Two Suspects Questioned About Cellphone Cards Used In Mumbai Attacks

By Rama Lakshmi and Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 7, 2008

NEW DELHI, Dec. 6 -- Indian police said Saturday that they are questioning two suspects accused of illegally purchasing cellphone cards that might have been used by the gunmen who carried out the attacks in Mumbai last month.

The suspects, Tausif Rehman, 28, and Mukhtar Ahmed Sheik, 35, were arrested Friday night on allegations that they used forged documents to buy the cards, police said.

"We are questioning them about procurement of SIM cards used in Mumbai," Jawed Shamim, deputy commissioner of police in Kolkata, where the arrests were announced, told the Reuters news agency. SIM, or subscriber identity module, cards allow the transfer of data from one phone to another.

Mumbai police officials earlier traced some of the SIM cards used in the Mumbai attacks to West Bengal state, whose capital is Kolkata.

Police initially dismissed the notion that any domestic support network had been involved in the operation, which the Indian government says was carried out by a militant group based in Pakistan. But in the past three days, Indian officials have been trying to determine whether some Indians provided logistical help to the gunmen.

Pakistan has denied involvement in the attacks, which left more than 170 people dead and more than 230 injured.

Police said Rehman, who was arrested in Kolkata, allegedly supplied at least 22 cellphone cards to Sheik, who was arrested in New Delhi and is of Kashmiri origin. The two were remanded until Dec. 19.

"Thirteen such SIM cards were bought by Tausif, which were passed on to Sheik. Some of these cards were used by terrorists involved in the attack in Mumbai," the public prosecutor in Kolkata, S. Pathak, told the Press Trust of India.

However, a senior police official told the Associated Press that Sheik was part of a semiofficial counterinsurgency network and may have been on an undercover mission.

In Mumbai, Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said a diary found aboard a fishing trawler hijacked by the attackers provided proof "that there were only 10 gunmen on the boat." The diary named the 10 people and described each person's task -- some would watch out for the coast guard, others would cook, and others would steer the boat.

Maria said authorities were searching "for anyone here or elsewhere in India who might have aided the attackers."

Also Saturday, the Associated Press reported that Pakistan had put its air force on high alert during the attacks after a man pretending to be India's foreign minister called Pakistan's president and spoke in a threatening manner, according to a security official and the newspaper Dawn in Pakistan. Dawn said authorities were investigating the incident. Indian officials were not available to comment on the telephone call.

Security was heightened across India on Saturday, the 16th anniversary of the demolition of a medieval mosque by Hindu radicals in the North Indian town of Ayodhya, the epicenter of Hindu-Muslim tensions in the past decade.

Police also removed a bomb wrapped in a black plastic bag at a private hospital in Nagpur, a city 330 miles from Mumbai, after a doctor was warned in a phone call that there would be an explosion.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company