Two men arrested over Mumbai attacks
One of the two Indian men arrested for illegally buying mobile phone cards used by the gunmen in the Mumbai attacks was a counterinsurgency police officer who may have been on an undercover mission, security officials said Saturday, demanding his release.
The arrests, announced in the eastern city of Calcutta, were the first since the bloody siege ended. But what was touted as a rare success for India’s beleaguered law enforcement agencies, quickly turned sour as police in two Indian regions squared off against one another.
Senior police officers in Indian Kashmir, which has been at the heart of tensions between India and Pakistan, demanded the release of the officer, Mukhtar Ahmed, saying he was one of their own and had been involved in infiltrating Kashmiri militant groups.
Indian authorities believe the banned Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has links to Kashmir, trained the gunmen and plotted the attacks that left 171 people dead after a three-day rampage through Mumbai that began Nov. 26.
The implications of Ahmed’s involvement — that Indian agents may have been in touch with the militants and perhaps supplied the SIM cards used in the attacks — added to the growing list of questions over India’s ill-trained security forces, which are widely blamed for not thwarting the attacks.
Earlier Saturday, Calcutta police announced the arrests of Ahmed and Tauseef Rahman, who allegedly bought SIM cards by using fake documents, including identification cards of dead people. The cards allow users switch their cellular service to phones other than their own.
Rahman, of West Bengal state, later sold them to Ahmed, said Rajeev Kumar a senior Calcutta police officer.
Both men were arrested Friday and charged with fraud and criminal conspiracy, Kumar said, adding that police were still investigating how the 10 gunmen obtained the SIM cards.
But the announcement had police in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, fuming.
We have told Calcutta police that Ahmed is “our man and it’s now up to them how to facilitate his release,” said one senior officer speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information. Other police officials in Kashmir supported his account.
The officer said Ahmed was a Special Police Officer, part of a semiofficial counterinsurgency network whose members are usually drawn from former militants. The force is run on a special funding from the federal Ministry of Home Affairs.
“Sometimes we use our men engaged in counterinsurgency ops to provide SIM cards to the (militant) outfits so that we track their plans down,” said the officer.
Police said Ahmed was recruited to the force after his brother was killed five years ago, allegedly by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants for being a police informer.
About a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting in Kashmir since 1989, seeking independence from mainly Hindu India or a union with Muslim-majority Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan region, which is divided between them and claimed by both in its entirety.
The Calcutta police denied the claims from Srinagar. “This is not true,” said Kumar.
The bungling and miscommunications among India’s many security services comes as police said they were re-examining another suspected Lashkar militant who was arrested nine months before the attacks carrying hand-drawn sketches of Mumbai hotels, the train terminal and other targeted sites.
Rakesh Maria, a senior Mumbai police officer, said the man, Faheem Ansari, was being transported to Mumbai from northern India where he has been in custody for further questioning, hoping he could shed more light on the attacks.
Maria said there was a definite connection between Ansari and the Mumbai attacks. “Ansari was trained by Lashkar and sent to do reconnaissance,” he said.
And a day after India’s top law enforcement official apologized for security “lapses” that allowed the gunmen to rampage through Mumbai, there were new embarrassments — this time with holes in the prime minister’s security.
Police preparing for a visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh near Calcutta hired high-school children for the equivalent of $2.50 each to sit in trees for the day and look out for suspicious people.
Local police chief L.N. Meena defended using children in the prime minister’s security detail, saying there were too many trees in the area and not enough policemen.
“The area is full of trees, so to check them to see if there were any anti-social elements or anyone making mischief, we employed the youths,” he said.
Television footage showed dozens of the youngsters perched in trees, with yellow paper badges that read “security pass” pinned on their chests.
Meanwhile police continued the interrogation of the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 21, who revealed that the gunmen had detailed pictures of the locations, Maria said.
“They were pretty elaborate photographs,” he said, adding that they had also used maps from Google to study the targets.
Kasab has told interrogators he had been sent by Lashkar and identified two of the plot’s masterminds as being involved, two Indian government officials familiar with the inquiry said. Police had earlier identified the prisoner as Ajmal Amir Kasab.
Lashkar changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa after it was banned in 2002 amid U.S. pressure, according to the U.S. State Department. The U.S. lists both groups as terrorist organizations.
Kasab told police that a senior Lashkar leader, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the group’s operations chief, recruited him for the attack, and that the assailants called another senior leader, Yusuf Muzammil, on a satellite phone before the attacks.
In Pakistan, the Interior Ministry chief told reporters he had no immediate information on Lakhvi or Muzammil.
According to the U.S., Lakhvi has directed Lashkar operations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia, training members to carry out suicide bombings and attack populated areas. In 2004, he allegedly sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces