Praveen Swami

September alerts suggest U.S. was monitoring LeT plans

MUMBAI: Indian intelligence sources have confirmed to The Hindu that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) delivered two warnings of an impending terror attack on Mumbai in September. The first one was delivered through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) on September 18. The sources said the information was of a general nature, suggesting that the Lashkar-e-Taiba was planning to attack Mumbai.

The sources said that on September 24, the CIA provided further details in response to a request from the RAW. In this second warning, the U.S. agency expressly stated that the Lashkar was planning an attack on targets where large numbers of foreigners were present, including the Taj Mahal hotel.

Both warnings corroborate the testimony of the arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman. He told the Mumbai police that the original plan was to despatch the 10-man squad from Karachi to Mumbai on September 27. He also told the police interrogators that he did not know why the operation was deferred.

The warnings also corroborated the information generated by the Intelligence Bureau that suggested that the Lashkar had conducted reconnaissance operations in Mumbai.

A senior government official said the delay raised the possibility that the CIA had quietly exerted pressure on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate to terminate the Lashkar operation.

In the alternative, he surmised, elements in the ISI may have leaked information that the CIA was monitoring the operation. “No intelligence agency discloses all it knows even to allies. So it is probable the CIA knows more than it told us in September. We hope more information will be forthcoming,” the official said.

Phone call trail

India is also hoping for assistance in accessing electronic evidence on phone calls made and received by the terrorists during the attack – which provided what one police described to The Hindu as a “running commentary” on the operation.

Forensic experts at the RAW have determined that the calls were routed through voice-over-internet service providers based in New Jersey and Vienna. VOIP services allow subscribers to create a virtual phone number, from which cheap international calls can be made and received.

According to a source within the investigation, tracing the calls to their final destination posed “a formidable technical challenge.”

Mumbai police officials listening in to the conversation heard the terrorists inside the Taj Mahal hotel tell their controller that their operation had scored a “bonus” with the killing of the “Police Commissioner.”

The investigators believe that the terrorists inside the hotel had most likely seen television reports on the killing of Anti-Terrorism Squad chief and Joint Commissioner of Police Hemant Karkare.

As first reported in this newspaper, the terrorists used at least six mobile phones fitted with SIM cards purchased three weeks before the strike from Kolkata and New Delhi.

Kolkata police investigators have determined that three of the SIM cards used by the terrorists were part of a set of 10 Aircel and Vodaphone prepaid numbers purchased four weeks ago.

A city resident whose identification was used to buy the cards has been detained for questioning.

Delhi police officials also told The Hindu that efforts were on to discover who had purchased three other SIM cards.

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