The Lone Man at the Center

The lone captured terrorist involved in the Mumbai terror strike last week has begun singing, his police custody a matter of outstanding bad luck for the terror masterminds. Kasab was never meant to be captured alive. His custody is the ironic outcome of a single police officer trading his life for the terrorist's as he went down with multiple bullet wounds while still clutching the muzzle of Kasab's blazing firearm. In his doing so, other police officers took control and overpowered Kasab. Another terrorist was shot down in the same encounter while eight were neutralized by commandos during the stakeout at the luxury hotels.

Most of what we know about the terror strikes so far comes from this one captured terrorist, helping investigators reconstruct the sequence of events and identify Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) as the specific militant group behind the terror. In his version, the 24-year-old claims to be from Faridkot in the Pakistani province of Punjab. He has said that during his eighteen months of training he attended terrorist camps run by ex-Pakistan army officers. He has identified several handlers of the operation and claims to have met his team members for the first time in Karachi, on conclusion of their training and few months prior to the terror strike. During the training process Kasab and his colleagues were shown footage on violence against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and also coached on atrocities against Muslims that took place in the Indian province of Gujarat. The terrorists, fully trained, armed and indoctrinated then boarded a Pakistani boat al Husseini from Karachi and set sail for Mumbai. En route, they kidnapped a fishing trawler and closer to the Mumbai shores, abandoned that in favor of a small rubber dinghy that could move into the city coast with minimum attention. Alighting at a small fishing village in South Mumbai, the terrorists fanned out in different directions and between 9:15 and 11 that night successfully engineered explosions and firing at ten different locations across the city. Further evidence of their links in Pakistan are being put together through the IP address of the group that first claimed responsibility for the blasts under the misleading name of the Deccan Mujahideen. Also, the satellite phone used on board the hijacked trawler was purchased in Karachi, and calls were made to Karachi and Sialkot from this phone. Phone calls by the terrorists were made to links in Pakistan, using the cell phones of hotel guests.

The death toll stands at nearly 200, but like Kasab's live capture, this was yet another thing that went wrong for the terrorists who had planned for casualties to be in the thousands. Perhaps this target would have been reached if the 8 kg explosive caches at three densely populated zones in the city had not been discovered and safely detonated by the city's bomb squads on time. And in all likelihood, this target would have been definitely achieved had stormy seas not delayed the terrorists for three hours and prevented them from reaching the city during peak hour that evening. Several other efforts by the police, commandos, hotel staff and citizens are still surfacing on how people had moved beyond self-preservation to protect the lives of others. And therefore, despite the death and the destruction -- and the undoubted success in creating a world impact with this terror strike -- several things did go wrong in the terrorist strike. And some questions remain.

From a purely investigative perspective, the means of the terror strike has been reasonably established -- Pakistani authorities have requested hard evidence for most of Kasab's revelations -- but the end goal of the terror strike is still not clear. If this had been masterminded as a suicide mission of pure violence, then the length of time spent in the hotels during the stakeout would need a more comprehensive explanation. At the Taj hotel, the terrorists held their position much after the bulk of their human targets had been taken. In Kasab's confession, as has been reported in the press, the terrorists were given hope by another LeT jihadi that the gang would get away after the terror strike on Mumbai. In that case, what else went wrong with their plans? Were they neutralized before they could begin negotiations or were they deserted by their handlers? Was this a sudden development or part of the master plan, unknown to the terrorists?

In the gray area that overlaps crime and terrorism there have been mercenary criminals who have put their talents and resources to use in terror -- the 1993 serial bomb blasts that identified Mumbai crime boss Dawood Ibrahim as the prime suspect is a case in point, a person who is also being suspected of providing logistical and possibly financial support to last week's terror strikes. Also, quite possibly, there are ideologically driven terrorists who may simply suit the purposes of other more mercenary minded missions. While we take investigation to its logical conclusion, and it appears to be pointing towards the LeT directly at the moment, it may be useful to remember that the final outcomes may be beyond the Indian, American, British and Jewish targets of Islamist fundamentalist zeal. And even ideologically inclined groups like the LeT may be brought to serve the purposes of actors who gain in the theaters of war. While both countries are no strangers to terrorism, their peoples have till now also been canny enough to see beyond religious zealots of hate, both Hindu and Muslim. This time too, we need to let good investigation reach its logical conclusion in a common commitment and action to identify the forces that sent Kasab to Mumbai.