Journalist | Writer | Analyst
2 December 2008
Dead men can also tell tales
New Delhi: Investigators have managed to piece together what they know about the planning and execution of last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai from the interrogation of the only perpetrator to be captured alive, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman. Based largely on his revelations, the police say they have established the Pakistani origins of the plot as well as of the terrorists who came ashore on board a rubber dinghy last Wednesday night.
Iman was caught red-handed in front of dozens of witnesses and a grainy video has since surfaced of his dramatic arrest. He has since reportedly confessed to being a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Though the capturing alive of a terrorist in the midst of a major attack is a rare first for law enforcement in India or indeed elsewhere in the world in recent years, the bodies of the nine terrorists shot dead may also yield valuable clues to police investigators.
First, their fingerprints can be matched with any prints recovered from the dinghy as well as from the ‘Kuber,’ the fishing trawler the terrorists reportedly hijacked for use as a ‘mother ship’ for their final operation.
This could establish whether all the nine came in through this route or were already present in the city before. Fingerprint analysis may also help ascertain whether the dinghy had additional passengers who are still unaccounted for.
Second, DNA samples from the nine must be preserved to help their eventual identification, if the investigation is ever able to progress to a stage where relatives of the slain men come forward to claim their bodies or are identified through some other means like a cash reward.
Third, the fingerprints and DNA of the nine could also be run against national and international databases to see if they match with existing records. Given the highly-trained manner in which the attackers conducted themselves, it is possible they might have been involved in other terrorist crimes elsewhere in India or the region such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Use of photos
Fourth, using photographs (or artists in case the terrorists were shot in the face or head), good quality pictures of the faces of the nine men should be widely circulated in Mumbai, Gujarat and elsewhere and the public invited to provide any information they might have. If any of the nine spent time in the city before, it is possible somebody may remember seeing them. This may help the police unravel any wider associations the terrorists might have or, at a minimum, come to a better understanding of the planning that went into the plot.
One of the weaknesses of the Delhi Police investigation into the Parliament attack case of December 2001 was that little or no effort was made to solicit the help of the public in fixing the identity and movements of the five terrorists who were shot dead that day. As a result, relatively little is known about the wider conspiracy and its actual participants, especially since it turns out two of the four persons originally convicted of aiding and abetting that attack were exonerated by the higher courts and a third convicted only of a lesser offence.
Finally, there is no reason advertisements cannot be placed in the Urdu press in Pakistan with the mug shots of the nine dead men published singly or as a group, inviting readers to get in touch with the Indian embassy in Islamabad or Interpol. There could also be some other point of contact established with or without the knowledge and approval of the Pakistani authorities in Dubai, perhaps, with a cash inducement for information that proves eventually to be accurate. In particular, the families of the nine men should be induced to come forward and claim their bodies.
It is on their willingness to cooperate with this and other concrete steps based on leads from the interrogation of Iman and communications intercepts that the assurances of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani should be measured.