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India Names Masterminds Of Mumbai Attacks

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Indian investigators have now named two operatives believed to have masterminded last week's attacks in Mumbai, and more details are emerging about how the attacks were planned and executed. Indian officials say top leaders of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba directed the operation from two cities in Pakistan. Praveen Swami is following the story for the daily newspaper the Hindu. He joins us from New Delhi. And Mr. Swami, why don't you first tell us about these two militants who've been named as masterminds - one in Karachi, one in Lahore? Are these well-known figures within the militant group?

Mr. PRAVEEN SWAMI (Associate Editor, The Hindu): For several years, we've been hearing the name of Muzammil, who was also known as Yusuf and Abu Gurera. He's been named as terror commander who's carried out a number of attacks in India since 2003, including bombings of Mumbai's train system in 2006, which claimed 185 lives. Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi is a senior military commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and has figured in a number of criminal investigations involving terror attacks in India. So, both these figures are well-known.

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BLOCK: Now, Indian authorities have been interrogating the surviving attacker and a number of these details seem to be coming from him. What has he been saying apparently about how the attackers came to Mumbai to launch the attacks?

Mr. SWAMI: Well, he says that they left Karachi by ship and then seeing unusual Indian coast guard activity, which seems to have been the result of an Indian intelligence warning, decided to hijack Indian fishing ship and then drive the fishing ship the remaining distance. Just offshore Mumbai, they abandoned the fishing ship again, got on a small inflatable dingy, rode to the coast of Mumbai about last couple of nautical miles and, quite simply, caught taxis to their final destinations.

BLOCK: You mentioned an intelligence warning - and this is something you've been reporting on - that apparently there were a number of fairly specific - quite specific - warnings about imminent attacks and on these targets.

Mr. SWAMI: That's right. In March an Indian national was arrested, who described plans to attack Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. He was arrested along with two Pakistani nationals, who are now being tried in a court in north India - this attempt to attack the Bombay Stock Exchange as well as hotels in south Mumbai. There was communications intelligence, some of it reported to have been passed on by the U.S. in September. There were Indian intelligence warnings again in September. And finally, an intercepted phone call made from a satellite phone in mid-sea on the 19th of November, just days before the attack. The problem really was that the Mumbai police simply did not have the kinds of capabilities it needed to do anything about this attack, about which there had been repeated warnings.

BLOCK: There's also been information coming out from survivors who were held hostage during these attacks and they describe the attackers on cell phones, apparently calling back to their handlers in Pakistan for instructions. Tell us about that.

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Mr. SWAMI: Those cell-phone conversations have been intercepted and recorded by Indian investigators. I understand they're being shared by - with Federal Bureau of Investigations officials, who've also arrived in Mumbai. We know that the terrorists had at least six cell phones on which they were talking with the controller, who was using a voice-over Internet protocol service. It is unclear as yet from which number the calls to the Internet protocol service originated, but the voice on the phone calls, investigators say, seems to be that of Muzammil.

BLOCK: One of these two men believed to be the masterminds, you're saying?

Mr. SWAMI: Yes.

BLOCK: There have been a number of questions raised since these attacks of about how 10 people could possibly bring this level of terror over several days. Is the assumption that there may be others that are still at large, who were not caught during these attacks?

Mr. SWAMI: I think the assumption that 10 people couldn't have wreaked this level of havoc just isn't well-founded. We had a terror attack here at a temple in the state of Gujarat where two attackers, again from the Lashkar-e-Taiba, managed to kill 32 people. And what we have is precisely that multiplied by five. Undoubtedly though, there were local supporters for this group. In his interrogation, the arrested terrorist has, for example, described being shown video footage of their eventual targets. Someone has made that video footage. The SIM cards used in the mobile phones by the terrorists were purchased in Calcutta in New Delhi just weeks before the attack. Someone has made that purchase and then sent those SIM cards on to Pakistan. Investigators so far, though, say they have no leads whatsoever on what local support and infrastructure there might have been to this operation.

BLOCK: We've been talking with Praveen Swami. He's an associate editor with the newspaper the Hindu in New Delhi. Mr. Swami, thanks very much.

Mr. SWAMI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.