By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
MUMBAI, Dec. 2 -- Of the 10 gunmen who carried out the attacks in Mumbai last week, only one, Azam Amir Kasab, was captured by the police. Shown in a grainy video clip with an assault rifle in hand as he tiptoed through a train station, he has become the face of the three-day assault that brought the city to its knees and left at least 174 people dead. Since then, interrogations of Kasab have become the centerpiece of India's probe into one of the worst terrorist strikes in the country in years.
"At first, Kasab resisted," said Deven Bharti, a deputy police commissioner in Mumbai and one of the interrogators. "But after the first night, he began to reveal details."
The portrait of Kasab that has emerged from the interrogations, Bharti said, is of a poor man who had received little formal education but who had undergone months of rigorous training to prepare for the killing rampage.
At a news conference Tuesday, Mumbai's police chief publicly aired some of the information culled from Kasab and other sources, giving the authorities' first comprehensive account of an elaborate operation that they say began in Pakistan and ended with shootouts at sites across the city, including two luxury hotels and a Jewish center.
"What we know is that the ship in which they came started from Karachi in Pakistan. They hijacked a fishing trawler when they reached the international waters. Then they switched to a rubber dinghy when they reached near Mumbai waters," said Hassan Gafoor, the city police commissioner. "The person we have caught alive is certainly a Pakistani. They were all trained by ex-army officers, some for a year, some for more than a year."
Gafoor said the training took place in Pakistan, but he would not specify whether the trainers were from the Pakistani army. He also said the investigation has produced no evidence that the group had "immediate, local support" in India.
Pakistan has denied involvement in the attack and has offered to cooperate with Indian investigators. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that he doubts Kasab is Pakistani and that India has supplied no proof of his nationality.
But U.S. intelligence officials say they have largely corroborated India's account. India has been mounting diplomatic pressure on Islamabad and has warned that the attack could disrupt ties between the neighbors.
On the first night of the siege, Gafoor said, the 10 assailants -- armed with AK-47 assault rifles, ammunition and time bombs -- split into groups of two and went in different directions. Kasab and an associate went to the train station and began firing into the crowd, but they were shot at by the police as they tried to escape in a stolen vehicle. Kasab was injured in the arms, and his associate died on the spot.
Once in custody, Kasab was first taken to the hospital.
"He kept saying, 'Please kill me. I do not want to live,' " said Kishore C. Bhatt, 56, a hospital volunteer who was there that night. "He was on a stretcher about three to four feet away from me. He was injured. His face had no expression, but his voice sounded angry."
Bharti, the interrogator, said Kasab has told police that he is from a village called Faridkot, in Pakistan's Punjab province, and that he dropped out of school after the fourth grade. His father owned a food stall. An acquaintance introduced him to an outlawed group called Lashkar-i-Taiba in 2005, Bharti said, and Kasab later trained with the group in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
"He went through different stages of training. At first, it was the recitation of the Koran and lectures about jihad. He was being prepared mentally. Then small-weapons training," Bharti said in an interview. "Then came the hard physical, marine training. At first, Kasab used to vomit. They were taught how to survive at sea, on ground, and how to control thirst and hunger. From a batch of about 25, 10 were handpicked for the Mumbai mission."
Bharti said Kasab spoke in Punjabi and a little bit of Urdu during the interrogation, and uttered words in English only when mentioning the names of weapons.
He said Kasab, 22, is a little more than 5-foot-3 and has "a muscular, well-trained body." Kasab is being kept in solitary confinement, Bharti said, and he is "very calm but has a blank, cold stare all the time." Bharti also said Kasab's story has remained consistent during several days and nights of interrogation by different officers.
It was not clear under what conditions Kasab was being questioned and whether any details of his statement had been coerced. When asked how interrogators had broken Kasab's resistance to talk, Bharti said, "We have our techniques."
When he was arrested, police retrieved from his bulky, blue backpack one AK-47, a pistol, magazines, half a dozen hand grenades, raisins, cashews and the equivalent of a little more than $110. Police said they are cross-checking Kasab's statement with the data found in the cellphones and the satellite phone they recovered.
Police say Kasab does not know much about the top-level planners. But he allegedly has confessed to being briefed once by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organization of Lashkar-i-Taiba.
"It was apparently towards the end. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed came and had an interaction with the men. He told them that this was good for the community and the religion, and that they were blessed to be martyrs," Bharti said, paraphrasing from an interrogation file.
The 10 gunmen reportedly were briefed about the Mumbai operation three months ago and were shown video footage and satellite images of the targeted sites.
"It is not proven by investigation that they have been here before on a reconnaissance. It appears this is their first time," said Gafoor, the police chief. "I do not think they knew the hotel inside out."
Mumbai police recently arrested several Indian Muslims on suspicion of involvement in a string of bombings that have rocked Indian cities in the past six months. The men, police said, belonged to a homegrown group called the Indian Mujaheddin.
Bharti said Kasab was very different from the members of the Indian Mujaheddin.
"Kasab is semiliterate and comes from a poor background. The Indian accused are intellectually sophisticated, computer-savvy," he said. "But Kasab is physically much stronger."
Police officials say they have had one round of talks with the FBI team that arrived in Mumbai late Monday. But the team has not been given access to Kasab.