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Rajesh Ahuja, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 30, 2011
Top Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhtakal had tried to procure a fishing boat in India around the same time in 2008 when the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) was scouting for a similar boat for the 10-member fidayeen team that struck Mumbai on November 26.

Investigators are yet to get to the bottom of the matter. So far probe and intelligence agencies have maintained that the Mumbai attackers didn't get any ground support, apart from the recees done by David Coleman Headley and Fahim Ansari.

Sources said the timing of boat-scouting by the Bhatkal brothers was important as getting or capturing an Indian boat was critical to the LeT plan as it could ensure safe passage of the attackers till Mumbai.

According to details available with HT, alleged IM operative Ahmed Bava Abubakar told interrogators that on September 18, 2008, Riyaz Bhatkal told him he required a fishing boat. Ahmed Bava took him to Sadiq, who lived in the coastal town of Malpe in Udupi district, Karnataka. Riyaz's elder brother Iqbal and another alleged IM operative Naushad were also with him. In the port area, Sadiq showed them a boat. Riyaz and Iqbal also discussed specifications, such as power of its engine, fishing system and rate of the boat with Sadiq.

Ahmed Bava told investigators that Riyaz told him he needed the boat for gold smuggling, a proposition which investigators believe to be improbable. When Bava asked Iqbal about the usage of boat, Iqbal was evasive. 

Before the deal could go further, Ahmed Bava was arrested along with a few other alleged IM operatives in a joint operation by Mumbai and Karnataka police on October 3.

Now, David Coleman Headley has told investigators the LeT was also looking for a boat for the attackers for their cruise to Mumbai at the same time as their first boat, purchased for R25 lakh, capsized in the first attempt. Then the LeT rented another boat for R5 lakh and made a second attempt to reach Mumbai in October 2008, but the team could not capture an Indian boat. They could reach Mumbai only in their third attempt in November 2008.