At around midnight the news flashed that Hemant Karkare along with a few other senior police officials had been seriously injured in an exchange of fire with the terrorists near Cama Hospital.
A few seconds later the news flashed that Karkare had been shifted to JJ Hospital and his condition was critical. Singh felt his blood freezing. For Singh and the other inspectors Karkare was more than just a boss; he was their mentor, a father figure, the patriarch of the ATS family.
An eye on the breaking news section of the TV screen, Singh and his colleagues kept toiling for the next one hour, without much luck. Dozens of calls were put under observation but none had anything suspicious.
Then at about 1 am the ATS received a phone call from the IB. The IB had managed to find three cellphone numbers that were being used by the terrorists at the time. The agency passed on these numbers to the ATS which in turn immediately put them under observation. After the first breakthrough there was no looking back for the ATS technical staff.
They found out that these three numbers were receiving phone calls from the number 00-120-1253-1824 which turned out to be a virtual number allotted by an international VoIP provider, in short, known as net telephony.
Thereafter, all the calls made by this number to India or received from India were put on interception. Soon the virtual number flashed on the screen of Singh's computer. It was making a call on an Indian cell number whose then current location was the Taj hotel. The time was 1.05 am.
Handler: Salaam ailekum.
Terrorist: Wailekum as-salaam.
Handler: Yaar, tumhara kamra 360 ya 361 number jo hai woh pata lag gaya in logon ko, kya camera laga hai? (Your room, 360 or 361, they have come to know about it. Is there a camera?)
[The conversation continues as recorded in the Taj Operation section, till the handler asks them to put the bed-sheets, etc, on fire.]
Terrorist: Lekin baaki kamre na band hain; hamare paas ek hi kamra hai. Agar idhar aag laga di to kidhar jaayenge? (But the other rooms are closed; we have only one room. If we set this on fire, where will we go?)
Handler: Achha aur kamre nahi khul rahe hain. (Oh, so the other rooms are not opening.)
Terrorist: Na ji. (No sir.)
Handler: To na gali mein ja ke kaalin mein aag laga do. Aag lagane ke kaam mein der nahi karni hai. (Then go and put the carpets in the corridor on fire. We cannot delay setting the place on fire.)
Terrorist: Inshallah. (Allah willing.)
Handler: Aur jab mein phone karoon to attend karna. (And attend the phone when I call.)
[The call disconnects.]
It was the first call between the terrorists and their managers that the technical staff had intercepted. The handler was keen to be in control of the situation. It was now clear to Singh that though the carnage, the mayhem was being carried out in Mumbai, the director, the puppeteer, the invisible hand was in some safe haven, monitoring the TV, and planning the next move, like a football coach or an army general.
The conspiracy had been orchestrated to the last detail. The Indian intelligence and investigative agencies had their own version of 9/11 to contend with.
The terrorists holed up in the Taj, the Oberoi and the Chabad House soon stopped using their own phones (the Indian SIM cards which they had brought with them) and started using the cellphones of their hostages. But as they kept switching over to different cell numbers, the ATS too kept trailing these calls, putting the new numbers under surveillance.