New Delhi: Even after years of meticulous planning, the 10 gunmen failed twice before they finally carried out the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed in 2008.
According to documents submitted as part of the evidence by the prosecution in the Chicago trial of Tahawwur Rana, declassified overnight Thursday on a plea by the Chicago Tribune newspaper, Delhi and Bollywood were among the many other targets on the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) hit list.
Co-accused David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American national, started receiving training at LeT camps in Pakistan as early as February 2002—months after the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad militants attacked the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, raising tensions between the two countries.
Headley, the papers reveal, was anxious to be assigned an operation in Kashmir but LeT operative Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi said he was “saving” him for a different assignment. Headley, who undertook five visits to India to map out targets for the November 2008 attacks, was in constant touch with his school friend Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian. Rana’s immigration business provided Headley’s cover during his frequent visits to India. The raids on Mumbai were planned from 2006 onwards.
“Sajid (LeT member and Headley’s handler) told Headley that the attack would occur on the night of 29 September, 2008,” the papers said. But later Sajid informed Headley that the boat carrying the attackers hit a rock and was destroyed. The second attempt in October too did not succeed as the attackers failed to hijack an Indian vessel. “The boys (attackers) were demoralized and were sent to a safe house in Karachi”, from where they had set sail.
During the planning stages, a “Major Iqbal”, whom India suspects is a Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officer, asked Headley to obtain a schedule of conferences to be held in the heritage Taj Mahal hotel. Headley also purchased “15 red bracelets commonly worn by followers of Hindu faith in India and gave them to Sajid in Pakistan”. He had recommended that the attackers wear them during the attack as a disguise.
The attackers had also thought of demanding the exchange of Ajmal Kasab, one of the gunmen caught alive by the Mumbai police, for Israelis taken hostages in Chabad House, one of the 26/11 targets. Sajid also told Headley that the attackers had made mistakes by not sinking the boat that brought them to Mumbai and leaving behind a satellite phone that was later found by Indian investigators.
After the Mumbai attacks, Headley and Rana had discussed more targets for similar attacks—including the Shiv Sena, Bollywood, the Somnath Temple in Gujarat and the National Defence College (NDC) in Delhi. After returning to Pakistan, Headley told Pasha, who the court papers identified as a retired Pakistan military officer, that an attack on the NDC could kill more brigadiers than had been killed in all of the wars between India and Pakistan. Headley was also instructed to survey Chabad Houses (Jewish religious centres) across India.
The attacks that were being planned were referred to as “investment plans for India” by Headley and the LeT. India was referred to as “Rahul” in their conversations. Targets were referred to as real-estate property. Headley also warned Rana against travelling to India after the Mumbai attacks due to increased Indian surveillance.