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Mumbai Investigation: The Phone Trail

As Pakistan's government looks like it might be getting serious about warnings from the U.S. and India, and responds by clamping down on, and perhaps even arresting some senior Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders, it's interesting to take a look at the telephone trail that has led Indian investigators so directly to Pakistan.

The gunmen who came ashore in Mumbai nearly two weeks ago were equipped with a satellite phone (which they left on board their hijacked fishing vessel), several Thuraya telephones, and cell phones with Indian SIM cards. The gunmen also seized phones from hostages, and are reported to have used them to make calls, throwing them away after a single use, presumably to try to defeat Indian and other electronic interception and tracing.

The Hindu reported late last week that forensic experts at India's intelligence service (Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW) have determined that at least some of the calls were routed through "voice over internet" service providers (like Skype) based in New Jersey and Vienna.

The Austrian government confirms that it is investigating intelligence from a foreign government that gunmen dialed an Austrian telephone number during the siege. (Austria says the number had been sold by an Austrian phone company to a foreign broker, described as a "normal course of business" in the phone world.) This leaves investigators with the "formidable technical challenge" of tracing calls to their final destination, with the Austrian number operable anywhere in the world.

Mumbai police officers are said to have listened in as terrorists in the Taj Hotel told their controller that their operations had scored a "bonus" with the killing of the "police commissioner." Police believe that in the early hours of the attack, gunmen had seen TV news reports of the killing of the anti-terrorism squad chief.

(AP Photo )
Two Indian men were arrested over the weekend, and charged with fraud and conspiracy (by using a fake ID card) to purchase SIM cards, some of which ended up in the gunmen's phones. One of the men, Mukhtar Ahmed, pictured at left, who comes from the disputed state of Kashmir, appears to have been an undercover operative working on a long term mission for Indian police intelligence, was charged with purchasing SIM cards for Lashkar-e-Taiba militants while ensuring Indian intelligence had the numbers and could trace the calls. A SIM card purchased by him was found in the mobile phone of one of the gunmen; it's not clear if Indian authorities had a record of that number.

One of those on the Pakistan end of the phone calls is reported to be Yusuf Muzzammil, named as head of LET's operations against India. Another is a key Islamist militant commander named Zaki ur Rehman Lahvi, accused by Indian officials as being the overall commander of the Mumbai attacks. He was arrested by Pakistan's security forces early on Monday morning.

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