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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 23, Dated Jun 13, 2009
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Slaughter House Files

Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail could have been thwarted. Transcripts of police officers’ frantic calls from Ground Zero on 26/11 reveal a story of terrifying — almost criminal — official chaos. HARINDER BAWEJA reconstructs that apocalyptic night

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Illustration: SUDEEP CHAUDHURI

THE EVENTS of that night are only too well known, they are etched in the nation’s conscience. That night, on 26/11, terror unfolded, step by step and went something like this — ten well-armed terrorists got off a dinghy and walked ashore in the posh Gateway of India area and broke up into pairs. Trained to navigate the high seas and wage high-tech urban jehad, each pair had been tasked to separate locations. The first bullet rang out at Colaba’s popular Leopold Café, just after 9.30.

Yes, the events of that night are only too well known, but the truth is not. Police call log records accessed by TEHELKA reveal the utter chaos that also unfolded, step by step. Mumbai, of all places, has been struck by terror once too often, beginning with the multiple blasts that exploded in quick succession in March 1993. For the record, the financial nerve centre has fifty commandos who have been trained by the National Security Guards, but that night, no one thought of tasking them. For the record, the Mumbai Police also has a standard operating procedure that is supposed to kick in under the command and control of the Commissioner of Police but that too failed.

The police transcripts — each phone call, each walkie talkie communication is recorded — reveals a chilling story. One of the pairs, Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail, walked into the teeming Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and went about their business of spraying death. Platform number 13 was full of passengers and the duo felled 37 people before they walked out of the Terminus and towards the Times of India Building. Within minutes, they had entered Cama Hospital.

THERE ARE CRITICAL QUESTIONS THE MUMBAI POLICE NEEDS TO ANSWER. FIRST, WHY DID IT NOT RESPOND TO ITS OWN OFFICERS’ CALLS FOR HELP?

Mumbai was under attack and the police control room was buzzing. At precisely 22.29 pm, the Azad Maidan police station (barely a stone’s throw from Cama) called South Control (Mumbai Police is divided into regions and zones) and, as per the call log record, this is what was conveyed: “Two terrorists from CST are walking towards Azad Maidan”.

The messages kept coming:

22.38 pm: Azad Maidan to South Control again: They are walking in the lane towards Special Branch 1 office.

22.39 pm: Beat Martial to South Control: Can see suspicious looking persons with bags on their backs.

22.40 pm: Have you got my message that there are two suspicious people.

22.54 pm: Peter MRR to Control: There is firing in the TOI lane.

22.59 pm: LT Marg 1 to Control: Terrorists have reached Cama.

KASAB AND ISMAIL EVEN WALKED INTO THE AZAD MAIDAN POLICE STATION COMPOUND AND TRIED TO ENTER AN OFFICER’S RESIDENCE

Ironically, Kasab and Ismail had even walked into the Azad Maidan police station compound and tried to enter the residence of Brijesh, a Deputy Commissioner of Police. The pair had gone about their business with little resistance at CST and appeared emboldened. They had, in fact, walked all the way from CST to Cama without any resistance. It is clear from the log that the Control Room was aware of their movement from 22.29 —when Azad Maidan alerted their bosses — to 22.59, the precise minute that Kasab and Ismail had entered Cama. Thirty long minutes during which they were being tracked but not intercepted.

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Tell Tale After shooting at Victoria Terminus
Photo: DEEPAK SALVI
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Ismail and Kasab moved unhindered to Cama Hospital
Photo: KAMLESH PEDNEKAR/DNA

Mumbai Police officers acted on their own, but clearly with no command or control to guide them. One such officer was Sadanand Date, Additional Commissioner of Police, incharge of Mumbai’s Central Region. The terror attacks were not taking place in his jurisdiction but he contacted Control after he received word from the Worli Division. He immediately sent an SMS to the Additional CP (South) and the Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order). He was asked to go to CST and Date was soon on his way.

READ DATE’S account — gleaned from the transcripts and the 26/11 charge sheet — carefully. It captures the chaos and rigor mortis that the senior officers were seized by. What Date experienced that night is both callous and harrowing.

Kasab and Ismail reached Cama at 22.59 and Date arrived at 23.05. He had been asked to go to CST but after leaving home, he went to the Malabar Hill police station and got a carbine issued. He asked for bullet proof jackets for his team but none were available (only he and his operator had bullet proof vests). While on their way to CST, Date met police inspector More who informed him about the firing at Special Branch 1 and learnt that the terrorists had entered Cama and had taken patients and nurses hostage on the fourth floor.

As he entered Cama, he saw two dead bodies at the front entrance and the watchman told him that the nursing staff on the fourth floor had been desperately calling for him. Date told his operator to inform the Control room about the situation. He then proceeded to the sixth floor of the multistoried building in the Cama compound and threw a metal object towards the terrace where Kasab and Ismail had taken position. The minute the object was thrown, there was a burst of fire from the terrace.

Date and his team took positions in the passage of the sixth floor and called Control to update them about their position and the firing. At 23.19, the first call for reinforcements was sent out. Date thought he could pin down the terrorists on the terrace till the reinforcements arrived.

Now read the police log carefully and find out what happened after the first call for reinforcements at 23.19.

DATE AND HIS MEN WERE BADLY INJURED BUT RETREAT WAS NOT AN HONOURABLE OPTION. WOMEN AND BABIES WERE STUCK BELOW

23.19: Firing going on in Cama hospital. Send commandos immediately. Central Region sir is present.

Control: Noted.

23.20: Firing going on, on the sixth floor. Help quickly.

23.20: Central region walkie talkie sends out a desperate message: Make arrangements for bullet proof jackets.

Control: Noted.

23.23: Two-three blasts have taken place. Help immediately.

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In a Free State Ismail and Kasab had a free run at Victoria Terminus.
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Kasab looks disturbingly at ease
Photo: AP

23.25: South Control to Control: Firing going on, on sixth floor of Cama. Need reinforcements. Send the nearest striking (team).

23.26: Shortage of striking at Cama.

23.27: Send striking to Cama, running short of men.

23.28: (Date is now desperate. He and his men have been injured) Central Region walkie talkie sends out an SOS: Heavy firing. We are all injured. Need help. Please send reinforcements.

So, what was happening on the sixth floor where Date and his team had taken position?

KASAB AND ISMAIL COULD’VE BEEN CAUGHT ON THE TERRACE. THEY COULD’VE BEEN STOPPED FROM LEAVING CAMA. THEY WERE NOT

Soon after Date took position in the passage of the sixth floor, the terrorists lobbed a grenade. One officer and two men were badly injured and Date’s right eye blacked out after a splinter injury. Date’s operator was not in a position to fire so Date took his carbine and fired.

Reinforcements did not arrive but retreat was not an honourable option because women and newborn babies were stuck on the fourth floor. At 23.25, Date asked his operator and the injured men to go down for medical help and also asked them to convey the message for reinforcements. Sub Inspector More and PC Khandekar could not be sent down because they lay unconscious on the floor.

Date and Kasab/Ismail exchanged fire for another 25 minutes and Date was hit again and his left leg badly injured. It was now around midnight. The pair lobbed one more grenade at Date’s direction and crossed the landing between the sixth and the fifth floor.

There are many critical questions that the Mumbai Police need to answer.

QUESTION 1: Why did the reinforcements not arrive? If the calls for help had been heeded, Kasab and Ismail would not have been able to leave the terrace of Cama Hospital.
The question is critical because if Kasab and Ismail had not left Cama, ATS Chief Hemant Karkare, ACP (East region) Ashok Kamte and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar would be alive.

ALITTLE MORE on Date, first. After he saw the two terrorists leave, he sent an SMS to the Joint CP (Law and Order) and to the DCP Zone V at 00.00 hours informing them about the departure of the assailants, that they had automatic weapons and grenades. He also gave the exit route the terrorists had taken and called for help, saying he needed to be evacuated as he was injured in the eye and in the left leg. Khandekar and More too needed to be evacuated. They still lay unconscious on the floor.

Date waited from 00.00 to 00.45 hours but neither did he get a reply to his SMS and nor did anyone come to his aid. He finally called the assistant commissioner of police, Central region, who came and took him to hospital. Khandekar and More died. Nobody from the South region came to the aid of the injured and the dead. Nobody even sent reinforcements.

While Date was battling Kasab and Ismail, Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar had come towards Cama. They had not been sent as reinforcements for Date, but had come after they — like Date — had learnt that firing was going on at Cama.

Kamte had, at first been asked by Mumbai Police Commissioner, Hasan Gafoor, to come to Hotel Oberoi, and was then asked by JCP (Crime) Rakesh Maria — who was manning the Control room — to go towards Cama. Karkare went to CST and from there, by foot, towards Cama. Salaskar’s movements have been detailed by Arun Jadhav in the charge sheet. (Jadhav survived to give a first hand account of what happened to Karkare, Kamat and Salaskar. He was in the same car as them when Kasab and Ismail opened fire, killing all three officers in one go.)

KAMTE — IN AN ACT OF SUPREME BRAVERY — GOT OFF THE CAR AND FIRED INTO THE BUSHES. HE MANAGED TO WOUND KASAB

According to Jadhav’s statement, he was informed of some firing in Colaba at 21.45 by his colleague Alak Noor, who also asked him to call Salaskar. Salaskar then told Jadhav to get weapons issued and come to Colaba Police Station. He took a carbine and 35 rounds and reached the police station. Salaskar and Noor were already there. They got to know from the Control room that some persons were walking towards Special Branch office, after firing at CST, and that they had entered Cama. The three of them got into a car and went towards Cama, where they met up with Kamte and Karkare, who had taken up positions there. They were all at the rear gate of Cama.

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State of the Nation Karkare’s wife mourns her brave husband. The system did not just betray the people, but even the police itself
Photo: DEEPAK SALVI

Soon, they saw an injured policeman walking towards them. Just then, they were fired on, from the Cama terrace and, according to Jadhav, Kamte returned the fire with his AK 47. The injured policeman told them that an injured Date was on the 6th floor and that others too had been injured. Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar had a quick discussion and decided to move towards the front gate — they knew Kasab and Ismail would try and escape from the front. (While the entire Cama compound has many exits and entries, the multistory building on whose terrace Kasab and Ismail were on had only one exit/entry — a front gate).

Before they could start walking — under cover — towards that front gate, they noticed a Qualis police jeep which belonged to the nearby Paidhuni police station. Salaskar sat in front on the driver’s seat, Kamte to his left and Karkare on the back seat. Jadhav and three others got in from the rear on the two slim seats at the back. While the Qualis was making its way towards Special Branch 1, information came from the Control Room that the two terrorists had taken shelter behind a red car in the nearby Rang Bhawan lane. Kamte told Salaskar to go towards the lane.

But, before we go into the details of what happened in the lane, it is important to recount what happened when Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar were at the rear side of Cama. It is clear from Date’s statement and the call log record that Kasab and Ismail only left the Cama terrace at about midnight, when Date sent out the SMS.

THE ATS CHIEF, KAMTE AND AN ENCOUNTER SPECIALIST LAY ON THE ROAD FOR AT LEAST FORTY MINUTES. NO AMBULANCE CAME FOR THEM

Before that, at 23.20, to be precise, ATS Chief, Karkare (code named Victor on the Motorola wireless channel) sent out an urgent message:

23.19, Victor to Control: We are at Cama hospital. There is firing going on here. Blasts are taking place. Three or four grenade blasts have taken place in front of us in the last five minutes. It is essential to encircle. We are next to Special Branch office. Send a team to the front of Cama Hospital and tell them to co-ordinate, so there is no cross firing. Prasad (JCP Law and Order, who was also in the Control room with Maria) will be there. Tell him to speak to the army and send commandos.

Control confirms what Victor has just relayed and asks, “Sir, in front of the building, right?”

Another SOS is sent after a few minutes.

23.28, Victor to Control: ATS and Quick Response Teams, Crime teams are on the side of Special Branch. We need to encircle Cama. Ask Prasad to request the army.

23.30: Noted.

Reinforcements had not come to Date’s rescue. They did not come to the rescue of Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar.

QUESTION 2: Why was the front gate (the only exit Kasab and Ismail could possibly take) not encircled?
Kasab and Ismail could first have been taken on the terrace but that did not happen. Next, they could have been prevented from leaving Cama but that did not happen either, despite desperate calls from Karkare. Mumbai Police Headquarters is barely three blocks away from Cama. Why were reinforcements not sent? Why was the gate not secured? Had the gate been secured with reinforcements, Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar need not have died. They were definitely there from 11.20 to midnight.

QUESTION 3: Why were a full forty minutes wasted? (When IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu, the Crisis Management Group failed to prevent the plane from leaving Amritsar. That proved to be a costly mistake, for the plane was eventually flown to Kandahar and the passengers were secured only after three terrorists were traded in their place.)
Instead of feeling any heat or pressure, Kasab and Ismail sailed out of the front gate and came towards the Rang Bhawan lane, totally unhindered. Here, they took shelter behind the red car in a thicket.

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Open Question Vinita Kamte wants to know how and why her husband, ACP Ashok Kamte died
Photo: CNN-IBN

Kamte had told Salaskar to drive towards the Rang Bhawan lane after receiving information from Control that the terrorists were hiding there. The Qualis was barely 100 to 150 meters away from the red car, when a burst of fire came in its direction. According to Jadhav’s statement, “Suddenly, there was a burst of fire at our car from the right hand side. I saw two persons with AK 47s. Karkare Sir, Kamte Sir and Salaskar sir also started firing. I got a bullet on my left hand and shoulder and my carbine fell from my hand and I couldn’t pick it up.”

WHEN VINITA KAMTE ASKED THE POLICE FOR HER HUSBAND’S CALL RECORDS, JCP (CRIME) RAKESH MARIA STALLED HER WILFULLY

THROUGH THE volley of fire, Kamte — in an act of supreme bravery — got off the car and fired in the direction of the bushes. Kamte hit one target and succeeded in injuring Kasab, who got a bullet on his hand. To continue with Jadhav’s statement, “The two kept firing and Karkare sir, Kamte sir and Salaskar sir also got injured. Firing stopped after a while. The taller one (Ismail) came to our car and tried to open the back door but it didn’t open. I pretended to be dead. The person next to me had fallen on top of me. Soon after, the front door opened and the car started moving. The taller one drove the car and it was speeding on Mahapalika Road and I realized that Karkare sir, Kamte Sir and Salaskar Sir were not on their seats. They stopped the car behind Vidhan Sauda (Assembly) and got off the car. Again, I heard the sound of firing.”

Unknown to Jadhav, Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar were thrown out of the Qualis. Salaskar was still alive when taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead at 01.05.

QUESTION 4: Could Salaskar have been saved if he had been taken to the hospital on time?
Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar were shot at about 00.05, according to police records:

00.19, South Control to Unknown walkie talkie: Public is saying that a police vehicle has been hijacked.

00.25, Control to Abal mobile: Qualis car has been kidnapped.

00.40, South Control to Peter LT Marg: Send reinforcements to Special Branch 1 lane. There, 2 / 3 persons have been injured. I think it is Kamte Sahib. Send reinforcements immediately.

Nobody came to the rescue of Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar till at least 00.40. The ATS chief, the ACP (East region) and an encounter specialist lay on the road for at least forty minutes. Reinforcements had not come earlier and now, no ambulance was in sight. By 00.25, Jadhav — according to the call log records — had sent a wireless message from the Qualis saying, “From Rang Bhawan lane, a Qualis car has been kidnapped after firing at Salaskar Sir, ATS Sir and East region Sir. Now, the terrorists have left the car near State Bank of Mysore, Mantralaya.

The families of the policemen who laid down their lives in the call of duty — and with no response to any of their SOSs — are distressed and disturbed. Vinita Kamte wanted to understand the circumstances in which her husband, Ashok Kamte died. She was tired of answering the question as to why all three senior officers were together and decided to seek answers from her husband’s senior colleagues, but realised, soon enough that she was being misled.

It was, with difficulty, she says, that she even got the JCP (Crime), Rakesh Maria to issue a press statement acknowledging that it was her husband who injured Kasab. Vinita told TEHELKA, “I told him that it was absolutely fine if it was not Ashok who injured Kasab, but if it was, then I am not going to let you share that bullet with anybody.” She had found out from eyewitnesses that Ashok had come out of the car and fired. Kasab’s interrogation confirmed the fact that one officer in uniform got off the car and fired. Kamte was the only one in uniform that night.

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Ask no questions JCP (Crime) Rakesh Maria should have been in control. He was not.
Photo: KAMLESH PEDNEKAR/DNA
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Commissioner of Police Hasan Gafoor presided over fatal chaos
Photo: AFP

She also wanted to see the log details of her husband’s calls but despite writing to Commissioner of Police Hasan Gafoor, Vinita Kamte got no reply. “I was being told different stories. Instead of being gracious, they were only misleading me.” Vinita then filed an RTI application with the help of her advocate sister Revati Dere, but Rakesh Maria, in a telltale response, wrote to the Information officer saying, “Reject the application under Section 8(h) {impeding the process of investigation}.

QUESTION 5: Why is a Joint Commissioner of Police trying to mislead the families?
Maria was within his rights to say he cannot part with the information, but in his letter (a copy of which is with TEHELKA), he is clearly pressurising the Information Officer. Not one to give up, Vinita appealed against the RTI order and now has got permission to inspect the call record. The subsequent order, passed by a DCP is damning, for it says that Maria had indeed tried to pressurise the Information officer and that Vinita be given permission, for after all, her husband had given his life for the nation.

Quite clearly, both the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra government are trying to cover up the truth of 26/11, as has been made clear from the call logs. Maria, when contacted, said he was in London and Commissioner of Police Gafoor has “no comment.” The state government set up a two-member committee headed by former home secretary Ram Pradhan in December 2008, to probe the role of the state government and the Mumbai Police.

While submitting the 100-page report to the Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, Pradhan virtually gave a clean chit to both. He told the media, “During his visit to Mumbai after the terror attack, Union home minister P Chidambaram apologized to the citizens of the state; this itself indicated lapses from the Union government.” As for the role of the Police, Pradhan said, “Forget the Mumbai police, no police force of the country was prepared to face the warlike situation.” According to V Balachandran, the second member of the committee, “We checked logs of 5,000 calls made to the control room and the response as well as action taken by the control room staff was satisfactory.”

The report has not yet been tabled in the Assembly — where the Opposition is staging walk-outs over the ‘clean chit’ — but both Pradhan and Balachandran have made it amply clear through their responses to the media that no responsibility has been fixed.

The report will clearly not be the last word on 26/11, for Vinita Kamte says she will go to the extent of knocking on the doors of the court, after inspecting her husband’s call records. Kavita Karkare, too, has responded to the Pradhan committee report, telling the media in Mumbai that “the committee’s findings will not help fight terror. There was no co-ordination between the Intelligence departments, the Coast Guard, the Police and the state government. But the committee is not admitting this and I know they will never admit to or find out any lapses in what has happened on 26/11. Otherwise, I would have never lost my husband.”

Mr Chidambaram, hope you are reading this. The committee has used your apology to bury some essential truths. You have promised to shake up the internal security apparatus — that’s another reason why we hope you are reading this. Are we prepared for the next attack, if even, reinforcements are not sent on time?

WRITER’S EMAIL
shammy@tehelka.com

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 23, Dated Jun 13, 2009

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