The cell phone line is crystal clear; the man's tone is casual, wearily offhand, like someone discussing menu options in a late-night restaurant. "Rumali rakne ne? Ke maarne eh?" ["Do you want to keep the hostages? Or kill them?"] The caller, identified only as "Brother Wasi", addresses the question not to the soft-voiced gunman waiting patiently on the other end of the line 500 miles away in Mumbai, India, but to someone sitting next to him in an undisclosed location in Pakistan - perhaps even the mastermind of the ingenious, mold-breaking terrorist assault on Mumbai, now widely seen as "India's 9/11." We'll never know who Wasi was, or who made the decision on the fate of the hostages, because the Pakistani authorities have shown strikingly little enthusiasm for nailing the perpetrators of the attack which killed 166 people last November.
The cell phone in question belongs to a young rabbi from Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Gavriel Holtzberg, who had set up a Chabad House in Mumbai - a Jewish study centre. The phone is now in the hands of his murderer, a 25-year-old Pakistani known as Brother Akasha, crouching in the darkness on the floor of the rabbi's bedroom. Downstairs lie the bodies of Gabriel, his pregnant wife and two visitors. Toddling around amongst them, clutching his teddy-bear, is Moshe, the rabbi's 2-year-old son. A television cameraman, positioned next to Indian special-forces snipers in the building opposite, fleetingly captures this dreadful, heart-stopping image through the shattered second-floor windows. Perhaps more than any single image it sums up for me the cold brutality of the three-day assault on Mumbai by 10 Pakistani militants.
The computer sound-file which contains the cell phone recording, time-stamped 27th November, 20:38 pm, is one of more than seven hours' worth of historic audio intercepts by Indian intelligence services of the cell phone traffic between the terrorists in Mumbai and their handlers in Pakistan. They allow us, for the first time ever, to see right inside the workings of a major international terrorist operation and the minds and methods of the 20-something gunmen and their cynical, middle-aged masters.
"Err.. Just shoot them now. Get rid of them," comes the order from the Brother Wasi. In the darkened Chabad-Lubavitch centre in Mumbai the young man grips his Kalashnikov and slides the phone into his pocket, keeping the line open as instructed so that his master can hear the killer shots. You hear rustling and scraping as he crawls across the room towards the rabbi's two surviving house guests - Jocheved Orpaz and Norma Rabinovich - two helpless women trussed up on a bed...
These harrowing audio recordings, which encompass the attacks on two luxury hotels and the Chabad House in downtown Mumbai, are what give "Terror in Mumbai" its historic importance, together with startling CCTV and the police interrogation video of the sole surviving gunman. It's the first time ever on television that we have been able to see the inner workings of a major terrorist operation, and hear the terrorists' every word, indeed every breath, until the moment these young, gently-spoken and chillingly affectless jihadis achieve their final goal: death. For as the controller reminds one of the gunmen: "For your mission to succeed, you must be killed."