  The attacks began close to 9.30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and ended on Saturday morning at 8 a.m., when the last terrorists were neutralized at the Taj. These four attackers, who were holed up at the Taj, gave the security agencies the toughest time and ended up killing some of the best commandos of the NSG. Everything inside the Taj was damaged, from famous artworks to
antique artefacts; the Sea Lounge, where David, Vilas and I had had lunch once, suffered the most damage.

  Sadly, even as the terrorists were getting real-time instructions from Pakistan and executing them, our own people, who knew the layout and topography of the city as well as of the individual buildings, could not finish them off sooner. What a shame!

  It was not until much later, after all but one terrorist had been killed and Mumbai was struggling to come back to some semblance of normalcy, that I remembered the call that David had made to me a couple of weeks earlier. I had no way of contacting him directly, since it was always he who called me, but one thought kept returning to me constantly—how could David have known about the attack, going to the extent of warning me to stay away from south Mumbai? How could he have known in September, when we heard about the bombing at the Islamabad Marriott, that a similar attack could rock Mumbai, while our security agencies knew nothing about it?

  These and many other confusing thoughts kept plaguing my mind. I waited for David to call, so I could ask him how he could have known what would happen, but the call never came.

  Then, finally, sometime in the second week of December, my phone rang and I picked it up to see the familiar set of zeros. It was David. It was a huge relief to see the number after all the time I had spent waiting. I pounced on the phone and said, ‘Hello, David, how are you doing?’

  Uncharacteristically, he did not answer my question. Instead, the first thing he said was, ‘Are you and Vilas safe?’

  ‘Yeah, we’re fine,’ I told him.

  ‘Are your families all right?’

  ‘Don’t worry, David, we’re all okay, and our families are safe. We’re fine,’ I said, as reassuringly as I could.

  I think I heard a sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. He then asked me what the situation was like in Mumbai. I told him that it was pretty chaotic, and that eight black-suited agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation were here too.

  ‘Did you see what they said about the Sea Lounge at the Taj? It’s the most damaged!’ David said.

  I had just been thinking that too.

  Then David said he knew about the whole thing. I didn’t know what to say, and when I asked him what he meant, he refused to elaborate. I knew it was pointless trying to prise answers out of him, and that it would be better for both of us if I waited until we met. So I asked him when he would come to Mumbai next, and he promised me that he would come and speak with me directly. We said our goodbyes and hung up, but I never met him again.

  That call left me with mixed feelings. I couldn’t help but wonder about this man who was so concerned about us and our safety. It was clear to me that he was more than he appeared, his last couple of calls had proved as much. My nickname for him, Agent Headley, fit David to the T. But if he was all that and more, why was he so anxious to know if we were all safe? What did we mean to him, to this American who lived so many thousands of miles away? And there was that one thought at the back of my mind which I couldn’t blank out, however much I tried. If David was so well informed, if he had known months in advance about what would happen to Mumbai, why had our own security and intelligence agencies not known about it? More specifically, why had he or his bosses not told Indian agencies about the attack?


  ‘Well, Mr Headley, we know what happened on 26 November. What did you do next?’ Behera asked.

  The top cops from the NIA were still smarting from Headley’s barbs about India’s security setup, the utter lack of security along the Mumbai coastline, and the ease with which the Pakistani terrorists had managed to exploit the chinks.

  They shifted uneasily in their seats and tried to shrug off Headley’s censure, at the same time bracing themselves for any more disclosures on the lax vigilance.

  ‘You need to know a few things before I tell you what I did next,’ Headley said.

  Behera nodded.

  I hadn’t done much for nearly three months. On my handlers’ instructions, I had gone to Mumbai one last time in September 2008, to wrap up my surveillance there. Then I returned to Pakistan, again via Dubai, and passed on my observations to my LeT masters.

  After that, I sat around in Lahore, waiting for instructions on further assignments. Time passed excruciatingly slowly, and I was getting restless. It was impossible not to do anything, not be a part of anything! There was no word about my extensive recces in Mumbai either, and I was getting worried. Whenever I asked Sajid Mir or Major Iqbal what was happening on the Mumbai front, they would ask me to be patient, and assure me that I would soon find out.

  Initially, I thought there were some internal problems between the ISI and the LeT. It had been brewing for some time, with major differences cropping up between Abdur Rehman Pasha and the LeT’s Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi. Zaki felt that he was being upstaged by the ISI, and that the ISI was using him. Once, Abdur Rehman Pasha, Abu Dujana, Major Haroon and I were at my house discussing a plan to assassinate President Musharraf. Later, when Abu Dujana told Zaki about this discussion, he flew into a rage and warned us against such talk. In fact, Zaki and Major Haroon too had a falling out later, and Major Haroon even distributed pamphlets against Zaki. There was also a strong rumour that the ISI would have Zaki removed as the military chief of LeT. However, it did not happen.

  Anyway, after sitting around doing nothing for a long time, in the first week of November, I decided to go to my masters and ask them what my next course of action should be.

  I contacted Abdur Rehman Pasha and secured an appointment with him. On the designated day, I met him in Karachi, and after paying my respects, I expressed my desire for further assignments. Pasha had already heard of my exploits in Mumbai and had a plan of action ready for me.

  The mission this time was the same: surveillance. The target: Copenhagen, Denmark. Specifically, the Aarhus offices of the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten.

  On 30 September 2005, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper had published an article with cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. The entire Islamic world rose up in protest, saying that the Danes were deliberately insulting the Prophet.

  Pasha asked me to go to Copenhagen and conduct a detailed recce of the office, just as I had done in Mumbai, in preparation for an attack on the newspaper. The infidels would pay, he told me, for ridiculing Prophet Muhammad.

  I was active again. But I had not been told who would be conducting the operation. I knew that the chances of Lashkar doing it were slim, as the LeT more or less confines itself to the Indian subcontinent. It isn’t really active anywhere else. But if not the LeT, who could it be?

  I asked Pasha. He told me that if Lashkar did not go through with the attack, someone else would, but he refused to elaborate. He asked me to be patient. ‘Allah will provide all the help in this matter,’ he said.

  However, I had not been a part of the LeT and undergone intensive training for nothing. I had a faint inkling of who might help us in the attack on the Danish newspaper.

  In some of my earlier conversations with Pasha, he had mentioned that he was in touch with the famed Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the most important and highly placed men in the hierarchy of the Al Qaeda. He was known as Doctor to everyone. Unlike the LeT, Al Qaeda is a worldwide outfit with access to every corner of the globe. When Pasha remained secretive, my sixth sense told me that Ilyas Kashmiri could be the person. Kashmiri was pretty much the second-in-command at the Al Qaeda after Ayman al-Zawahiri, the outfit’s spokesperson—if Zawahiri was the right hand, Kashmiri was the left hand of Osama bin Laden, whom we jehadis always referred to as Amir Osama.

  But before anyone would agree to help us, someone would have to show them that some work had already been done, and that surveillance work was already being carried out. That someone was me. I met Sajid, who was in those days coordinating the attack on Mumbai, at a McDonald’s outlet in Karachi. He gave me a pen drive containing some information on Denmark, which was mostly open-source research conducted on the country. It had i
nformation about Denmark and photographs of Flemming Rose and Kurt Westergaard, the cultural editor and the cartoonist, respectively, of Jyllands-Posten. Sajid also gave me 3,000 euro for the Denmark reconnaissance.

  Armed with information and money, I went to Copenhagen in mid-November and, as instructed, visited the Denmark offices of the newspaper. I couldn’t just walk into the office, so I had prepared an airtight excuse for my visit. I explained that First World Immigration was to open a branch in Copenhagen, and as a first step towards making ourselves more visible in the market, we wanted to place an advertisement in the newspaper.

  This naturally got the attention of the advertising section, and we sat and discussed the matter in detail until I had convinced them that I was indeed going to open a branch office in Copenhagen, and that I would definitely pay for the advertisement.

  After walking out of the office, I went around the building to check the general layout and the security arrangements in place. It was a huge five-storey structure, with several entry and exit points at every level. Once outside the complex, I scouted around and took extensive videos and pictures of not just the newspaper office but also the surrounding areas.

  It was with some dismay that I realized that the office was very differently structured and located, and the entire city was very differently planned than Mumbai was. Mumbai lends itself to mayhem and chaos—it is also a city with several entry options, while Copenhagen was a better organized and far more secure city.

  When I came back to Lahore and reported to Pasha, I noted with surprise that he wasn’t as disappointed as I was. At least as far as I could tell, he seemed to be pleased with the video surveillance that I had conducted and with the debriefing that I had given him. I realized that he probably had expected this and yet had something planned, which is why he didn’t share my dejection. It left me feeling very hopeful.

  On 26 November, I was sitting and watching television at home, in a flat in Lahore, when there was an eruption of news on all the channels—Mumbai had been attacked by ten men who had seized the Taj and Trident hotels and killed many people and taken many others hostage.

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