An analysis of cellphone calls made by a phone-booth operator in Bihar’s Madhubani district to key commanders of the terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in Kathmandu started the investigations, which culminated in an announcement on Saturday that the 11/7 bombings had been solved.
“It was a blinder in the beginning,” said Mumbai Police Commissioner AN Roy. “The technical clues showed us the way to solve one of the trickiest cases in present history.”
Flanked by Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief KP Raghuvanshi and Director General of Police (DGP) PS Pasricha, Roy told a packed press conference that the serial bombings, which claimed 194 lives, was planned by the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and executed through the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s (LeT) Pakistani and Indian operatives, helped by the now-defunct Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
“We have enough evidence of the ISI’s involvement in the terrorist attack,” Roy said. “The entire plan was conceived by the ISI and given shape by the LeT and SIMI.” The commissioner said there was “a diabolical plan” to destabilise the country’s economy and spark communal riots.
Roy’s statements brought angry denials from Pakistan and the commissioner was later involved in a televised feud with Tariq Azim Khan, Pakistan minister of state for information on the BBC.
“We are still studying the Indian statement. Needless to say this is once again a baseless allegation — yet another attempt by India to malign Pakistan,” said Khan. “Both the president and the prime minister condemned this terrorist attack on the train ... but India also must look at home for this growing insurgency.”
A source in the Anti Terrorism Squad, on condition on anonymity, revealed on Saturday that the Intelligence Bureau had started tapping the telephones of some key Lashkar operatives, including absconding LeT India commander Azam Cheema after the blasts.
That's when they came across a number of calls made from Navi Mumbai to Kathmandu, where many Lashkar operatives were believed to be.
In one such conversation, the source said, Ansari was heard telling his Lashkar handlers that he needed money for those who had "done the work". Later, Ansari was arrested from his residence at Madhubhani in Bihar on July 19. After that breakthrough, there was no looking back.
Roy said there was no evidence of an Al-Qaeda role in the blasts. He also said the police had not found any link yet between 11/7 and the bombings in the town of Malegaon on September 8.
According to Roy, 11 of those involved were Pakistanis. He said of the 15 arrested thus far, 12 had a "direct role". All are Indians. A hunt is on for three more.
One of the Pakistanis involved, Saleem, from Lahore, was killed in the blast between Khar and Bandra stations. Another Pakistani suspected to be part of the conspiracy was killed in a police encounter at Antop Hill last month. The other nine Pakistanis are suspected to have escaped the country.
Roy applauded the efforts of the investigators, who he said had to "start from scratch". He said: "In almost all the major serial blasts around the world, the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993, Madrid, Spain and London tube bombings, there always remained behind unexploded bombs, which gave major pointers but in the 11/7 case, we had no such luck."
Relying heavily on scientific procedures, like RDX swabs from the residences of those arrested to narco-analysis tests, the pieces fell in place, he said. RDX was mixed with ammonium nitrate and the bombs, packed into eight pressure cookers, were primed with quartz timers. One of the cookers is still missing, said Roy.