Authors: Mukul Deva
Into the Heart of Terror
For Mehtab, my favourite elder daughter –
Despite the fact that you do strange things like studying to
be a lawyer, you make us proud, kid.
And to the thousands of men, women and children
who have been sacrificed on the wanton altar of
1802 hours, 29 October 2005, Sarojini Nagar Market, New Delhi.
The plump, middle-aged lady had just bent to pick up the bright red table cover with small mirrors embroidered on it when the bomb placed five feet away detonated. There was nothing between her and the bomb to cushion the effect of the explosion. Her head and a large part of her neck were ripped right off, spraying the pretty teenaged girl standing directly behind her with gore and flesh. The lady’s stout body shielded the girl from the blast but the explosion totally deafened her; the sharp, ringing sound echoing in her ears. The blood splattered all around her had yet to register when the second bomb placed twelve feet away exploded and the
cylinder near which the bomb had been placed ignited in sympathetic detonation. A flaming, almost perfectly triangular, piece of metal splintered from somewhere in the centre of the exploding
cylinder. It sliced through the turbulent air and embedded itself in the teenager’s chest with tremendous force. The young girl looked down and stared at the shard of blood red metal jutting out of her chest in disbelief. Life left her body as she crumpled slowly to the ground and came to rest in an untidy heap, inches from her mother’s headless corpse.
The firestorm that had been unleashed by the two bombs and the exploding
cylinder scythed through the dense crowd of shoppers and shopkeepers gathered around. Forty-seven of them died on the spot. Another twenty-nine succumbed to their injuries at various hospitals in the days that followed. Each lost and crippled life would wreak a terrible toll on those it left behind. But it was Hamida, the middle-aged lady who had been beheaded, and her teenage daughter, Navaz, whose deaths were to matter the most.
1840 hours, 29 October 2005, Muzaffarabad Terrorist Training Camp, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).
It was the first flurry of the season. The light snowfall outside matched the snowy picture on the black and white TV monitor that glowed bleakly inside the room. Though the images on the screen were blurred, the shock and horror in the voice of the dazed news reporter came through with chilling clarity.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s attention was riveted to the television when his satellite phone began to ring. He snatched it up and nodded at Brigadier Murad Salim when he saw the number displayed on the phone. ‘It’s him. Furkan.’
‘I thought he had been instructed not to make any calls.’ The Brigadier’s face tightened in anger.
‘Maybe there is a problem,’ the Maulana replied defensively as he muted the television and picked up the phone – he quite understood how triumphant Furkan was feeling – and listened to him with a slowly widening smile.
Just then the camp’s instructors ushered in the twelve new graduates. The freshly-trained terror recruits were headed for the Pakistan Army post at Chakoti, on the Line of Control (LOC), to be slipped back across the border that very night. Back to India. Their arduous, six-month-long training was over. It was time for them to play their part in the jihad to free their land. What better way for their training to come to an end than on this glorious footnote?
The Maulana put down the phone and turned to face the young men as they trooped in and arranged themselves awkwardly by the wall. ‘Look!’ He pointed at the muted television. ‘See what heroic deeds we are capable of.’
The boys looked at the images of havoc and destruction.
‘What you are seeing today is the result of months of careful planning and training. It should inspire and motivate you. After all, it is fearless young men like you, trained at this very camp, who carried out the operation.’
Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s words struck deep into the hearts of the youths. The punishing training routine, the horrors of the earthquake, the danger to their lives – all seemed suddenly worthwhile.
Brigadier Salim stood in the shadows studying the new recruits. Though Fazlur Rehman didn’t introduce him to the new trainees there were few in the jihadi circuit in Pakistan who had not heard his dreaded name. Sizing up each adolescent face, the Brigadier’s gaze came to rest on Iqbal’s. Perhaps because his was the only face that registered a slight revulsion at the images of carnage on TV.
Border Town of Khajewala, Rajasthan, India.
There are a dozen ways in which one can get hold of explosives in India, or in any country for that matter. All it requires is a little ingenuity and a lot of money. However there is always a strong possibility that such efforts would be detected by intelligence agencies and alert them to the possibility of an imminent operation. That is why this time it was decided that even a pin required for the mission would be brought in from outside.
Afzal carried the RDX, the detonators, the timers, the pistols and the ammunition across the Indo–Pakistan border in the Rajasthan sector. He used one of the many convoluted, nondescript desert trails that straddle the international border between India and Pakistan. Since this time the mission was to kill a really large number, so too was the quantity of RDX involved; it took six trips over as many weeks before Afzal was able to ferry it all across the border.
Tall and reedy with a pockmarked face, his morals as dirty and loose as the clothes he wore, Afzal was a man with a single need. Money. He didn’t like spending it. Just getting his hands on it.
‘We will pay you double the usual rate for this operation,’ the man who had briefed Afzal at Fort Abbas in Pakistan told him. ‘You must be twice as careful and handle the items we give you with great care. Don’t do anything dumb or you will blow yourself to pieces. And you will not talk to anyone about it.’
What an idiot! As though I am going to talk about this to anybody,
thought Afzal but he kept his face expressionless and his mouth shut; there was something cold and dangerous about the tall, hard-looking man standing opposite him.
The RDX, detonators and timers had stayed hidden in the loft of his two-room house in Khajewala till the last week of October 2005. Up until the day he got a call on his mobile phone late one afternoon. ‘A letter will arrive by courier tomorrow morning. In it you will find the photograph of a man and his address. Memorize it and destroy the letter immediately. Then take the items down to Delhi and deliver them to him. Have you got that?’
‘Yes,’ Afzal replied.
‘Good. And remember, you must pack the stuff the way we had showed you and ensure it is delivered to him latest by the evening of 27th October. Call the number you have been given as soon as you have handed over the materials.’ The caller hung up.
A couple of days later, Afzal was ferrying the deadly cargo to Delhi in his small truck, neatly packed inside a consignment of Rajasthani quilts that not only concealed but also cushioned the detonators and the RDX during the long, bumpy drive. Afzal was not too bucked about carrying explosives in his truck. But Afzal also knew his handlers would not take kindly to his failing to deliver. Incurring the displeasure of such people had sinister terminal implications, which Afzal feared more than being inadvertently blown up in his truck. So he and his assistant, who also happened to be his nephew, left for Delhi as instructed.
His nephew-assistant was a gangly young man not blessed with much by way of brains. But then that was the primary reason Afzal used him. The idiot boy not only put up with all the abuse that Afzal routinely heaped on him, he never asked too many questions and was willing to work for a salary so meagre it would have shamed a starving Ethiopian.
26 October 2005, National Capital Region of Delhi.
At about the time that Afzal’s truck cleared the city of Bikaner en route to Delhi, a Tata Indica car was stolen from Ghaziabad, a Maruti Esteem from Gurgaon and a Bajaj Caliber motorcycle from Faridabad. All the vehicles stolen were battered looking machines well past their prime. Clearly not the kind a thief would normally target and certainly not the kind that would attract a second glance.
Only pick up vehicles from the small satellite towns around Delhi. They are not likely to feature in police lists very soon. Also, police jurisdictional issues will slow down the search for them. This is also why you must steal the vehicles as close to the day of the strike as possible.
This is what they had been told to do and this is what they ensured.
Do not take the stolen vehicles back to where you are staying. Change the licence plates and hand them over for servicing and repairs to different garages. Pick small garages that are not doing too well. They are always hungry for business and don’t ask questions even if they happen to notice something amiss. Make sure every vehicle is properly checked and serviced. We don’t want any vehicle breaking down
They chose three different garages from amongst the plethora of small garages in the Savita Nagar area in South Delhi, close enough to be administratively convenient and yet at a safe distance from where the strike teams were actually staying. All three handed over an adequate advance to the workshop owners. The advance paid was not large enough to attract special attention but substantial enough to ensure they had the undivided attention of the garage owners.
1905 hours, 27 October 2005, Interstate Border between Haryana and Delhi.
About an hour after sunset, Afzal crossed Gurgaon and drove up to Delhi. He was duly stopped at the octroi post on the city border and spent a stress-filled hour waiting in the kilometre-long queue. The extremely alert officials manning the checkpost were not impressed either by Afzal or his truck. However, Afzal was a veteran of no mean standing and he had done this route often enough to know how things worked. ‘I have a letter from Rangarajan Sahib,’ he told the toll tax inspector who was waiting at the barrier when his turn came.
? Only one letter?’ the toll tax inspector asked brazenly.
Afzal gave a sly, ingratiating smile. ‘Would I have the audacity to come to you with just one letter? There are ten of them.’ He handed a small roll of notes to the inspector. The barrier was opened and Afzal was through. He heaved a sigh of relief as he saw the border checkpost vanish in the darkness in his rear-view mirror.
‘Who is Rangarajan Sahib?’ His nephew-helper asked a bit later, deeply impressed with the way the whole thing had been handled by his uncle.
‘He was the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.’
‘Wow!’ The dim lad whistled in awe. ‘How do you know him?’
‘I don’t, you idiot!’ Afzal laughed. ‘Have you never seen a hundred-rupee note? The Reserve Bank governor’s signature is on it. That is what it means when you tell someone that you have a letter from Rangarajan Sahib.’