NEW DELHI — Police said Monday that they have arrested an Indian man suspected of playing a key role in directing the Pakistani militants who launched a series of deadly attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
Police said the arrest is likely to help investigators examine Indians’ role in facilitating the attack, which Indian authorities say was planned and conducted by a Pakistan-based group.
Sayed Zabiuddin was arrested Thursday at the New Delhi airport after he was deported from Saudi Arabia, where he was raising funds for a new attack in India, police officials said. . With his capture, police may for the first time have someone in custody who has intimate knowledge about how the attack was organized.
An Interpol notice was issued in 2009 against Zabiuddin, who also uses the names Abu Hamza and Abu Jindal. He is from the western state of Maharashtra and is also suspected of aiding terrorists who placed bombs in Mumbai trains in 2006.
Police suspect that it was Zabiuddin’s voice that was heard in a control room in Pakistan guiding the gunmen in 2008, according to voice intercepts the FBI gave New Delhi authorities to aid their investigation.
Indian investigators worked with officials in Riyadh for months to track Zabiuddin’s movements and phone conversations. But his deportation was possible only after Washington weighed in on Riyadh, said a Home Ministry official here in New Delhi.
“Saudi officials relented after U.S. pressure on this case,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak. “The U.S. has been helping us a great deal in the Mumbai attack case because American nationals were also killed. FBI helped us with a lot of intercepts at first, and even deposed before an Indian court in this case.”
A police officer in New Delhi, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said investigators are trying to match Zabiuddin’s voice with the voice samples that were intercepted.
The man in the control room spoke using many Hindi-language words. He also warned India of more dramatic attacks in the future, saying, “This is just a trailer — the entire movie is yet to come,” investigators said at the time.
Until now, the only other key arrest in India connected to the incident was Pakistani gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab, who was captured the night of the attacks and is on trial in a Mumbai court.
Kasab told investigators about an Indian man who tutored the attackers in Hindi and gave them basic knowledge about the streets of Mumbai.
New Delhi has blamed the Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-i-Toiba for the attack, which targeted a train station, two five-star hotels, a cafe a Jewish prayer center and other sites.