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The Mumbai police control room becomes a war zone

March 20, 2009
26/11 Mumbai Attacked, one of the first books on last winter's murderous acts of terror, explains the reality behind the attacks. It reiterates the chilling reality that India is under grave threat and the clock is ticking before the next big attack.

In the concluding part of a five-part series, we bring to you an exclusive excerpt written by journalist Ashish Khetan on how the Mumbai police broke Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist in the attacks, immediately after his arrest and got vital information.

Part I: What Kasab told cops after his arrest
Part II: How handlers in Pakistan directed 26/11 attack
Part III: The demonic voices who directed 26/11 mayhem
Part IV: The vain search for 'LeT vessel' before 26/11

The Confession

The crime branch of the Mumbai police -- a specialised department in neutralising and investigating organised crime as well as intricate cases that are beyond the competence of local police stations -- has a staff of 150 experienced detectives. The entire bureau is headed by a joint commissioner of police. Since June 2007 the joint commissioner of the crime branch was Rakesh Maria.

A tall and broad-shouldered man, every strand of greying hair in place, Maria was known to be a workaholic. But on November 26 he left for the day at 8.50 pm, two hours before his usual time. Maria wanted to spend some time with his twenty-one-year-old son who was leaving that night for Ahmednagar to participate in an inter-university championship.

At 9.40 pm Maria's son left home. Ten minutes later, as he was getting ready to retire to bed, he received a call from the police control room: armed gunmen had opened indiscriminate fire at the CST station killing dozens of commuters. By the time he got into his car, reports of firing at Leopold Caf'e, at the Taj Mahal hotel and at the Trident-Oberoi hotels had also poured in.

As he asked his driver to head towards Mumbai police headquarters, the commissioner of police, Hasan Gafoor called and instructed Maria to take charge of the police control room. At 10.22 pm Maria reached the control room. By the time he walked in there, the command centre of Mumbai police had turned into a war zone.

Dozens of telephone lines and wireless communication channels were buzzing like bees. Beads of sweat were falling off the foreheads of police personnel fielding calls from the public, coordinating among the 45,000 city police personnel and communicating with eighty-six police stations and senior officers spread across Mumbai. A few gunmen had simultaneously attacked different sites throughout the city.

Dozens had already died while hundreds of injured needed immediate medical aid. It seemed the city was at war. A giant screen was showing the important city landmarks and locations of over 3,000 police vans patrolling in different areas. Maria started mobilising the police personnel, dispatching police vans to the troubled spots. Around 10.35 pm, reports came that a bomb had gone off in a speeding taxi on the Western Express Highway, close to the Santacruz airport.

So powerful was the explosion that the head of the taxi driver got severed from the torso and after shooting thirty feet up in the air, got stuck in the branches of a tree. Five minutes later at 10.40 pm another call came that a second bomb had exploded, again in a taxi, this time in Wadi Bunder, approximately 25 km from the location of the first blast.

Memories of the 1993 serial blasts were refreshed in Maria's mind. How many more bombs were waiting to go off? Two suspicious looking bags outside the Taj and one bag outside the Trident hotel had already been sighted. Maria instructed all police stations to comb their areas. Bomb disposal squads were dispatched to different sites.

Then reports of police casualties started trickling in. At around 11.25 pm Maria got the call that Additional Commissioner Sadanand Date, who had followed the terrorists into Cama Hospital, was injured, while a constable accompanying him had been killed. Between 10.29 pm and 12.11 am Maria diverted over 200 police personnel towards Cama Hospital.

During that time (Hemant) Karkare, (Ashok) Kamte, (Vijay) Salaskar and others had headed towards the hospital. Not far from there, at the CST station, were three SRPF striking forces, one RCP (Riot Control Police) striking force of around twenty personnel, eight mobile vans, one QRT and one SOS team. In addition, four DCPs and four senior police inspectors were also in the area. But unfortunately, the reinforcements never moved inside the lane where Karkare and the others were waiting.

At 12.25 am, Maria received a wireless message from Arun Jadhav, Salaskar's bodyguard. He said terrorists had hijacked the police vehicle in which he and Karkare and the others were travelling, that they had 'injured' everybody and finally abandoned the vehicle outside Vidhan Bhavan with him inside it.

Jadhav told Maria that the terrorists had then hijacked a black Honda City. Yet somehow, in that three-minute communication, Jadhav stricken with panic failed to tell Maria that the terrorists had killed Karkare and the others. It was only after Additional Commissioner Parambir Singh reached Vidhan Bhavan that Maria was informed about the outcome of the episode.

A little later a senior police inspector of DB Marg police station informed the control room that they had killed one and caught another terrorist alive.

Throughout the night Maria coordinated with the MARCOS, then the NSG, placing dozens of calls to the Maharashtra chief secretary, the Western Navy Command, the Union home ministry, and the Army headquarters in Delhi, besides numerous other offices and bureaucrats.

At around 1.30 am Maria was told to interrogate Ajmal Kasab who was at the Nair Hospital. After Ghadge's interrogation was over, Maria had already been updated by the DB Marg police about the revelations made by Kasab.

Maria sent one of his trusted detection officers Prashant Marde to Nair Hospital with the brief to just clarify four points: 1) How had they come; 2) How many of them had entered the city; 3) What weapons did they have with them; and 4) What task had each terrorist been assigned? At around 4.30 am, as Maria was busy arranging transport to pick up the NSG commandos from the airport, Marde called and briefed him on the four crucial points.

Based on the details provided by DB Marg police and Marde, Maria briefed the NSG in his office at around 5.30-6 am.

Image: Rakesh Maria, the Mumbai cop who is leading the investigations into the 26/11 terror attacks
Photograph: Rediff archives

Excerpted from 26/11 Mumbai Attacked, Edited by Harinder Baweja, Roli Books, 2009, with the publisher's kind permission.

Also see:
India will have to fight in its own way
Video: NSG commando on Operation Cyclone

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