A key suspect in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, was arrested in Saudi Arabia earlier this month and then turned over to Indian authorities.
Also known as Abu Jundal and Abu Hamza, Ansari has reportedly made significant admissions implicating members of the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the planning of the attack. The Mumbai siege was orchestrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a longtime proxy of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment.
Ansari allegedly directed Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman to survive the attack, and other terrorists from a control room in Karachi, Pakistan. As an Indian national, Ansari taught the attackers about Mumbai and Indian culture. Ansari was also reportedly involved in the terrorists’ training in a camp run inside Kashmir. The training was headed by Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, LeT’s military commander.
According to the Times of India, Ansari communicated with the Mumbai attackers from the Pakistani control room. Ansari’s voice was recorded by Indian authorities. He “also coached the killers to wrong-foot the Indian investigators and global community by posing as members of a fictional Indian outfit: Deccan Mujahideen.”
The Times of India also reports that Ansari has told authorities that LeT chieftain Hafiz Saeed was present in the control room during the attack. In April, the US government offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed’s capture. Saeed is protected by the Pakistani government.
Ansari was long suspected of involvement in criminal and terror-related activities. In 2006, he was implicated in a gun smuggling case. And Ansari has been connected to a terrorist attack in India in 2005 as well.
Indian investigators are reportedly exploring what Ansari knows about two Pakistani army officers who have also been tied to the assault on Mumbai. They are known as Sajid Mir and Major Iqbal, both of whom were directly involved in the terrorist attack.
Intercepted phone calls show that Mir, who has extensive ties to the ISI, helped direct the Mumbai attackers from Pakistan. This suggests that Ansari, who also reportedly directed the terrorists by phone, was in direct contact with Mir.
Major Iqbal paid David Headley, a key Mumbai conspirator who is imprisoned in the US, to conduct surveillance of the targeted locations in Mumbai.
There is an additional angle that Indian investigators may explore. Documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that the deceased al Qaeda master was in regular, direct contact with Saeed. The files also suggest that bin Laden and al Qaeda may have played a significant role in planning the attack on Mumbai. The surveillance reports paid for by the ISI’s man reportedly ended up in bin Laden’s hands. [See LWJ article, Report: Osama bin Laden helped plan Mumbai attacks.]
Ansari may have additional details about al Qaeda’s role in the operation.
Indian officials are confident that Ansari’s testimony has helped them expose the nexus between Pakistan and the Mumbai plotters. “Some state support was there for these people,” India’s home minister P. Chidambaram said during a press conference earlier this week. “The way we are going has put us in a good light and put Pakistan in a bad light,” Chidambaram added, according to The New York Times. “It is Pakistan which is under pressure and not India.”
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik responded, “We are proud of our ISI, which is defending Pakistan.”
“Why are you blaming Pakistan?” Malik said during a press conference on June 27. Pointing to Ansari’s Indian nationality, Malik continued: “He is your citizen. You fail to control your citizen.”
Ansari is considered the highest ranking Indian inside the Pakistan-based LeT.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.