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Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story

The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai offer a rare picture of the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba. The trail of two key figures, an accused Pakistani mastermind and his American operative, traces the rise of a complex, international threat.

(Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

This story was published as part of Amazon's Kindle Singles program, and is available for reading on that device.

On a November night two years ago, a young American rabbi and his pregnant wife finished dinner at their home in the mega-city of Mumbai.

Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg had come to India on a religious mission. They had established India's first outpost of Chabad Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish organization, in a six-story tower overlooking a shantytown. The Chabad House offered a synagogue, a cyber-café, two floors of guest rooms, India's biggest Hebrew library and a dining room that could seat 50 for festive meals. The Holtzbergs' guests that evening were two American rabbis, an Israeli grandmother and a Mexican tourist.

Hundreds of miles away in Pakistan, a youthful terrorist chief named Sajid Mir was preparing a different sort of religious mission. With the support of Pakistan's intelligence service, Mir had spent two years using a Pakistani-American businessman named David Coleman Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents. He had selected iconic targets and the Chabad House, a seemingly obscure choice, but one that ensured that Jews and Americans would be casualties.

On Nov. 26, 2008, Mir sat among half-a-dozen militant chiefs in a safe house in Karachi tracking an attack team as its dinghy approached the Mumbai waterfront. The Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group had made Mir the project manager of its biggest strike ever, the crowning achievement of his career as a holy warrior.

The 10 gunmen went ashore and split into five teams. His voice crisp and steady, Mir directed the slaughter by phone from his command post, relaying detailed instructions to his fighters. About 10:25 p.m., gunmen stormed the Chabad House. They shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis, took the Israeli grandmother and Mexican tourist hostage and barricaded themselves on an upper floor.

Mir told his men to try to trade the hostages for a gunman who had been captured. Mir spoke directly to the Mexican hostage, 50-year-old Norma Rabinovich, who had been preparing to move to Israel to join her adult children.

Mir soothed the sobbing woman in accented but smooth English.

"Save your energy for good days," Mir told her during the call intercepted by Indian intelligence. "If they contact right now, maybe you gonna, you know, celebrate your Sabbath with your family."

The prisoner swap failed. Mir ordered the gunman to "get rid" of Rabinovich.

"Stand her up on this side of your door," he said. "Shoot her such that the bullet goes right through her head and out the other side...Do it. I'm listening...Do it, in God's name."

The three-day siege of Mumbai left 166 dead and 308 wounded. Twenty-six of the dead were foreigners, including six Americans. The attacks inflamed tension between Pakistan and India at a time when the nuclear-armed foes were trying to improve their relationship. The repercussions complicated the U.S. battle against Islamic extremism in South Asia and thrust Lashkar into the global spotlight.

More than two years later, Mir and his victims are at the center of a wrenching national-security dilemma confronting the Obama administration. The question, simply put, is whether the larger interests of the United States in maintaining good relations with Pakistan will permit Mir and other suspects to get away with one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in recent history.

Despite the diplomatic sensitivities, administration officials say they are pursuing those responsible.

"The U.S. government is completely determined to see justice done in the case," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of pending prosecutions. "Sometimes it takes time."

For more than six months, ProPublica has examined the investigation of the attacks and previous cases documenting the rise of Lashkar. This account is based on interviews with more than two dozen law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic officials from the United States, India, Pakistan, France, Britain, Australia and Israel, including front-line investigators. ProPublica also interviewed associates and relatives of suspects and victims, some of whom had not discussed the case with journalists, and reviewed foreign and U.S. case files, some of them previously undisclosed.

These documents and interviews paint the fullest portrait yet of Mir, a mysterious figure whose global trail traces Lashkar's evolution. His name has surfaced in investigations on four continents, his web reaching as far as suburban Virginia. Fleeting glimpses of him appear in case files and communications intercepts. A French court even convicted him in absentia in 2007. But he remains free and dangerous, according to U.S. and Indian officials.

Mir has close ties to Pakistan's security forces and may have been an officer in the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). The ISI has been accused for years of playing a "double game": acting as a front-line U.S. ally in the fight against terror while supporting selected terrorist groups. The Mumbai case provides the first detailed inside account of how that game is played, thanks to the confession of Headley, Mir's American operative, a colorful character in a story of global intrigue.

U.S. investigators are persuaded that ISI officers recruited and trained Headley in spying techniques, then ran him as an agent in tandem with Lashkar. Pakistani military officers funded and directed Headley's reconnaissance in India, supplied tactical advice for the Mumbai attack and participated in a follow-up plot against Denmark, according to U.S. and Indian officials.

ProPublica's investigation leads to another disturbing revelation: Despite isolated voices of concern, for years the U.S. intelligence community was slow to focus on Lashkar and detect the extent of its determination to strike Western targets. During that period, Washington largely accepted Pakistan's quiet tolerance of Lashkar, which unlike its allies has not attacked the Pakistani state. Most U.S. officials admit that counterterrorism agencies grasped the dimensions of the threat only after the Mumbai attacks.

The FBI investigation into the killings of the Americans has focused on a half-dozen accused masterminds who are still at large: Mir, top Lashkar chiefs and a man thought to be a major in the ISI. U.S. officials say they have urged Islamabad to arrest those suspects.

"We put consistent pressure on the Pakistanis to deal with Lashkar and do so at the highest levels," said the senior U.S. counterterrorism official. "There has been no lack of clarity in our message."

But officials acknowledge that the response to the Mumbai attacks has been insufficient. The effort to bring to justice the masterminds - under a law that makes terrorist attacks against Americans overseas a crime - faces obstacles. A U.S. prosecution could implicate Pakistani military chiefs who, at minimum, have allowed Lashkar to operate freely. Pressure on Pakistan to confront both the military and Lashkar could damage counterterrorism efforts.

"It's a balancing act," a high-ranking U.S. law enforcement official said. "We can only push so far. It's very political. Sajid Mir is too powerful for them to go after. Too well-connected. We need the Pakistanis to go after the Taliban and al-Qaeda."

Pakistani officials told ProPublica that they have no information on Mir. They denied allegations that the ISI supports Lashkar. They point out that hundreds of ISI officers have been killed in clashes with Islamic militants.

"Allegations of ISI's cadres operating in connivance with the militants...are based on malicious intent," said a senior Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. ISI "remains top-to-bottom transparent and rests under the complete control of the civilian government...There is no question that the government thinks that all militants are enemies of the state."

Pakistan has charged Lashkar's military chief and six less-influential suspects in the Mumbai attacks. But the trial has stalled, raising fears among U.S. and Indian officials that the prosecution will collapse in a court system that rarely convicts accused extremists.

The U.S. investigation turned up 320 potential targets abroad - only 20 of them in India - including U.S., British and Indian embassies, government buildings, tourist sites and global financial centers, officials say. Many of the targets were scouted by Headley, who roamed the world on terrorist missions despite repeated warnings about him to U.S. agents from spouses and associates. The failure to stop him results partly from a lack of attention to Lashkar, experts say.

"There should have been a recognition that Lashkar had the desire and the potential to attack the West and that we needed to get up to speed on this group," said Charles Faddis, a retired CIA chief of counterterrorist operations in South Asia and other hot spots. "It was a mistake to dismiss it as just a threat to India."

Today, Mir personifies Lashkar's evolving danger. The group's longtime ties to the security forces have made it more professional and potentially more menacing than al-Qaeda. Recent intelligence shows Lashkar remains intent on striking the West and that the group increasingly blurs together with al-Qaeda and other networks in the jihadist cauldron of Pakistan, according to Western anti-terror officials.

"Lashkar is not just a tool of the ISI, but an ally of al-Qaeda that participates in its global jihad," said Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French judge who investigated Mir. "Today Pakistan is the heart of the terrorist threat. And it may be too late to do anything about it."

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Dear Mr. Rotella,

You did it again! It was an excellent piece. It was well-written, detailed and gravitating. I could not stop reading. It was like reading an awesome book and then being disappointed when the article was finished that there was not more.

The topic is of particular interest to me as I have been following the story very closely and I have also written a few articles about the Headley case. I became directly involved in the Headley investigation by the NIA in India because of my friendship with Headley’s wife Faiza Outalha. In fact, I was just in Morocco with Faiza Outalha for about six weeks discussing the case, her experiences and ordeals. We are working together on a book project.

Thank you for sharing your investigative talents and your amazing writing style. I look forward to your future articles on this topic.
Sincerely,
George Alexander Mapp

This is a great article. When is ProPublica going to start your own news channel :)

The revelations are simply astonishing. It is a clear indictment of Pakistan and what it stands for. After reading it, one has to conclude that Pakistan does not belong to the community of nations and it is no wonder it is spiralling towards oblivion. The UN could declare it a terrorist state and enforce a blockade by sea, air and land. This should bring the Pakistanis to their senses, and if it doesn’t, simply invade the country and root out the evil, and remove the danger to mankind. There is no other answer. Time is running out for Pakistan and the world.

Abhijit Mhamunkar

Jan. 26, 2011, 11:02 p.m.

Excellent detailed piece Sir. Being an Indian, a Mumbai resident, it boils my blood further seeing that no coercive action so far has been taken by the Indian Govt and the US Govt against Pakistan. Now news rolls in that the Moscow bombers were trained in Pakistan! High time it is declared a Terrorist Nation. What is every one waiting for? Another big terror strike?

Varon B K Sharma

Jan. 26, 2011, 11:31 p.m.

Quite comprehensive article. There were also reports of a few rapes committed by the Pakistanis at Taj and Chabad House, may be you are not aware of this.

The world powers have to take drastic measures in regard to Pakistan before they bring down whole cities in serial nuclear or radiological blasts. Time is running out fast.

The worst is there are some very powerful people in India who are covertly supporting Pakistan they could be the most dangerous snakes.

ha ha ha ha ha Bollywood story :D

I trust this is the best and trustworthy article about Mumbai Attack in fact I will call it India Attack. No wonder the world is looking at picture of present Pakistan.

I pray good for them and peace all over the world.

Peace from India

Gripping story. If the world does not wake up to the Pakistani threat even now, I don’t understand when it ever will. Maybe when it is too late!

Mr. Rotella has graduated to become a top \“Asset\” in a growing US-India relationship.
I do not see him writing about Hindu terrorists and their links in Indian Security establishment.
Nor he write about Ministers in India from RSS. No militant group is holding public offices in Pakistan while in India elections are fought on hatred against Pakistan/Muslims.
And Mr. Rotella, what about 9/11 of Pakistan going on every day? What about burning alive 60 Pakistanis in a \“Peace Train\” to India by your lovely Indian RSS friends?
However am sure that US is too big and wise to join RSS militants of India as they know exactly why Pakistan is in turmoil. Its their cold war policies and their aid to Dictators in Pakistan which has inflicted great damage to civil institutions. Its because they are now giving nukes to Indians and declaring it their strategic partner in next great game. We do not need more games in this region which is already messed up. We need truth/justice and peace.
Thanks

Mr. Pakistani investigations are not yet complete on samjautha express. indians are investigating & unlike pakistani sham on 26/11 , ur navy & intelligence trained those terrorists. dont live in denial . before 26/11 , the bombs in mumbai trains were handiwork of LET, the so called indian mujahideen trained, funded , front of LET. there are extremists on hindu side their full network & modus operandi & who really finds them should be uncovered , they have to be bought to book but unlike ur country they are not state sponsored & trained by its military & intelligence to maim & kill. dont bury ur head. if u still conduct a sham on 26/11 we will hit back harder & faster than u will ever known than 1971

sadashiv punekar

Jan. 27, 2011, 7:39 a.m.

Blood raging story.. Shame that indian govt can not even flush out illegal pakistani filth living in indian metros.. Forget eradication but Indian govt has totally failed to even control the terrorists. A common man is scared to go out on festivals die to the fear of paki militants will attack.
We did not execute Kasab and Afzal guru to give the msg to terrorists that we WILL take tough measures. Now dimwit politicians like Rahul Gandhi and PC Chidambaram is raising issue of saffron terror? Where is it? most of the world is gripped by Islamic terrorism and yet we are still living in denial..
Indian govt did not shut down dawood businesses who helped terrorists.

Shame on defunct indian govt.

with regards to samjautha & malegaon blasts. confessions are similar to SIMI accused. unless the judge gives a clear verdict behind hindu radicals i will hold my doubts. let us assume the juddgement to be hindu radicals but they are not funded , trained & armed by state / military unlike LET funded armed & given special force training in weapon & tactics by pak army & intelligence which unleashes them on its own ppl from time to time to make sure military has influence of power in all circles of pak administration

The pakistanis are free to spread their terror all over the world. I dont think anything will happen to them unless they blow up the white house or get a nuclear weapon and blow up the Indian Parliament. That should bring the arrogant Americans to their knees or the useless Indian Govt to its senses.

Jytte Klausen

Jan. 27, 2011, 6:11 p.m.

First rate journalism
You connect the dots in an insane story.

Does the Obama administration have it’s head in the clouds or up its rear end?

Great reporting, Mr. Rotella. Thank you for keeping this story alive; for the hundreds of innocent civilian victims of this barbaric Pakistani military operation. In my mind this quote from Mr. Charles Faddis, the retired CIA chief of counterterrorist operations in South Asia says it all, “It was a mistake to dismiss it as just a threat to India.”

This is exactly how the US viewed the increasingly homicidal behavior by its ally, Pakistan. As long as the bloodshed and mayhem was aimed at India and killed Indians, it didn’t bother the conscience of the likes of Mr. Faddis. Brown peoples lives were expendable, and if they killed each other… so much the better. Besides, the Pakistanis are Muslims, peoples of the book, while the Indians were Hindus who didn’t believe in the one true God.

I deeply regret the murder of the innocent Jews caught in the massacre at Mumbai. The urbane educated voice of the Pakistani officer voicing soothing platitudes in English to the victims while instructing his accomplices in Urdu to slaughter them while he listened has to be one of the most chilling episodes ever recorded. Sadly, for the hundreds of Hindu victims of this horrendous act of barbarism by Pakistan, their only hope for a modicum of justice may rest with the unfortunate deaths of the Rabbi and his wife and their visiting friends. It certainly won’t happen because of the Indian government’s (or the Indian media, for that matter) diligence to see that justice is served; their callousness towards their own citizens, especially if they are Hindu dead, surpasses that of Mr. Faddis and the government that he served. The only time that India’s political elite stirred to action was when they were directly attacked; when Pakistan unleashed its dogs-of-terror on the Indian parliament. And then too, it was an empty, futile gesture as they, like the Grand Old Duke of York, marched their soldiers to the border with their rogue neighbor and then, under US pressure, sent them back to the barracks.

When Mr. Rotella writes his (surely best-selling) book I hope that he will have a chapter on the brave but poorly trained and equipped Indian police, and their incompetent leadership who wasted the previous year hunting fictitious Hindu “terrorists”, and all the while ignoring the many American warnings that were provided, as detailed in this article.

There are still Indian politicians from the corrupt and unprincipled ruling Congress party today who shill for Pakistan and front the absurd notion that the killing of the hapless Indian anti-terrorism police chief by the Pakistani terrorists; one of whom was captured alive and will surely live out his life in well-fed comfort in an Indian jail, was a Hindu conspiracy. This well-honed sleight of hand by members of the Congress party to distract the Indian public from the failings of this kleptocratic dynasty was again recently in evidence when the confessions of a Hindu “terrorist” were widely leaked by the complicit media in India. The occasion was to shift attention from their clown prince who proclaimed to the Americans that Hindu “terrorism” was a greater threat than anything formulated by the likes of Mr. Mir or other officers of the Pakistani terrorist army. The bombing of the Indian Samjauta Express train, which Mr. Rotella noted that Mr. Headley’s wife had informed the US embassy in Pakistan of her husband’s involvement with, continues to be feverishly worked overtime by the Congress-controlled CBI (FBI equivalent) to pin on supposed Hindu “terrorists” to fit with Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s ridiculous and absurd narrative.

India’s national motto is sathyameva jayate, which roughly translates to truth shall emerge victorious. However, it will require the likes of Mr. Rotella, and most certainly not Indian journalists, to ferret out the truth and overcome the dissembling that emanates from Pakistan and, ironically, from India as well.

Suddenly I am not only proud but also relieved to be an atheist.

Please see article “26/11-some observations’ at site<www.ideaz4india.com>

Headley was so obviously a double agent for the US. The FBI found excuses every time not to investigate. The US agency let him gain credibility with Lashkar by sitting back and giving vauge warnings to the effected governments, while their double agent participated in major terrorist attacks. This is the difficult game of having a double agent, how much do you allow the agent to do so that they can gain credibility with group that is being dupped.

2 countries born onthe same day. One country is making strides in technology, planning a moon landing, becoming an economic super power and an example of freedom and democracy and the other country became an absolute failed state. How did this happen.

According to Mr. Stephen Cohen, (an expert on South Asia at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC), Pakistan has another six years at best, before it disintegrates due to the ‘state’ being overwhelmed by the terrorists and Jihadists, who have been prepped by the Inter Services Intelligence and the Pakistani Army.

Consider, that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is now acknowledged to be the fourth largest after Russia, USA and China and notwithstanding Israel’s undeclared warheads. This arsenal is growing. Pakistan is now effectively as dangerous to the West likely even more so than North Korea or Iran. All three states share and have a common benefactor, mentor and patron, viz. China.

Connecting the dots still further: Pakistan’s economy is hostage to the Pakistani military-industrial complex which controls more than half the country’s GDP and industrial ownership and output. This inspite of the revolving door attempts at ‘civilian rule’, which are only exercises from being termed permanently a garrison state.

This is the state to which the past six US administrations (Post Carter) have given over 35 billion dollars of US taxpayer’s money to keep in office. It has been used by the Pakistani establishment towards the following ‘projects’ -

-Training and equipping the Taliban.
-Hosting outfits such as Lashkar, Al Qaeda.
-Attacking New York (funds for 9/11 were sent from Pakistan), London (terrorists were trained in Pakistan) and Mumbai (Read article above).

- Building and improving weapon grade fissile material processing for the production of nuclear bombs at two reactors. This is now being doubled in number with the help of the Chinese, who mutually claim to be each other’s ‘all weather best friends’.

- Depriving a population of 200 million illiterate and educated people of the basic amenities of life while the army top brass and the politicians live first world lifestyles in gated isolation.

This state, Pakistan, is the West’s partner in the War Against Terror. And it is not, that this wasn’t known. Indians have always wondered whether it is our lack of sophisticated social conformity or our straight forward criticisms of the West’s skewed diplomacy that merits us the arrogance and condescension. The truth is probably as simple as Mr. Rotella’s assertion, a brown man’s life is an acceptable collateral than one’s own. And who better, than the Indians, who will always speak in meek tones.

Mr. Cohen, from your mouth to god’s ears.
Well, six more years is all we have to wait? So be it.
It will rob the invertebrates in DC and New Delhi of their fig leaves. Make no mistake, the Pakistani establishment will not go down without the fireworks. Better thus, to start a planned demolition.

Of the 166 people who died in the Mumbai attacks, the vast majority—138—were Indian. What, then, motivated you to begin and end your otherwise-excellent piece by telling the story of one of the 28 foreigners who were killed? Or is it that you can’t trust Western readers to identify with people who don’t have names like theirs? It’s pathetic how the victims of the attack, a great many of them Muslim, have to face racism even in death.

Girish

Funny how how the death of hundreds of innocent Kashmiris every year by Indian forces isn’t mentioned.  Isn’t that where lashkar is based?  Remember up to 20,000 Indian Muslims were slaughtered in gujrat in the 90s.  20,000!  Indias hatred of it’s Muslim minority cannot be ignored as the root cause these problems.  But don’t get me wrong India is at least on the right track, and is committed to improving the country, while the same cannot be said of Pakistan

Man Bridgette seems like a us govt plant.  This article doesn’t appear critical, I’m sure much of it is accurate, but it uses too much shady info to prove a preconceived notion.  A bit poor overall.

Half the article is based on the hearsay of headley, a Paki american, who was arrested trying to smuggle drugs into the us.  His ‘confession’ is given for his freedom, the history of American interrogation has proven his confession doesn’t have validity or truth, obviously he told them whatever they wanted, unlikely the truth, for freedom.

Brandon dude u forget 200,000 Kashmiri Hindu Pandit men, women n kids killed in last 21 years by Muslim terrorists and mass exodus of theirs done from Kashmir

In the very first hours of the Mumbai attack, the unknown terrorists were able to achieve a singular feat: the targeted murder of Hemant Karkare, the chief antiterrorism officer in the Indian police. The man was responsible for exposing the secret links between the Indian military and Hindu terror groups. His investigation resulted in uncovering the involvement of three Indian military intelligence officers in terrorist acts that were blamed on Muslim groups. At the time of his murder, Karkare was pursuing leads that were supposed to uncover the depth of the nexus between the Indian military and the sudden rise of well armed and well financed Hindu terrorism groups with their wide network of militant training camps across India.

Mumbai Terror Attack: Further Evidence Of The Anglo-American-Mossad-RSS Nexus

By Amaresh Misra

03 December, 2008
Countercurrents.org

Now who has the last laugh? That is the question; I only have pity for those who cannot see reality and who were so glib to buy into what the media and political troubleshooters were saying about the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Consider this:

As a BBC report notes, at least some of the Mumbai attackers were not Indian and certainly not Muslim.Pappu Mishra, a cafe proprietor at the gothic Victorian Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, described “two sprightly young men dressed in black” with AK47s who were “foreign looking, fair skinned.“Gaffar Abdul Amir, an Iraqi tourist from Baghdad, saw at least two men who started the firing outside the Leopold Cafe. “They did not look Indian, they looked foreign. One of them, I thought, had blonde hair. The other had a punkish hairstyle. They were neatly dressed,” Amir told the BBC.

According to Andrew G. Marshall, the ISI “has long been referred to as Pakistan’s ‘secret government’ or ‘shadow state.’ It’s long-standing ties and reliance upon American and British intelligence have not let up, therefore actions taken by the ISI should be viewed in the context of being a Central Asian outpost of Anglo-American covert intelligence operations.“The presence of “foreign looking, fair skinned” commandos who calmly gunned down dozens of people after drinking a few beers indicates that the Mumbai attacks were likely the work of the Anglo-American covert intelligence operatives, not indigenous Indian Muslims or for that matter Arab al-Qaeda terrorists. The attacks prepare the ground for the break-up of Pakistan and the furtherance of destabilizing terrorism in the Middle East and Asia. The Mumbai attacks had little to do with India or the relationship between Muslim Pakistanis and Hindu Indians.“Pakistan’s position as a strategic focal point cannot be underestimated. It borders India, Afghanistan, China and Iran,” concludes Marshall. “Destabilizing and ultimately breaking Pakistan up into several countries or regions will naturally spread chaos and destabilization into neighboring countries. This is also true of Iraq on the other side of Iran, as the Anglo-American have undertaken, primarily through Iraq, a strategy of balkanizing the entire Middle East in a new imperial project.” (See Marshall’s Divide and Conquer: The Anglo-American Imperial Project.)

Great article but what is the use? We talk nut don’t
walk the talk. Pakistan will keep on getting
Away because they know that we are spineless &
corrupt.

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