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Syed Zabiuddin, the Indian face behind 26/11

February 02, 2010 10:46 IST

The Indian face behind the November 26, 2008 carnage in Mumbai has emerged out of the shadows. Intelligence agencies have revealed that the mystery man with a heavy Indian accent who was handling the Mumbai attacks was 29-year-old Syed Zabiuddin Syed Zakiuddin Ansari.

The various transcripts and telephonic conversations between the handlers and the attackers, which are in possession with the Mumbai police and the Intelligence Bureau, point out to the role of Syed Zabiuddin in the attacks.

His exact words at the start of the attack at the Nariman House in Mumbai were 'Tell the media that this is just the trailer, the real movie is yet to begin'. He stayed in touch with the fidayeen member Abu Akasha and his men at the Jewish centre and during the course of the attack used words such as gathbandan (alliance), karenga (to do something) and prashasan (administration), which are very typical Hindi words as against the strong Urdu spoken by the rest of the handlers, who were of Pakistani origin.

The tapes also reveal that Syed Zabiuddin was extremely particular that the fidayeens on the ground should conceal their Pakistani identity at any cost. He is heard saying on tape to the Nariman House attackers to identify themselves only as Indian citizens.

He also directs them to say that they hail from the Toli Chowki area in Hyderabad.

According to the IB, while listening to the transcripts they had a strong doubt about a man of Indian origin present in the control room. While we were sure that Abu Jundal, who is also of Indian origin, was present along with the 26/11 operations team, we were trying to ascertain who this other Indian in the camp was.

Abu Jundal is the man who imparted accent training to the 26/11 attackers so that they could speak like Indians and not get identified as Pakistanis.

The Syed Zabiuddin story

Indian intelligence agencies say that the rise of Syed Zabiuddin was phenomenal. We have been able to establish that he is from Gevrai, a small village in Beed district, Maharashtra.

Born on November 13, 1981, he almost made it to the second rung of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, barely seven years after taking the terror path. The son of an insurance agent, Syed Zabiuddin did his schooling at Gevrai and then joined the Indian Technical Institute in Beed district.

It was at this time that his entire path changed and he started drifting towards terrorism.

Like several other jihadis produced on the Indian soil, Syed Zabiuddin too made up his mind to join an extremist outfit following the Gujarat riots. Through his earlier days, he had witnessed communal riots in Maharashtra and also was keen on the happenings following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Immediately after the Gujarat riots, he came in contact with the Students Islamic Movement of India.

Syed Zabiuddin shuttled between Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, organising camps and recruiting youth into the SIMI. Prior to taking the terror path, he was sent along with several other SIMI activists to train with the Lashkar. He was asked to approach Mumbai-based operative, Rahil Sheikh who managed to slip him into Pakistan and undergo training.

The IB says that Syed Zabiuddin trained along with several other Indian operatives on the Pakistan-Iran border before returning to India.

According to the IB, he remained with the SIMI for nearly two years before moving completely into the Lashkar. His main areas of operations were Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, from where he managed to recruit the highest number of persons.

From India operations, Syed Zabiuddin was asked to move into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and take care of operations there for some time. Here too he was given the task of facilitating the entry of Indian operatives, who could fight alongside the Lashkar in Kashmir.

Over a span of just four years, he had built up an excellent network. Although his biggest assignment with the Lashkar was the Mumbai attack, he started off with the Delhi serial blasts, which occurred in 2008. The blasts at New Delhi were mainly an Indian Mujahideen-based operation and the attack on the capital city was probably one of the biggest assignments for the IM.

Prior to handling the Delhi blasts, Syed Zabiuddin was also given a brief to carry out a fidayeen strike in Gujarat, which was to result in the assassination of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

He slipped into Gujarat along with 11 other operatives and was getting ready for the operation. But the IB picked up information and passed it on to the Gujarat police, which foiled the plot. Ansari managed to give them the slip and fled to Pakistan. His 11 accomplices were, however, arrested.

After executing the Delhi blasts, Syed Zabiuddin was instructed to lie low before being summoned to handle the Mumbai attack. The Lashkar thought that it would be a good idea to use Ansari in this attack since he was familiar with the Mumbai terrain and could guide the attackers well.

Moreover, the Lashkar also wanted to ensure that there was a person speaking with an Indian accent, as it would then look as though the attack was being manufactured in India.

Intelligence sources point out that Syed Zabiuddin is very much in Pakistan and as of today, he is one of the most important men in the Lashkar network that India would like to lay its hands on.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru