Praveen Swami

Despite warnings that Oberoi Hotel and BSE were among targets, prominent businesses did not step up security

Fidayeen trained to storm gates using grenades, following it up with indiscriminate firing

Only cursory car searches at gates

NEW DELHI: Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders had ordered the execution of a major fidayeen attack in Mumbai, the interrogation records of a group of Pakistani and Indian nationals held in February suggest.

A Uttar Pradesh resident Fahim Ahmed Ansari, who was arrested that month along with seven other suspects, had planned to travel from Rampur to Mumbai in mid-February with two specially-trained Pakistani nationals who were to carry out the strike.

Imran Shehzad from Bhimber in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Mohammad Farooq Bhatti from Gujranwala in Punjab, who are being tried in a Uttar Pradesh court on charges of carrying out the New Year-eve assault on a Central Reserve Police Force training camp in Rampur, are alleged to have been tasked by Ansari and superiors with executing a similar strike on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Ansari’s interrogation records, which were accessed by The Hindu, show he also carried out reconnaissance operations at the Oberoi Hotel — one of the targets of Wednesday night’s terrorist attacks.

Transnational links

The owner of a paper-envelope manufacturing business, Ansari — a one-time activist of the Students Islamic Movement of India — is believed to have been recruited by the Lashkar during a visit to Dubai in 2003.

The Uttar Pradesh police records show Ansari returned to India through Kathmandu in late 2007. He stayed at the Sunlight Guest House in Mumbai from November 28 to December 10 before renting a room off Falkland Road. He then secured a driving licence under the alias Samir Sheikh and enrolled himself as a student in a computer institute near the BSE.

All three BSE assault-team volunteers held Pakistani passports, which they presumably hoped would enable them to escape by catching flights through Nepal. Shehzad carried a passport (number EK5149331), issued on March 14, 2007, while Bhatti used a passport with the number AW3177021, issued a day earlier. Ansari’s Pakistani passport, BM 6809341, issued on November 1, 2007, bears the pseudonym Hammad Hassan.

Fidayeen commandos like Shehzad and Bhatti receive special training to storm the gates of premises using grenades, following it up with indiscriminate assault rifle fire — tactics used with effect at Rampur and in dozens of similar operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Contrary to the popular myth, the attackers do not intend to die. The idea, instead, is to inflict maximum loss and, if possible, escape.

Karkare’s efforts

Ever since the arrest of the fidayeen unit, Maharashtra police officials have held dozens of meetings with the owners of prominent Mumbai businesses, impressing upon them the need to improve their access-control systems. Anti-Terrorism Police chief Hemant Karkare, who died while seeking to assist in an operation late on Wednesday, had personally met with security heads on several occasions, government sources told The Hindu.

However, none of Mumbai’s major hotels, malls and cinema theatres invested in equipment to scan guests and their luggage for weapons and explosives, or barrier systems that would have allowed isolation of terrorists in a small part of a building once an attack had begun.

Indeed, hotel major ITC sent out an alert to its hotels asking them to enhance security only on Thursday morning.

“We told people clearly that Mumbai faced a high risk of future terrorist attack,” one police officer said, “and that there was no such thing as perfect intelligence which would predict. But all most businesses were willing to do was institute a cursory system of searching cars at the gates of some hotels, a measure that was utterly ineffectual. It was intended only to give the public the feeling that something was being done to protect them — not to actually do something to protect them.”

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