How FBI helped India probe Mumbai terror attacks

February 24th, 2009 - 10:12 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 24 (IANS) An FBI agent working in New Delhi was preparing to play cricket one day last November. Instead he flew off to Mumbai to coordinate the US investigation agency’s efforts to help India deal with the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks.

These little known details about FBI efforts to assist Indian authorities probing the November siege by conspirators with ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group in Pakistan, were disclosed Monday for the first time by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations here.

Special Agent Steve Merrill, a legal attache posted to the bureau’s office in New Delhi, was on his way to Jodhpur to play cricket for the American team competing at the Maharajah’s annual tournament when he learned of the unfolding terrorist attack in Mumbai, he recalled. “Suddenly, cricket was the last thing on his mind.”

Terrorists had landed on the shoreline of India’s largest city at sundown, armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades. Within hours, buildings were ablaze and civilians were dead. During the three-day siege, more than 170 people were killed and 300 wounded.

Merrill was FBI’s first agent on the scene. All he had were the clothes on his back, his Blackberry, and his cricket gear. “Amid gunfire and explosions, he established lines of communication with his Indian and intelligence community counterparts, coordinated the arrival of our Rapid Deployment Team, and helped rescue trapped Americans inside the Taj Hotel.”

In Mumbai, FBI investigation began even before the crisis ended. Agents from FBI offices in New Delhi and Islamabad joined forces with the Indian government, the CIA, the State Department, MI-6, and New Scotland Yard, Mueller said.

“Through these partnerships, we had unprecedented access to evidence and intelligence. Agents and analysts conducted more than 60 interviews, including that of the lone surviving attacker.

“Our forensic specialists pulled fingerprints from improvised explosive devices. They recovered data from damaged cell phones, in one case by literally wiring a smashed phone back together.”

At the same time, FBI collected, analysed, and disseminated intelligence to its partners at home and abroad -”not only to determine how these attacks were planned, and by whom, but to ensure that if a second wave of attacks was in the offing, we possessed the intelligence to stop it.”

FBI work in Mumbai was not out of the ordinary, Mueller said noting “To counter these threats, we must first understand them through intelligence. Once we gain an understanding, our law enforcement authorities allow us to move against individuals and networks.”

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