NEW DELHI — India’s National Investigation Agency on Thursday filed a case against Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, making it the latest group keen to interrogate, prosecute or otherwise get its hands on the alleged handler of the 2008 Mumbai attack, who was arrested Monday.
The agency, formed after the assault on India’s financial capital that killed 166 people, joins a growing list of police agencies, special courts and anti-terrorism squads seeking Ansari’s insider knowledge on significant terrorist attacks in India since 2005, when he reportedly made contact with extremist groups.
In addition to Mumbai, India has suffered through a series of terrorist strikes in the last seven years, including a 2005 assault on a Bangalore college that killed one person; a May 2006 interception of arms and explosives discovered in Aurangabad; a July 2006 attack on Mumbai’s trains that killed 180; a 2008 attack on a police camp in Rampur that killed eight; and a bombing at Pune's German Bakery in 2010 that killed 17.
If even some of the allegations against Ansari prove true, he represents a rare and much-sought commodity for New Delhi: an Indian national who allegedly worked for years with Lashkar-e-Taiba extremists in Pakistan, conceiving and planning operations against his homeland. In particular, authorities hope he will shed light on any role that Pakistan’s security agencies have played in attacks on India.
Ansari, also known as Abu Jindal and Abu Hamza, was detained at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport a week ago on a flight from Saudi Arabia and formally arrested Monday. He wasn’t extradited -- a process that is often lengthy, cumbersome and attracts attention -- but probably “informally” transported on a plane with armed Saudi guards and delivered up to India, analysts said.
His arrest has sparked verbal sparring between India and Pakistan, with India’s home minister saying that Ansari had confirmed Pakistan's involvement in the Mumbai attack and a top Pakistani official countering that the accusation was baseless.
Since 2008, India has maintained that the Mumbai attack was planned and directed from Pakistani soil. Pakistan discounts the claim, arguing that New Delhi has no proof. Indian authorities believe Ansari is the previously unidentified voice heard on intercepted satellite phone conversations during the Mumbai attack directing the attackers.
Bahukutumbi Raman, a security analyst and former Pakistan desk head at the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, said a lot of intelligence gaps remain involving various attacks, including Mumbai, that Ansari might help fill.
Ansari went missing from India in 2005. Unidentified security sources have told Indian media that he subsequently traveled to Katmandu, Nepal, for training, helped direct the Mumbai attack from a control room in Karachi and was sent to Saudi Arabia by Lashkar-e-Taiba to raise money and recruit Indians living in the kingdom.
Indian media reported Ansari made a call to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia about eight months ago that was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, leading to his detention by the Saudis and eventual arrest in India.
Pakistan reportedly tried to have him deported at some point, perhaps hoping to prevent him from falling into Indian hands, but Washington intervened. Saudi Arabia was eventually persuaded to hand Ansari over to New Delhi, according to media reports, after receiving DNA samples taken from his family in Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is based.
On Thursday, however, Ansari’s mother said that no DNA samples were knowingly taken from her or her husband.