NEW DELHI ~ Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal (he had several more names), who was taken into custody at Delhi airport after he was deported by Saudi Arabia, is one of India’s most prized catches. A major handler of the ten Pakistani terrorists who attacked South Mumbai in November 2008, he is also believed to be involved in other terror attacks on Indian soil, including the 2010 German Bakery blast in Pune. As he begins to sing in custody, he emphasises India’s accusation that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) played a direct role in the 26/11 attacks.
Lashkar-e-Toiba’s control room for the brutal massacre in Mumbai was based in Karachi, and terrorist handlers in the room, including Ansari, guided and instructed the gunmen who killed 166 people in the city. Ansari has told the Special Cell of the Delhi Police that ISI functionaries were also present.
India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) intercepted some of the phone calls made from the Karachi hideout to the ten gunmen in Mumbai. In one such conversation, assailants in Chabad House, Colaba, were being instructed by Sajid Mir, a top commander of Lashkar’s transnational operations who lives in Lahore off its airport road, according to Indian intelligence reports. Mir spoke in Urdu with a heavy Punjabi accent, and his message was simple: “Jo harkat karta insaan nazar aaye, usko fire karo.” (Anybody you see move, fire at him.) Also, the terrorists were constantly briefed on what Indian news channels were reporting.
It is believed that Ansari’s voice, too, is part of the recorded conversations; his voice samples have been sent to a forensic laboratory for verification. The voice of a man identified by Indian intelligence as Ansari told the terrorists to speak to the Indian media with clarity. He advised them not to reply to any queries that the media would have, but to stay focused on what has to be conveyed. He also instructed them to tell the Indian media that they were Indians, and to lie about their actual numbers by citing a lower figure.
The handler told them that their telephonic interaction with the media will be important and that they must speak with “Quwwat” (strength of conviction) and in a “sahi awaaz” (proper tone). It was a question of honour of the Mujahideen, he said, and even dictated a poem that the mercenaries were advised to recite as a conclusion to their media interaction, a way of lending their message what he called “sahi vazan” (appropriate gravity):
“Yeh sach hai ki andhero ka tassallut hai magar / Shama bujhne na denge zulm ke aiyvaano mein / Aandhiyan zulmo tashadad ki bahut tez sahi / Hum bhi voh deep hain jise jalna hai tufaano mein”
(It is true that dark forces govern us, but we won’t let the flame be extinguished by oppression. Even if the tempests of repression are strong, we are that lamp that stays lit amidst the winds).
The handler whose voice sounded like Ansari’s asked the terrorists to drink a glass of water as they formed their words and to disconnect the phone if they did not have anything further to say.
Ansari was living in Saudi Arabia under a Pakistani passport for an undisclosed period of time. He was deported from the country on 21 June following a year-long negotiation involving the Indian Intelligence Bureau Director Nehchal Sandhu and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz.
Pakistan is now under immense pressure. Ansari is expected to open a can of worms that will embarrass that country. But then, the threshold of embarrassment in Pakistan has risen considerably after the killing of Osama bin Laden not very far from its capital Islamabad. Since Ansari’s capture, Pakistan has been sending India feelers. It wants to cooperate with India in counter-terrorism efforts, an offer that is viewed with general scepticism in the Indian security establishment. “Too late, too little,” in the words of a senior officer of India’s National Investigation Agency.
Once a shy boy from the dusty village of Gevrai in the Beed district of Maharashtra, Ansari is now 30 years old. He is the only son of an insurance agent, a broken man today. Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving assailant of the 26/11 ten, was reportedly agitated after he heard rumours that Ansari may be housed in the same prison cell as he is (which is unlikely).
Meanwhile, intelligence agencies are extracting as much information as they can from Ansari. His two mobiles alone, it is believed, have a wealth of it.