It’s been a year, but the Mumbai police and Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) still have no clue on the whereabouts of the terrorists who had recced the Lalbaugcha Raja pandal last year.
Surprisingly, the cops have carefully avoided their mention in the orders issued to police stations and Ganpati mandals about safety measures to be taken during Ganeshotsav this year.
Earlier this year, the Mumbai ATS suffered a major embarrassment over a massive intelligence failure, when it emerged that Yasin Bhatkal — a top Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative and mastermind of the 13/7 bomb blasts — had for long stayed at Habib Mansion in Byculla along with his associates Waqas and Tabrez.
27 people were killed and 127 injured in the triple blasts that ripped through Opera House, Zaveri Bazaar and Dadar on July 13, 2011.
Sources from Delhi’s special squad revealed that even after executing the blasts, the trio continued to stay at Habib Mansion till December 2011. Staying a stone’s throw from the Mumbai ATS office in Nagpada, the suspects surveyed the Lalbaugcha Raja mandal and other vital installations in Mumbai.
The operation to nab them started with the arrival of a team from the special cell of the Delhi police on December 12, 2011. Armed with credible information, the team operated covertly in Mumbai’s Byculla suburb for well over a fortnight. The Maharashtra ATS, already under pressure and criticism, was getting edgy. Instead of joining hands with the Delhi police, it started operating independently.
As a tussle ensued between the Delhi police and ATS, the terrorists received a tip-off and slipped out of the city. Making inquiries with the landlady and their other associates who were arrested later, the Delhi police learnt that the module was sent to Mumbai to survey the Lalbaugcha Raja pandal and other crowded places like Zaveri Bazaar. This year, precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of devotees who throng the streets to celebrate the Ganesh festival. Tellingly, there is no mention on the alert of the two operatives who are still on the prowl.
“We have no such specific alert. But compared to last year, we have increased surveillance equipment. The police bandobast has also been increased. We have been holding timely discussions with the police personnel and reviewing the security arrangements, ” said Ashok Pawar, president of Lalbaugcha Raja Ganeshotsav Mandal.
Sources say that Mumbai ATS is under tremendous pressure to crack the leads on the 13/7 blast and the Pune blast accused. Almost the entire team is at present working hard to crack the Pune blasts case.
ATS chief Rakesh Maria said, “We have sent a general alert about them.” He also denied that the accused had recced the Lalbaug area. “They were staying in Byculla and not in Lalbaug,” Maria said.
However, the balcony of Habib Mansion, where the terrorists were accommodated, offers a clear view of devotees queuing up for darshan of Lalbaugcha Raja.