Mumbai: The making of a cold-blooded killer
His face has become a symbol of the Mumbai attacks. But what was it that turned a young Pakistani labourer into a ruthless, indiscriminate murderer? Andrew Buncombe reports
His name is Ajmal Amir Kasab, or Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman. His alias may be Abu Mujahid. He is from the village of Faridkot, near the Pakistani city of Multan in southern Punjab, or else from the village of Faridkot in the eastern Punjab near the town of Pakpattan. Or else he is from neither.
He was one of 10 militants who set off from Karachi to wreak havoc and terror on Mumbai, or else one of 15, or 24. He may be aged 21. Or 22. He is just 5ft 3in tall. He looks like a cricket-mad schoolboy rather than a trained killer. He was – allegedly – beaten and brainwashed as part of his training for the most brazen terrorist assault in modern India. More than a week after the attacks on Mumbai, which left at least 170 people dead, just how much do we really know about the motivation, and planning, of the raid? At the centre of a swirling morass of speculation, and the selective leaks by the Indian authorities, is the enigmatic, baby-faced image of the sole surviving gunman, taken by an Indian photographer and caught also on CCTV.
Is he truly the key to understanding the motivation, and organisation of the attacks? How did a poor boy from rural Pakistan – if that is who he really is – come to be so radicalised that he set out on a suicidal terror mission? Evidence emerging from the Indian interrogation – which has to be treated with caution – suggests that he was subjected to a process of forced radicalisation after becoming a minor criminal and drifting into an extreme Islamic group almost by accident. Another report suggests that he was promised that the equivalent of £850 would be paid to his impoverished family if he died a martyr in the Mumbai assault.
Almost everything we know about this young man, who was in light-grey combat trousers that fell just an inch too short and a presumably fake Versace T-shirt, comes from his interrogation by Indian investigators, reportedly 15 of them in all. Police have admitted they have had to "extract" the evidence from him, raising the impression that their questioning of "Kasab" might at times be ugly and brutal. Next week, they intend to start using some sort of "truth serum" to obtain even more information. On 2 December, the Mumbai police commissioner, Hasan Gafoor, held a press conference at which he provided one version of Kasab's name and background. Since then, the drip of information has given an often contradictory picture about his origins, and motivations.
A report in the usually reliable newspaper, The Hindu, gives the militant's name as Iman. It says he was born on 13 July 1987 at Faridkot village in the Okara district of the Punjab, near Multan, and that his family are low caste. His father is said to run a snack bar and his mother stays in the home. It says Iman is the third of five children.
The newspaper says he was sent to Lahore to live with his elder brother in 2000 because his family could no longer afford to keep him at school. His brother, Afzal, a day-wage labourer, was also struggling financially and the teenage Iman drifted back and forth. In 2005, after a row with his family, he left vowing never to return. He stayed at the shrine to the Muslim saint, Syed Ali Hajveri. To survive, he worked as a £1.50-a-day labourer but found the work degrading and quickly fell in with small-time criminals in the city.
He and a friend, identified as Muzaffar Lal Khan, were allegedly recruited by members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political and charitable wing of Lashkar-e-Toiba, an extreme Islamist group in Pakistan, while looking for weapons in a bazaar in Rawalpindi, the garrison city near Islamabad. After the briefest of conversations, the men decided to join, The Hindu says, not because of their religious convictions, but because they believed they would get intensive weapons training that would help them in their criminal careers.
Iman, or Kasab, said he was trained at four camps, in the Punjab, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the North West Frontier Province and possibly Karachi. Precisely how much training he had is unclear; reports vary from 18 months to a year. But every report stresses the intense and multi-disciplined nature of the commando-style training of up to 30 of them.
This training covered close-combat techniques, hostage-taking, explosives-handling, satellite navigation, seamanship and physical endurance. At times, it was so extreme that the stocky Iman/Kasab vomited. He may even have been beaten by his instructors, said to be former Pakistani army and ISI personnel, to prepare him for torture he would face during interrogation should he be caught. Kasab has reportedly told Indian police his training was overseen by the senior Lashkar-e-Toiba figures, Zaki-ur-Rahman and Yusuf Muzammil.
He is also reported, in leaks from police, to have undergone a kind of forced, political radicalisation. He was shown videos about alleged Indian abuses of Muslims in Kashmir and Gujarat and speeches by the senior Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi "spitting venom" against jihadis. As a result, it is claimed, Iman/Kasab's views gradually became more politicised. He told Indian interrogators he was also lectured by the group's alleged founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.
The payment for his "martyrdom" is not uncommon among militant groups; the Palestinian organisations Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades routinely provide such compensation to families.
Deven Bharti, a deputy police commissioner in Mumbai who is questioning the gunman, told the Washington Post, that Iman/Kasab had been speaking mainly in Punjabi, with some Urdu, the official language of Pakistan. Many reports have claimed that the young man is fluent in English but Mr Bharti said the few English words he has used referred only to weaponry.
When captured, he was carrying £70 in local currency. In his large blue backpack, which looks huge in the now infamous photograph, police found an AK47 assault rifle, a pistol, magazines, six hand grenades and raisins and cashews.
There is more discrepancy about whether Iman/Kasab knew any of the others in the terror operation. One report suggests he was among those selected for the mission from a larger group who had undergone additional specialist training. Under such circumstances, it is likely he would have known some of his fellow militants.
Yet other reports suggest that before the militants assembled in Karachi to set sail for Indian waters, where they are believed to have hijacked a fishing trawler, they had never met. They have been identified in some news reports as Soheb, 20, Chota Abdul Rahman, 21, Umar, 22, Abu Ali, 23, Fahdullah, 24, Ismail Khan, 25, Abu Akasha, 26, and 28-year-old Umair. Some reports have claimed all of the men were Pakistanis but police have not commented on this. Elected state officials have dismissed reports that two of the militants were British-born Pakistanis.
Iman/Kasab's interrogators say he has told them he and his colleagues were briefed on the Mumbai mission three months ago. They were shown photographs of the targets they were assigned to hit. Contradicting some initial reports there is no evidence the men mounted a reconnaissance mission, say police, but investigators believe they did have local help.
This may have been provided by an Indian named Faheem Ahmed Ansari, who was arrested in February in a northern Indian state, Uttar Pradesh, along with two other suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba members. He has reportedly told police he spent three months surveying possible targets for the organisation, including the Taj Mahal hotel and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, both of which were attacked. Police apparently recovered from Ansari a hand-drawn map of Mumbai, including the time it would take to travel between selected targets.
Iman/Kasab and his fellow militants were due to leave Karachi on 27 September. For reasons unknown to them, the mission was delayed by their commanders. They finally received a green light on 22 November and were told to prepare to leave in the early hours of the next day.
The young man and the other terrorists began the murderous assault on Mumbai by opening fire on passengers and passers-by at the main railway station. They are believed to have killed at least 45 people in seconds.