While Rathod went to check on the phone numbers under surveillance, Shekhar’s eyes wandered to the news coverage of the unfolding events on a large television screen in the operations room. ‘There are reports of two black-and-yellow cabs going up in flames in Wadi Bunder and Vile Parle after blasts tore them up … the two taxi drivers died in the blasts,’ a female news anchor informed her viewers. Suddenly, Shekhar heard the footsteps of somebody running into the room. It was Rathod, who was visibly excited, a smile on his lips. ‘Sir, one of the numbers under surveillance has just gone active.
Conversations are happening on it. It seems a group of men are talking to one of the sets of gunmen active in Mumbai currently. It seems they are the controllers of the gunmen. Both the gunmen and their controllers are speaking in Punjabi laced with chaste Urdu,’ Rathod said. They both ran towards the terminal where the ‘live’ channel – the tapped phone number – was being monitored.
Shekhar, Rathod and the latter’s deputy, Rakesh Tomar, hunched over terminal number twenty-seven, where at least twenty such phone numbers could be monitored. Rathod passed Shekhar a pair of headphones. Using a set of headphones, Tomar was listening in on the conversation occurring on the number that had been put under watch. He was making notes on a sheet of paper.
Several voices could be heard on the same number, against which a tiny bulb glowed red. The number was 91-99107194XX, which was currently active in Mumbai. The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) control room had informed CTC that the call was being made to it from the US, using a virtual number, 00120-125318CC. Rathod told Shekhar that there was one number that was active, sporadically, and several callers were in touch with it. Tomar was attempting to locate the coordinates of both the target (referred to as Party A in technical intelligence jargon) using the intercepted phone number and the callers (Party B), who seemed like his handlers.
Shekhar asked Rathod to monitor the number closely and share any useful information the conversation might throw up that could aid in neutralizing those involved in the violence unfolding in Mumbai. He also told Rathod to keep CTC’s Mumbai control room in the loop and ask it to alert the Mumbai Police if required.
Just then, Tomar interrupted them. ‘Sir, something serious is brewing. The target, the one whose number we put under surveillance, seems to be a small fry or a subordinate. He is talking, with respect and deference, to several men who are directing him,’ said Tomar. ‘They are speaking in a mix of Pakistani Punjabi and Urdu, but also using military jargon in English, like “stronghold”, “hostage” and “burst fire”.
The one who is taking the orders has told his handlers that a man under his captivity says he is a teacher. The handler says he could be someone more important than just being a teacher. The minions thrash the captive and rebuke him for lying; saying the measly salary of a teacher cannot enable him to stay in a swank hotel like the Taj. His handlers told him, “Maaro usko, jhooth bayaan kar raha hai (Hit him, he is a liar).”’
Tomar was interrupted by a flurry of loud sounds that emanated from the intercepted number. Amid the cacophony, the booming sounds of AK-47 burst fire and hand grenades stood out. Then, everything went quiet for almost five minutes. Suddenly, the voices of the handlers and the target came alive. Shekhar, Rathod and Tomar stood motionless, listening to each word in rapt attention.
Then there was a long conversation between the man whose number had been intercepted, Target (T), and those calling to direct his and his teammate’s actions, Handler (H): T: Civilians chhat pe chaltey phirtey nazar aa rahe hain. H: Jo nazar aa raha hai na, usse fire maaro. Jo bhi aadmi chalta phirta nazar aaye, harqat karta insaan nazar aaye na, usse fire maaro. Fire maaro use … thik hai na? T: Yes. How many died in our operation? What is the casualty figure? H: What did you ask, brother? T: What is the casualty figure being reported by the media? What’s the media’s casualty figure? H: So far, hundreds have died. T: Okay. H: You must protect yourself; one of you must be in a state of alert always. Shoot at whoever you may see on the terraces in front of where you are, kill them … What’s the name of the Mexican woman who is among your hostages? What if she talks to the Mexican media and tells them about her plight and about the need to save her life? T: Yes, we just made her talk to people in Delhi. H: You must ensure that she does not blurt out any sensitive detail – like how many of you are there – as that will expose you to danger. T: You are right, sir. She was opening up and was about to reveal more than what we would have liked. So, we snatched the phone away.
(Excerpt courtesy HarperCollins, India)
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