Mumbai gunman describes indoctrination in Pakistan

 

  By ERIKA KINETZ  

MUMBAI, India -  An Indian court that heard a stunning confession from the lone surviving gunman in the Mumbai terror attacks put a gag order on his latest testimony – a message to his handlers in Pakistan and a description of the indoctrination he received before coming to India.

The order resulted in a rare information blackout in what has been one of the best documented terror attacks in history, with video footage, cell phone intercepts, photographs and witness accounts playing across the media for months.

The judge on Tuesday deferred a decision on whether to accept Ajmal Kasab's unexpected confession, which has complicated the already onerous task of defending a man whose image – he was photographed toting a gun and striding through Mumbai's main train station – quickly became an emblem of the carnage.

The confession, which describes in detail a shadowy but well-organized network of training camps and safe houses across Pakistan, also bolsters India's charges that Islamabad is not doing enough to clamp down on terrorist groups.

The three-day siege of India's financial capital that left 166 dead severely strained relations and put the brakes on a peace process between the nuclear-armed enemies.

The Press Trust of India reported Tuesday that a copy of Kasab's confession would be given to a court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan which is now trying five alleged Lashkar operatives who have denied charges that they played a role in the Mumbai attack. The news agency did not name its sources.

In his confession, Kasab said one of those men – Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi – saw him and nine other young men off on their suicide mission.

Kasab initially pled not guilty to 86 charges including murder and waging war against India, which is punishable by death. He said his abrupt about-face Monday was sparked because the Pakistani government acknowledged he was Pakistani and began legal proceedings against the alleged masterminds of the Mumbai attack.

Kasab, who does not have access to newspapers or television in prison, told the court Tuesday that he heard about the developments from his guards.

"All of a sudden my client, Ajmal Kasab, has pleaded guilty and given a thorough account before the court. It has become very difficult for me," his defense lawyer Abbas Kazmi told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Kazmi, who was appointed at the last minute after Kasab's original lawyer was dismissed, said he has not been granted sufficient access to his client nor enough time to wade through the 12,000 page case file to prepare a defense.

"I have not been able to get proper instruction from him on the case," Kazmi said. "I get 10 to 12 minutes every few days."

He said Kasab has grown depressed and "mentally frustrated" after months of solitary confinement.

"Perhaps a picture was created that now there is no hope. Even Pakistan has disowned you. He must have been expecting Pakistan to say no, Kasab is an innocent man. Now Pakistan said yes, our own people were involved," Kazmi said.

In court Monday and Tuesday, Kasab took responsibility for much of the carnage during the three-day siege, confirming prosecution evidence, including video footage, guns, bombs, identity cards, witness testimony and maps.

Kasab has signed each page of the court's record of his confession, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.

In the document, he describes how he became involved with Lashkar-e-Taiba. He said he had become unhappy with his low wages as a shop assistant in the Pakistani town of Jhelum and left, with a friend, for Rawalpindi hoping to become a bandit.

In search of weapons and training, they wandered around Raza Bazaar looking for men with long beards, Kasab said, and were directed to a house on the corner of a small lane. Kasab knocked on the door. "I told him that we had come for Jihad. Therefore, he allowed us entry," he said.

They returned the next morning with their luggage and were taken by bus to Marqaz-e-Taiba in Muridke, a town 30 miles (48 kilometers) outside Lahore, he said.

Marqaz-e-Taiba is the headquarters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an Islamist charity that claims to do only peaceful social work, but which Indian officials allege is a front for the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"There was a big wooden gate," Kasab said. His minder handed over a piece of paper and they were allowed to enter, he said.

He said he spent three weeks there learning to pray, before being taken with 20 other boys to a forest in the hills, where they learned to shoot and underwent physical conditioning.

After passing a series of identity screenings and physical tests and filling out forms, he said he was led to another training camp, a three-hour walk into the mountains. Over the next three months, he said he learned to operate a rocket launcher, grenades, AK-47s, pistols, and mortars.

After being selected for the Mumbai mission he was taken to Karachi, where he and the other recruits learned to swim, sail, and fish, and saw movies and photographs of targets in Mumbai.

The group of boys stayed in Karachi for about six weeks, he said, where they were warned sternly not to disobey orders and left their safe house just once for navigation training.

Kasab said four men – Abu Hamja, Abu Kafa, Zaki-Ur-Rehman Lakhavi, and an Indian named Abu Jundal – saw the 10 attackers off at the seashore near Karachi.

Once at sea, the boys were transferred to another boat, he said. Four sailors were taken back to Pakistan and one, a navigator, continued on with them to Mumbai, he said.

After three days and four nights, at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, fellow attacker Abu Ismail spoke with someone on his mobile phone.

"Abu Ismail said, 'How are things, boss,'" Kasab recalled. "After some time he said, 'You ate those four goats? Can I eat the fifth one?'"

The navigator knew he was going to die, Kasab said.

Later, one of the other attackers, Soheb, emerged from the ship's engine room holding a bloody knife, Kasab said.

"Soheb washed his hands and came back to the cabin. Soheb was looking little scared," he added.

The 10 boys bathed, one by one, and changed their clothes as the sun set.

Then they boarded an inflatable dinghy, each equipped with a bag with an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, eight hand grenades, a Nokia mobile phone, ammunition, dry fruit and water, Kasab said.

They split into pairs and fanned across the city, killing people at the railway station, a Jewish center, a hospital and two five-star hotels.

Kasab and Abu Ismail hailed a taxi to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, where they killed more than 50 people.

Following the instructions of their handler, Abu Kafa, the boys ducked as Abu Ismail threw the first grenade, then jumped up and began spraying the crowd with bullets, Kasab said.

Continuing his testimony Tuesday, Kasab told the court his mandate was "to open fire at CST and hold people hostage on the upper floor."

The pair killed a few more people at Cama hospital, then drove through the city in hijacked vehicles, half-lost and dodging police gunfire. "Abu Ismail was driving with one hand and was handling his gun by means of the other hand," he said.

Kasab said he had been shot in the forearm, elbow, and wrist.

"I told Abu Ismail I was not in a position to move further. He told me that I should not lose confidence," he said.

Police killed Ismail and captured Kasab after a shootout near Chowpatty Beach.

On Tuesday, Kasab also described political and religious indoctrination he said he received in Pakistan, but Judge M.L. Tahiliyani issued an order forbidding journalists from reporting his comments, saying it was not in the interest of communal harmony.

Religious friction is not uncommon here, and government officials as well as citizen groups worked hard to ensure that tensions between Hindus and Muslims did not erupt into violence after the November attack.

Two Indians, Fahim Ansari and Ahmed Sabauddin, are also on trial for allegedly providing maps that helped facilitate the attack.