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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

Why was Amar Jawan Jyoti closed to visitors? LeT wanted to bomb it

Former Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar writes that Lakhvi (Hafiz Saeed’s deputy and operations commander of LeT), who is in India’s most wanted list, had planned a spectacular attack at India Gate to create an impact like Parliament attack in December 2001.

delhi Updated: Oct 22, 2019 04:45 IST
Neeraj Chauhan
Neeraj Chauhan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ex-serviceman holding a meeting at Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate on 10 March, 1988.
Ex-serviceman holding a meeting at Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate on 10 March, 1988. (Photo: Santosh Gupta/ Hindustan Times)
         

Did you know that visitors were earlier allowed to go near the base of the India Gate war memorial? That changed in 2003 when the government learnt that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi, who would go on to mastermind the Mumbai 26/11 attacks just five years later, was going to bomb it.

It was thwarted by a relentless effort from a Delhi police team with some assistance from a civilian who cracked the coded conversations Lakhvi and his associates overnight.

In his latest book “Khaki Files – Inside stories of police investigations”, to be released on October 30, former Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar writes that Lakhvi (Hafiz Saeed’s deputy and operations commander of LeT), who is in India’s most wanted list, had planned a spectacular attack at India Gate to create an impact like Parliament attack in December 2001.

The 1976 batch IPS officer served in various capacities during his career, including as Delhi Police chief; in the CBI where he was instrumental in cracking on Dawood Ibrahim and headed the special task force which investigated blasts post 1993 bombings. He was also Director General of Tihar prisons. His last book “Dial D for don” was a bestseller.

In 2003, Kumar was posted as joint commissioner Special Cell in Delhi.

In a chapter titled ‘Da Lakhvi Code’, Kumar writes to his colleague at the time, assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Pramod Kushwah (currently DCP in the same unit), during a visit to Kashmir in another terror probe, chanced upon several cryptic emails.

The conversations, which mostly took place in the second and third week of February 2003, were made to appear as if they were love letters in English. The word “Chachaji” — as Lakhvi is called in Lashkar circles — was used repeatedly. The agencies tracked the IP addresses of the mails — it was between computers in different cyber cafes in Delhi with those in Islamabad and Peshwar in Pakistan.

In one of the emails, directions were given in code words — “world cup ka final 25 ko tay hua hai”. The date was quite clear – it’ll be on the 25th of a month, but what it did not give away was the location of the attack.

Kumar writes that some (officers) “in central intelligence agency (referring to IB and RAW) were incredulous and thought we had cooked it all up”. “Rather than take follow up action on the input, every effort was made to prove it was a hoax – a clear example of inter-agency rivalry”, he adds. But some in the agency had faith in the Delhi Police and they began work on the case. The next email was more sophisticatedly coded. It contained only numbers like .7 .02 .5 .002 and so on.

Kumar writes various cryptographers, research organisations began work on codes but nobody could crack it. “Pramod went to the extent of contacting a friend of his based in the US, who worked for a cryptography company, to help us on an urgent basis. The company quoted a price for the job, which was prohibitive but worthwhile considering that many innocent lives were in danger and national prestige was at stake,” Kumar writes. The plan to hire a foreign company ultimately didn’t work out.

Interestingly, a friend of Pramod Kushwah – Vivek Thakur, who was jobless at that time, saved them. He cracked the codes within few hours as each letter of English alphabet had been number from .0 to .9 by terrorists. The formula cited by Thakur to decipher the code worked. About Thakur, Kumar only mentions that he was in Delhi to look for a job. “He was neither a cop nor a computer whiz-kid nor a cryptologist. He was an unemployed youth who had come looking for a job in Delhi. He had nowhere to go except to Pramod, who had been his senior in school”.

“We then realized that India Gate was going to be the target of an attack, as mentioned in code in the email date 15 February.”

The date for attack was fixed as 25 February and the target was India Gate.

“In the days before the new security system was imposed, milling crowds of men, women and children thronged the area around India Gate, along with ice-cream and snack vendors. At any given point, a minimum of four to five thousand people were present there. From a terrorist’s viewpoint, what better target could there be than this, and that too at an iconic war memorial? The impact would have been earth-shattering as the earlier attack on the Parliament House in 2001,” Kumar writes.

Kumar adds that he was summoned to a midnight meeting on February 22 at the residence of then home minister L K Advani where heads of various intelligence agencies, the home secretary were also present.

After Kumar gave his presentation on the terrorists’ plan, “It was clear to all that there was an urgent need to deploy sufficient armed forces at India Gate... A detachment of Indian army was to be deployed immediately,” he adds.

“When the next day broke, early morning joggers on Rajpath were surprised to see army men wielding light machine guns stationed all around India Gate in full battle gear. A few light tanks were also stationed at strategic points for effect,” Kumar discloses.

He finishes the chapter saying, “if a visitor to India Gate today is unable to approach the base of the war memorial for a closer look, she can curse us if she wants, now that I have let the cat out of the bag”.