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The Rediff Special/ Vicky Nanjappa in Mumbai

Abu Hamza, the handler who managed the Mumbai attacks

December 12, 2008

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Intelligence agencies consider the attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bengalaru on December 28, 2005, as one that went horribly wrong for the terrorists. An attack that could have ended with a very high body count went awry because a terrorist with a bagful of grenades was caught in one of Bangalore's nightmarish traffic jams and could not make it to the venue on time.

The shooter, who was waiting at the IISc campus and who was supposed to open fire on the crowd after the planned grenade explosions, lost patience and started firing.

The terrorist trapped in traffic, later identified as Abu Hamza, swiftly escaped to Pakistan.

Hamza has now has shown up in the intelligence radar following the Mumbai attack. They suspect Hamza was the handler who pieced together the chillingly coordinated attack that killed over 160 people.

Sources say that after the botched Bengalaru attack, his masters realised Hamza's skills lay elsewhere and definitely not in the field. In the three years since then, intelligence sources say the man who took jihadi terrorism to South India has risen to become one of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's ace handlers.

Intelligence sources believe the Pakistani national is now holed up in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

They say Hamza was first made a handler because he knew too much about the Lashkar. Sending him out on operations was a liability and making him a handler was the only way he could be turned into an asset.

A handler does an extremely important and sensitive job; he is the pointsman constantly in touch with all the operatives of a particular mission. A handler is also assigned the job of overseeing the recruitment and training process. Prior to every attack, information about the target is passed on to the handler. He in turn assigns and plots the job for the men on the field.

Investigators now believe that Hamza, apart from playing a key role in plotting the Mumbai attacks, was also in constant touch with the 10 terrorists. Evidence pieced together by the Intelligence Bureau suggests that Hamza's job began in November 2006.

IB sources believe Hamza was present at all the training camps where the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks trained. They also say he was the one in touch with Fahim Ansari, who reconnoitered Mumbai and got maps and videos of the targets.

The Mumbai operation was extremely crucial for Hamza on a personal level too. Sabauddin, Hamza's partner from the botched IISc attack who is now in transit custody to the Mumbai ATS, told the Bangalore police during his interrogation that both of them had received a dressing down. Both were given one more chance to prove themselves, Sabauddin also told the Bangalore Anti Terrorist Squad during his interrogation around five months ago.

While Sabauddin was sent to carry out the attack on the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force in Uttar Pradesh's [Images] Rampur town, Hamza stayed back in Pakistan and plotted the Mumbai operation.

Security agencies are now trying to ascertain whether some of the calls made by the Mumbai attackers were to Hamza. He is said to have briefed the Mumbai attackers on how they could return to their base in case of any problem. He gave them details of the route from India into Pakistan: The same route via Kathmandu that he used to flee India. This route is a often used by the terrorists and the likes of Riyaz Bhatkal and Abdul Subhan, two of the most wanted men in India, had also used the same route.


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