It was over in eleven minutes. Seven first class compartments of local trains originating from Churchgate Station, the hub of the western line in south Mumbai, were targeted, with the first RDX-packed improvised explosive device (IED) detonating at 6.24 pm near the Matunga Road station. The normally crowded Mumbai trains were bursting at the seams at the time with people returning to their homes after work. The result was devastating: 209 people died and 714 persons were seriously injured as bombs went off near or at suburban stations in Mahim, Bandra, Khar Road, Jogeshwari, Borivli and Bhayandar. The final blast was at 6.35 pm at Borivli, ripping through the heart of cosmopolitan Mumbai.
India's reaction was predictable: the Mumbai police and security agencies blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and their local accomplices for the strike, refusing to believe, or even entertain, the idea of the involvement of another group. Just days later the then National Security Adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan, former Intelligence Bureau (IB) director, came out with a statement hinting at involvement of a Pakistan-based terrorist group in the serial blasts.
The Mumbai Police heavily relied on sodium pentothal, a rapid-onset shortacting barbiturate, to extract confessions from the 13 alleged accused who were arrested using narco-analysis. In fact, the Mumbai police and security agencies were beholden to the manufacturers of this drug, and not the sprawling internal security establishment in the country, for unravelling the perpetrators of the heinous crime. The voluminous charge sheet filed by the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) on November 30, 2006 hardly had any answers and listed eight out of a total of 11 Pakistanis with only first names and without addresses or other details. One Pakistani national identified as Sohail Salim was killed in the serial blasts as he could not get off the ill-fated first class train compartment, according to the police. Another Pakistani identified as Abu Osama was killed in a police encounter by the ATS in the Antop Hill area on August 22, 2006. Abu Osama, according to the Mumbai Police, planted the bomb which went off near Bandra station….
…Five years later, there is a need to list the main accused as the government line changed on the perpetrators of the Mumbai train bombing after the Indian Mujahideen was dismantled in 2008. While some of those listed were trained terror operatives of the LeT, they were not directly involved in the execution of the Mumbai train blasts. Serious questions were raised about the investigations conducted by the Mumbai police after the chargesheet was filed, for they were based almost entirely on the narco-analysis of the accused.
Much as the country's security establishment wanted to convince the public otherwise, there were gaping holes in the serial blast investigations at that time — the real identity of the bombers, the supplier of the explosives and other raw materials, the links between the arrested LeT cadre and the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) accused, the shop from where the pressure cookers used to conceal the IEDs were purchased and the international linkages to the serial blasts.
It is not that some of the Mumbai train blasts accused listed above were innocent men; they were terrorists, but they were not responsible for the train blast. While the central police agencies are loath to discuss the Mumbai train blasts investigations lest it destroys the credibility of the state police investigators, it is now clear that the real culprits were different. The dossier that the Indian foreign secretary gave to her Pakistani counterpart on February 25, 2010 exposes the Mumbai Police lie. It says that Iqbal Bhatkal masterminded the Mumbai serial train blasts and his brother Riyaz arranged the delivery of the 35 kg of explosives that were used in the train blasts. Arrested Indian Mujahideen commander Mohammed Sadique Sheikh told the Mumbai Police and security agencies in 2008 that it was his group that was responsible for the Mumbai blasts.
The involvement of the Indian Mujahideen in the blasts was also corroborated by Shahzad Ahmed, who was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police in February 2010 after he escaped from the famous Batla House encounter. He confessed that Mohammed Sajid, another operative, told him that Atif Ameen and he had carried the heavy bags of explosives for the 7/11 blasts. Atif, according to Shahzad, told him that pressure cookers were used as containers for making the Mumbai train blast IEDs for better compaction and that Dr Shahnawaz Alam, Mohammed Saif's elder brother, was also involved in the train bombing. Investigators now believe that the RDX used in the train blasts was part of the 40 kg consignment that Babu Bhai delivered to Ravi, who the investigators suspect was Riyaz Bhatkal, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in June-July 2004.
Even though the Mumbai Police chooses not to investigate the role of the Indian Mujahideen given these revelations and the central security agencies are far too embarrassed, it is quite evident that the serial train blasts were directly sponsored by the LeT through operative Azam Cheema, who at that point of time was under pressure from his peers and [Pakistan's] Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to deliver in the wake of the spectacular Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attack on the makeshift Lord Ram temple in Ayodhya on July 5, 2005….
…In the months immediately after the Mumbai train blasts, as the international pressure on Pakistan to act against the LeT and JeM increased, the Indian Mujahideen's supply of RDX dried up and the group used only locally procured ammonium nitrate so that Pakistan could feign total deniability in future attacks in India. The pressure on Pakistan, India's own active law enforcement and the damage to LeT sleeper cells in Maharashtra led to a temporary respite in the terror attacks against India. However, the shoddy investigations in the Mumbai blasts case meant that the Indian Mujahideen was intact and undetected, and their capabilities in no way diminished.
This is an edited extract from Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (Hachette India) by Shishir Gupta Shishir Gupta is Editor, Express News Service, The Indian Express.