Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Chilling Mumbai Cell Phone Transcripts
"We have three foreigners, including women," the gunman said into the phone. The response was brutally simple: "Kill them." Gunshots then rang out inside the Mumbai hotel, followed by cheering that could be heard over the phone.
The ruthless exchange comes from a transcript of phone calls the Indian officials claim they intercepted during the November Mumbai attacks. They were part of a dossier of evidence New Delhi handed Pakistan this week that it claims definitively proves that the siege was launched from across the border. The New York Times reports that the dossier was also shared this week with diplomats from friendly nations; one described it as “comprehensive,” another as “convincing.”
The Mumbai transcripts, which were obtained by an Indian newspaper The Hindu, show that the 10 gunmen who carried out the attacks were in close contact with their handlers throughout the siege. India says the handlers directing the attacks that left 164 dead were senior leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group.
"There are three ministers and one secretary of the cabinet in your hotel. We don't know in which room," the handler told a gunman inside the Taj Mahal hotel at 3:10 am on the first night of the attack.
"Oh! That is good news. It is the icing on the cake!" the gunman said.
The handlers told another team of gunmen who had seized a Jewish center to shoot hostages if necessary.
"If you are still threatened, then don't saddle yourself with the burden of the hostages. Immediately kill them," he said.
He then added, "If the hostages are killed, it will spoil relations between India and Israel."
"So be it, God willing," the gunman replied.
Six Jewish foreigners, including a rabbi and his wife, were killed inside the Jewish center.
Later in the night, nearly 24 hours after the attacks began, the handlers urged the gunmen to "be strong in the name of Allah"
"Brother, you have to fight. This is a matter of prestige of Islam," the handler said. "You may feel tired or sleepy, but the commandos of Islam have left everything behind, their mothers, their fathers."
The gunmen were told several times not to kill any Muslim hostages.
The attackers used several different mobile phones, including those belonging to the hostages. Shortly after the siege began, Indian authorities say they began intercepting calls from inside the hotel. They were also able to pick up calls carried over the Internet (VOIP calls), which the handlers used to route some calls, according to the the Indian government dossier.
The siege lasted nearly three days, far longer than security experts said it should have, and, apparently, far longer than the terrorists expected as well. The handlers told the gunmen on Nov. 27 that "the operation has to be concluded tomorrow morning." But it was 36 more hours before it finished.
Much of the dialogue has a teacher-student dynamic, and indeed, the surviving gunman has said he and the rest of the group were trained by Lashkar in Pakistani Kashmir.
"We made a big mistake," one of the gunman says into the phone in the early hours of the siege.
"What big mistake?"
"When we were getting into the boat ... another boat came. Everyone jumped quickly. In this confusion, the satellite phone of Ismail got left behind." The investigation shows the gunmen entered Mumbai, which sits on the Arabian sea, by a rubber dinghy.
The attacks against iconic Mumbai targets were covered nonstop by news channels around the world, which the handlers used TV reports to guide the gunmen, the dossier says. The handlers warned when commandos roped down to the Jewish center from helicopters.
The dossier included photographs of dozens of items recovered in the attacks, including GPS units, mobile phones, guns, and explosives, as well as data gleaned from satellite phones, and details from the interrogation of the lone surviving gunman.
It also had pictures of more mundane items India calls incriminating because they were made in Pakistan, including pickles, detergent, a match box, tissue paper, a Mountain Dew bottle, shaving cream and a towel.
But the strongest — and most chilling — evidence that the gunmen were not acting alone came from the phone transcripts.
"Keep your phone switched on," a handler said in the midst of the siege, "so that we can hear the gunfire."
It's not clear who the handlers were or where they were located.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Tuesday that he did not believe the gunmen were acting alone, and Pakistani state agencies must have had a hand in the attacks, without offering any evidence.
The dossier made no mention of any Pakistani officials or agencies.
Pakistani authorities are reviewing the evidence, but have dismissed Singh's claims as "a propaganda offensive" designed "to whip up tensions" in the region.
Indian leaders have made clear they do not want a military conflict with Pakistan, and Pakistan's intelligence chief said there will be no war over the Mumbai attacks. New York Times correspondent Somini Sengupta said in an interview on NPR radio today that many Indians realize that there will be "swift retaliation" by Pakistan if India launched air strike on targets in Pakistan.
These transcripts and accounts of Mumbai suggest that the cold-blooded gunmen were essentially human drones directed, manipulated and controlled by their remote masters. Without suggesting any moral equivalence, the methods of Mumbai attackers can be compared to the high-tech warfare by American predator drones that wreak havoc on the ground in Afghanistan and FATA, thousands of miles away from their pilots sitting in front of video screens with joy sticks in Nevada, USA.
It should be recalled that India deployed a large number of its troops on Pakistani border for almost a year in an exercise of "coercive diplomacy" after attacks on Indian parliament in 2001. Pakistan responded by mobilizing its troops. In the end, the Indian strategy did not work. After Mumbai, India is relying on a diplomatic offensive to bring international pressure on Pakistani government to achieve its objective of stopping further attacks from its neighbor's soil. Missing from this strategy, however, is a political track aimed at resolving the key dispute on the status of Kashmir that has caused continuing hostilities and recurring tensions between the two neighbors since their independence in 1947.
Here's a video clip of the live coverage of Mumbai attacks: