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Commemorating the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks

On the night of 26 November 2008, as many as 10 Kalashnikov-wielding terrorists attacked India’s financial city of Mumbai. The terrorists struck simultaneously at five locations, shooting dead as many as 140 Indians and 25 foreign tourists.

American and British passport-holders were also executed in two luxury hotel complexes. At a Jewish cultural center, Israeli nationals were tortured and then killed. A fourth location, a café frequented by Western backpackers, was also enfiladed with automatic fires.

Following the Mumbai attack, suspicion swiftly focused on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based jihadist group.

Although “banned” by the Pakistani government since 2002, the LeT held ostentatious fund-raising rallies and also operated urban recruitment centers without any interference from the government.

It, in fact, had pioneered the concept of suicidal mass-casualty assaults in South Asia, reportedly upon the advice of a former Pakistani Army SWAT operator, as per reports.

However, unlike previous LeT assaults on India, those of ’26/11 were different in two respects.

First, the 26/11 attack targeted Western nationals and Indian civilians. This ensured that there would be greater global interest in ascertaining the perpetrators’ real identities than with previous attacks that targeted Indian citizens.

All that was necessary to de-link Islamabad from the attack was to ensure that the attackers would fight to the death. Controlling the gunmen via telephone was possibly intended to bolster their morale in this regard.

Second, during previous raids, the LeT gunmen stormed a single location. However, one of the attackers, unfamiliar with the topography, was unable to barricade himself on time.

Policemen then swarmed him while he was trying to flee the scene, losing one of their colleagues. The arrest of this gunman, named Ajmal Kasab, was a game-changer. For the first time, India captured a terrorist in a suicidal attack with high interrogation value.

Kasab was then interrogated by Prashant Marde, an officer of the Mumbai police. He (Kasab) confirmed that there were nine other shooters in Mumbai, saying all were Pakistani nationals.

Meanwhile, aware of the international ramifications of these revelations, India permitted the American Federal Bureau of Investigation to interrogate Kasab directly.

A team of FBI officials came to Mumbai from New York to learn what they could about the deadly attack.

Kasab independently confirmed to the FBI what he had told the Indian police. He said he was a Pakistani citizen and a member of LeT, and that the attack was being “directed in real-time from the Pakistani port city of Karachi via mobile and internet telephony,” according to newspaper reports.

This digital trail connecting the terrorist in Mumbai with controllers in Karachi then proved crucial.

Simultaneously, the Western intelligence officials in Islamabad met with the head of analysis at Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

According to Steve Coll, a double Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who closely examined Pakistani links with terrorism in his book Directorate S, the ISI official was confronted with intercepts of serving agency operatives directing the gunmen in Mumbai.

The official Pakistani response in the following days was a bundle of contradictions. At the diplomatic level, Islamabad initially promised to cooperate in the post-attack investigation. It, however, insisted that any link to Pakistani territory was unproven.

There has long been suspicion that elements within the agency had engineered a massacre by Sindhi extremists in the city of Hyderabad on 30 September 1988.

At the local level, attempts were also made to erase the evidentiary trail leading to Pakistan.

This response drew criticism from former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Nearly ten years later, Sharif, meanwhile, observed that Pakistan’s failure to deliver justice for the Mumbai victims had eroded its credibility globally.

In June 2001, a Pakistani magazine “Newsline” ran a report in which a wing of the ISI, known as the Security or ‘S’ Wing, was alleged of instigating domestic terrorism.

The report further suggested that during the democratic interlude of 1988-99, when civilian prime ministers ruled the country, the “army-officered ISI had used Islamist proxies to discredit them”.

There has long been suspicion that elements within the agency had engineered a massacre by Sindhi extremists in the city of Hyderabad on 30 September 1988.

As many as 250 people were gunned down in just 15 minutes, mostly from the minority Muhajir community (descendants of refugees who emi

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