Conflict & Justice

Mumbai terror suspect may spotlight Pakistan's role in attacks


Activists from India's Congress Party shout slogans as they burn an effigy representing the 'Indian Mujahideen' organisation during a protest in Mumbai on Decemeber 8, 2010.



The arrest of terror suspect Abu Jundal may shed new light on the alleged role of Pakistan's spy agency in the planning and execution of the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, according to Indian press reports.

Several media outlets report that Pakistan lobbied hard to retrieve Jundal, who allegedly goes by a host of aliases, from authorities in Saudi Arabia, inferring that the terror suspect could implicate Pakistani state forces in the attack. India won the battle for Jundal by proving that he is an Indian citizen, with a DNA test and other evidence, according to the Hindustan Times.

The Indian authorities believe that Jundal was one of the voices on the other end of a telephone call from Pakistan to the terrorists holed up in Mumbai's Taj hotel during the attack, so they're hopeful that an interrogation can provide hard evidence about the rest of the people in the room with him -- some of whom India believes were agents of Pakistan's Inter-services Intelligence agency (ISI).

Already Jundal, alias Syed Zabiuddin Ansari and a host of other names, has told interrogators that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) may be plotting another strike against India, according to the Times of India. And police are hoping that he can help them zero in on a host of Indian operatives.

Indian intelligence agencies had tracked Jundal to Saudi Arabia on a tip-off about a year ago. But early attempts to get his custody failed because although he is from Beed in Maharashtra, he had travelled to Saudi Arabia on a Pakistani passport, the HT reports.

For months, Pakistan’s ISI exerted immense pressure on Saudi, a home ministry official told HT. It did not want Jundal to be handed over to India at any cost. He was too prized a catch: A Lashkar-e-Taiba insider who could expose the role of ‘state actors’ in the Mumbai attack.

FirstPost adds that US pressure on Pakistan helped to facilitate the bust.

Indicatively, the US administration has in recent months been keen to wean India off its need for oil from Iran (and abide by the sanctions regime against Iran) and to source it from Saudi Arabia. India has been dragging its feet on that. As part of its effort, the US has been nudging Saudi Arabia to extend cooperation to India in the area of counter-terrorism to “sweeten the deal”.

Just last week, US Defence Secretary and former CIA chief Leon Panetta was in Saudi Arabia following the death of the Crown Prince, who had as Interior Minister led the kingdom’s fight against terrorism.

It’s possible that Panetta’s visit catalysed and greased the tracks for Saudi Arabia’s decision to “deliver” Ansari to India. (Looking back, it’s entirely possible that Pakistan may have “released” Ansari and sent him on to Saudi Arabia under pressure from the US. If that’s true, it’s perhaps a sign that Pakistan is wilting under pressure — after all, Ansari can now reveal disquieting details of Pakistani ISI-military involvement in the 26/11 terror attacks.)

In other words, the diligent and painstaking work of Indian intelligence and security officials in working with US and Saudi officials has yielded their biggest catch of a terrorist handler associated with the 26/11 attacks.

It’s a rare instance of success, one that bodes well for India’s fight against jihadi terror. Straightaway, it gives India with yet more ammunition to turn the heat on Pakistan for its role in sponsoring terror in India, for which it has thus far refused to own up responsibility.