Hunting for places to strike, terrorists had recced the temple, Lalbaugcha Raja and Mantralaya last year but CCTV and heavy security scared them off, reveals probe
The terrorist module accused of the July 13 serial blasts in the city last year had schemed to cause more destruction than they did, but their design did not work out due to reinforced security arrangements. Police officials revealed yesterday that during their stay at Habib Mansion, right behind the Byculla police station, Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Yasin Bhatkal and Pakistanis Tabrez and Bakas had reconnoitered several vital installations in the city.
The Pakistani duo, along with Bhatkal, had visited Siddhivinayak temple in Prabhadevi, Lalbaughcha Raja in Lalbaug, and even the Mantralaya -- all three bustling with human activity at any given hour. They planned to bomb one of these, but decided against it after seeing the heavy security arrangement and the CCTV cameras.
Sources in the ATS added that Arthur Road jail, which currently houses 26/11 convict Ajmal Qasab, was also on their radar.
Bhatkal, Tabrez and Bakas, who lived in the Habib Mansion flat between February and December 2011, paid a deposit of Rs 1 lakh, and monthly rent of Rs 8,000. The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) have seized some documents from the flat and sealed it.
The trio is suspected to be behind last year's bombings at Opera House, Zaveri Bazaar and Dadar (West) near Kabutarkhana, as well as at the Delhi High Court. After the blasts, in December, the Delhi Police had busted an IM module and arrested the head of the group, Imran alias Shahrukh, who was absconding.
CCTVs save the day: Tabrez and Bakas, along with Bhatkal, had visited
Siddhivinayak temple, Lalbaughcha Raja and the Mantralaya, with plans
to bomb one of these, but decided against it after seeing the heavy
security arrangement and the CCTV cameras. File Pic
The others arrested were identified as Ajmal, Qatil Siddiqui, Gohar Aziz, Gayur Jamali, Irshad and Abdul Rehman. After the news of their arrest spread, Yasin, Tabrez and Bakas fled Byculla.
Police suspect that Yasin has taken pictures of various locations in Mumbai, much like 26/11 terrorist David Coleman Headley had done. "We have learnt that the terrorists took pictures of Dadar station and various malls in the city and in Thane," a Delhi police officer said.
"Because of the crowd, a large police presence and the fear of being captured on the multiple CCTV cameras, Yasin and the two Pakistani nationals had to skip the idea of blowing up Siddhivinayak temple, Lalbaughcha Raja or Mantralaya. They then decided to go ahead with their plan of carrying out a blast at the Delhi High Court on September 7, which killed 11 people and injured 80," he said.
"Yasin got guidance from his brother, IM founder Riyaz, who is currently in Pakistan. We suspect they had brought the explosives (ammonium nitrate) to Delhi via Nepal and then into Mumbai," added the officer.
The Maharashtra ATS claimed that they did not receive any communication from the Delhi police who had visited Mumbai in search of the terrorists. In the absence of any leads, they picked up Naqvi, which alerted Yasin and the two Pakistanis, who managed to flee.
Naqvi, a leather merchant, had met Yasin in Darbanga, Bihar following which he helped him find accommodation at Habib Mansion.
Some officers had even alleged that certain Delhi police officials were partying on New Year's Eve, the night before Yasin managed to slip away.
A Delhi police officer retorted, "Instead of keeping a watch on us, had the Maharashtra ATS kept a watch on the terrorists and managed to nab one of them, it would have been far more in national interest."
Another office added, "This is the first time after a blast that the accused did not immediately flee the city and instead stayed near a police station. They knew the police could trace them at the border and in other states, but never in the same city."
The God clause
During the Ganpati festivities last year, the Lalbaugcha Raja mandal had insured its pandal, devotees and the deity's statue following reports of a possible terror strike.
MiD DAY had reported ('Rs 50 cr insurance cover for Ganesha', August 5, 2011) about the whopping insurance cover of Rs 14 crore at Lalbaugcha Raja:
Rs 5 cr: for the devotees
Rs 6 cr: for the jewellery adorning Lord Ganesha's statue
Rs 3 cr: for the pandal
Further, in a first, the mandal, which sees the highest number of footfalls during Ganeshotsav, had 12 highly sensitive night vision cameras to monitor every nook and cranny of the premises. Each camera cost between R70,000 and R2 lakh.