Pakistan’s intelligence services were heavily involved in preparations for the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, according to classified Indian government documents obtained by the Guardian.
A 109-page report into the interrogation of David Headley — a Pakistani-American convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks — who was arrested last year in the US, made detailed claims of the ISI support for the bombings.
Headley described dozens of meetings between officers of the ISI — Pakistan’s main military intelligence service — and senior militants from the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT).
He claimed a key motivation for the ISI in aiding the attacks was to bolster militant organisations with strong links to the Pakistani state and security establishment who were being marginalised by more extreme radical groups.
Headley, who undertook surveillance of the Mumbai targets, claimed at least two of his missions were partly paid for by the ISI and he regularly reported to the spy agency. However, the documents suggest supervision by the ISI was often chaotic and most senior officers may have been unaware of the scale and ambition of the operation before it was launched.
It is believed Headley’s confe-ssion was leaked by Indian investigators to bring back the world’s focus to the 26/11 attacks before US President Barack Obama’s visit to India next month.
More than 160 people were killed by militants from LeT who arrived by sea to attack luxury hotels, a Jewish centre, a cafe, a hospital and the main railway station in Mumbai. Casualties included citizens from 25 countries. The attacks badly damaged already poor Indian-Pakistan relations.
Headley has also told investigators after the Mumbai attacks, he had scouted Delhi for potential targets, including the prime minister’s residence. He said the ISI wanted to carry out a similar operation at the National Defence College in Delhi. But there was no final view on the nature of attack.
“Abdur Rehman (retired Pakistani Major) was not in favour of a suicide attack as he thought this was done by people who don’t have fresh ideas. We also discussed Raksha Bhavan. I told him attack on Raksha Bhavan would not be effective as everybody stayed inside,” the National Investigation Agency (NIA) report on Headley’s interrogation in the US said.
European and American security services now fear that the LeT, which has thousands of militants, runs dozens of training camps and has extensive logistic networks overseas, is moving from what has been a largely regional agenda — focused on Kashmir — to a global agenda involving strikes against the west or western interests.
Headley described how “a debate had begun among the terrorist outfits” and “a clash of ideology” leading to “splits”.
“The aggression and commitment to jihad shown by several splinter groups in Afghanistan influenced many committed fighters to leave [LeT],” Headley said. “I understand this compelled the LeT to consider a spectacular terrorist strike in India.”
Headley told the investigators the ISI hoped the Mumbai attack would slow or stop growing “integration” between groups active in Kashmir, with whom the agency had maintained a long relationship, and “Taliban-based outfits” in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Headley described meeting once with a “Colonel Kamran” from the military intelligence service and having a series of meetings with a “Major Iqbal” and a “Major Sameer Ali”.
A fellow conspirator was handled by a Colonel Shah, he claims. Headley also alleged he was given $25,000 by his ISI handler to finance one of eight surveillance missions in India.
However, Headley described the ISI director general, Lt General Shuja Pasha, visiting a key senior militant from LeT in prison after the attacks in a bid “to understand” the operation, implying that, as many western security agencies suspect, the top ranks of the agency were unaware of at least the scale of the planned strike.
The Pakistani government has repeatedly denied any involvement of any security official in the Mumbai attacks. On Monday, an ISI spokesman told the Guardian the accusations of the agency’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks were “baseless”.
(With inputs from HTC, Delhi)