Engineering dropout Faisal Sheikh, the alleged mastermind of the July 11 serial train bombings that killed 188 people, has told investigators he met several “high-ranking” ISI officers during three visits to Pakistan between 2001 and 2004.
The ‘western Indian commander’ of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has also admitted to having received, through Bahawalpur-based LeT terrorist Azam Cheema, instructions from the ISI on carrying out the 11/7 operation. Similar confessions have been made by Pune-based faith healer Sohail Sheikh, Faisal’s co-accused, who is also currently in custody.
The confessions make up the core of the evidence gathered by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) on the ISI’s role in 11/7. In a news conference given last Saturday, Mumbai Police Commissioner AN Roy had directly accused the ISI of planning the bombings, a charge that triggered a war of words between India and Pakistan.
“Both Faisal and Sohail told us during interrogation that they were taken to meet certain high-ranking officers of the ISI during their training stints there,” ATS chief KP Raghuvanshi told HT. “Faisal and Sohail worked directly under Azam Cheema, but their ISI bosses in turn masterminded their terror activities,” Raghuvanshi added. “There are several ISI handlers who supervise the training programmes that Cheema organises for Mumbai-based LeT members — one, to direct their terrorism targets and two, to spot terrorist talents and weed out the less committed among the new recruits arriving in Pakistan.”
Faisal and Sohail made the revelations in statements to interrogators from the ATS and Mumbai Crime Branch. Sohail was arrested on July 25, Faisal on July 27. Senior Inspector JK Hargude, who made the arrests, said, “Faisal met ISI bosses several times during visits to Bahawalpur in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Sohail met them when he went there to get training in 2002.” An investigator said Faisal had stayed at the camp for six months in 2004, though regular training lasts only 45 days.