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Maharashtra fugitive emerges as 26/11 suspect

Praveen Swami

Zabiuddin Ansari may have guided Mumbai assault team

NEW DELHI: Mumbai police investigators say they may have succeeded in putting a face to an until now unidentified Indian Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who played a key role in guiding the operations of the team that attacked Mumbai in November 2008.

Based on information provided by India’s intelligence services, as well as interviews with arrested jihadists, police believe the Indian national in the Lashkar’s control room could be Syed Zabiuddin Syed Zakiuddin Ansari, a Lashkar-linked Maharashtra resident, who has been a fugitive since 2005.

The unidentified Indian operative was one of several Lashkar personnel who used Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) links to provide orders to the assault team. Last month, The Hindu broke the news that one of the operatives in the control station spoke Mumbai-inflected Hindi, in stark contrast to the Punjabi used by the others.

Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, the Lashkar terrorist arrested in the course of the assault, said his team had been trained by an Indian national identified as Abu Jindal — the alias also used by the unidentified controller, and a nom de guerre known to have been adopted by Ansari in the past. Police say Ansari played a key role in a plot to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, an operation meant to avenge the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. Ansari is alleged to have been the key leader of an Aurangabad-based Lashkar cell, which received assault rifles and military-grade explosives from Pakistan to stage an attack which would have closely resembled the Mumbai operation.

Eleven men linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Students Islamic Movement of India were held for their alleged role in the 2005 Aurangabad-based plot. However, Ansari eluded the police after a high-speed car chase and has been sought by Interpol since then. He was last sighted at a Lashkar safe house in Karachi by Hyderabad-based jihadist Mohammad Amjad Khwaja, who was arrested earlier this year.

Imran Babar, one of the two terrorists who took hostages at the Chabad House Jewish prayer centre, was told by the Hindi-speaking controller to call the media with a manifesto to condemn what he described as the Indian government’s “two-faced policy” towards Muslims.

The Lashkar manifesto demanded that Muslims held in jails be released; the Indian Army be pulled out of Jammu and Kashmir; and the land on which the Babri Masjid stood be returned to Muslims.

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