About 20 months after an eight-member team of suicide attackers allegedly belonging to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) infiltrated into Mumbai via sea using a fishing trawler in March 2007, the Maharashtra police and central security agencies are yet to identify the dozen-odd local Lashkar operatives who provided them logistics back-up, a senior Intelligence Bureau officer told Hindustan Times.
Even as these key local operatives are yet to even be identified, the Kolkata police last week arrested J&K police constable Mukhtar Sheikh who had been cultivated to launch a covert operation within Lashkar-e-Tayyaba cadres by sourcing 23 SIM cards. As reported by HT on Tuesday, details of all 23 SIM cards were relayed to the IB and were under surveillance. One of these cards was found on the terrorists involved in the November 26 attack and in a desperate move, Sheikh was arrested, compromising his counter-terrorism operation and his contacts.
An IB officer, requesting anonymity since he is not authorised to talk to media, added: “A team of around a dozen local Lashkar logistics handlers in Maharashtra helped the eight-member Lashkar team from the moment they landed at a place in and about the coast near Palghar. Around two days later, they had taken the Punjab Mail to reach New Delhi on their way to Kashmir.” He added: “It is very disturbing that till now, these local aides, who we now suspect of having provided similar logistical support to the 10-member Lashkar team that executed the attacks in Mumbai on November 26, have remained faceless and untracked.”
Of the eight Pakistani nationals, two — Mohammed Jameel and Abdul Majeed — were arrested along with Mohammed Zuber, a local aide, last March in a joint operation by the Rajouri and Poonch police in Kashmir. While Jameel was from Mansehra, Majeed belonged to Nawabshah town; the local aide, Zuber retired as a Lance Naik attached with the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.
Admitted a senior officer of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, who had supervised the months-long futile search for the 12-odd local Lashkar logistics handlers: “We had sent a team to Kashmir to interrogate the two arrested Pakistani Lashkar operatives and later scoured the coastal areas in and around Mumbai to nab the local Lashkar aides but the efforts proved futile.”
“The two Lashkar fidayeen (Mohammed Jameel and Abdul Majeed) had revealed that their Lashkar handlers, Muzammil alias Yusuf and Qafa Ali, had instructed them not to exchange a word with local operatives, who they’d described as guides,” the IB officer told HT.
“The Lashkar team and local logistics team had taken care not to use mobile or landline phones, which had made the task of picking their trail difficult,” said the officer. “It was only in the later stages of the journey, when they reached Chandigarh from Delhi enroute to Kashmir, that a source alerted us,” he added.
After landing near Panvel, the eight-member Lashkar team (six are still "missing") had stayed in a one-room safe house near Titwala. The local aides had booked reserved tickets for them through tatkal facility to reach Delhi from Kalyan via the Punjab Mail train and got them photographed in a photo studio for the purpose of making identity cards, according to the interrogation report of Majeed and Jameel accessed by HT.