Revealed: The chilling words of the Mumbai killers recorded during their murder spree

This is Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, caught on film as he unleashed a devastating and indiscriminate attack in Mumbai that left 166 people dead. But this picture is not the most dramatic record of that day. During the raid, the Indian intelligence services intercepted mobile phone calls between Kasab, his terrorist comrades and a mysterious handler hundreds of miles away, who issued commands to shoot civilians without mercy. These shocking tapes reveal the sinister mind control used to turn young men into killing machines  -  and the casual, off-hand brutality of the men who masterminded the massacre

By DAN REED

Last updated at 9:30 PM on 27th June 2009

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab at the Victoria Terminus railway station in Mumbai during last November's terrorist attack

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab at the Victoria Terminus railway station in Mumbai during last November's terrorist attack

'Do you want them to keep the hostages or kill them?' asks Brother Wasi of someone else in the control room. 

The person replies with a casual grunt, barely audible through the background babble of the news channels playing on a nearby television.

At the other end of the line, 500 miles away, Akasha, a 25-year-old Pakistani, is squatting on the floor inside a besieged building in the centre of Mumbai with a murdered rabbi's mobile phone in one hand and a Kalashnikov in the other. 

He knows with complete certainty that this will be his last night on Earth. For his mission to be a success, he must be killed.

The two women hostages are on a bed nearby, trussed up and blindfolded. Another gunman, Umer, is dozing.

Now Wasi comes back on the phone. His manner is warm and paternal - the kind of calm, commanding voice you instinctively trust.

Wasi: 'Listen up...' 

Akasha: 'Yes sir.' 

Akasha speaks in a gentle, dopey murmur. He sounds exhausted.

Wasi: 'Just shoot them now. Get rid of them. Because you could come under fire at any time and you'll only end up leaving them behind.' 

Akasha: 'Everything's quiet here for now.' 

Wasi: 'Shoot them in the back of the head.' 

Akasha: 'Sure. Just as soon as we come under fire.' 

Wasi: 'No. Don't wait any longer. You never know when you might come under attack.' 

Akasha: 'Insh'Allah' (God willing). 

Wasi: 'I'll stay on the line.' 

There's silence for 15 seconds. No gunshots.

Akasha: 'Hello?' 

Wasi: 'Do it. Do it. I'm listening. Do it.' 

Akasha: 'What, shoot them?' 

Wasi: 'Yes, do it. Sit them up and shoot them in the back of the head.' 

Akasha: 'Umer is asleep. He hasn't been feeling too well.' 

Wasi consults his associates in the control room, then comes back on the line.

Wasi: 'I'll call you back in half an hour. You can do it then.' 

The Taj Palace Hotel during the raid in November 2008

The Taj Palace Hotel during the raid in November 2008

This conversation, remarkable for its off-hand cruelty, was intercepted by India's intelligence agencies at 8.40pm on Thursday, November 27 last year, two days into the three-day terrorist attack on Mumbai.

I first became aware of these wiretaps in January, when the Indian government released a dossier of evidence about the massacre. The dossier pointed an accusatory finger at Pakistan and included a few paragraphs of transcribed wiretaps as evidence.

At the time the thought of getting hold of the audio recordings themselves seemed fanciful. This was classified material, perhaps some of the most important wiretaps ever recorded by the Indian secret services. 

Yet one morning four months later I returned to my hotel room in Mumbai looking over my shoulder and clutching an almost complete set of recordings. Soon the long-dead voices were playing through my headphones.

Gunmen caught on CCTV at the Taj Hotel

Gunmen caught on CCTV at the Taj Hotel - behind the double doors, 300 guests are sitting silently in a function room

Despite the difficulties we had in obtaining the tapes, I immediately questioned whether they were genuine, as it's well known that the Indian government was keen to pin blame for the attack on Pakistan. I recognised in the recordings the voices of people I'd spoken to at length - a surviving hostage and an interpreter. 

I also came across telephone interviews the terrorists had made with TV stations, which had been aired live during the seige, and the preceding off-air discussions with presenters and studio staff. This, combined with the sheer volume and complexity of the recordings - which include firefights, conversations with hostages, and hours of banal discussion about the practicalities of the terrorist operation, convinced me that the recordings were absolutely authentic. 

Akasha and Umer had been under siege for nearly 24 hours on the upper floors of Nariman House, a Jewish study centre run by the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch organisation in New York. The bodies of rabbi Gavriel Holzberg, who ran the centre, and his pregnant wife Rivka lay downstairs, next to those of two visiting Israeli rabbis. The hostages whose fate was being so casually discussed over the phone were an Israeli and a Mexican.

No one knows the true identity of the man known as Wasi - the puppetmaster. He is heard deferring to more senior figures in the control room, but it was he who cajoled, reassured and inspired the young gunmen forward minute by minute until they were killed. He is presumed to be a senior officer of Lashkar-e-Taiba ('Army Of The Righteous'), a militant group now considered to be a global threat on a par with Al-Qaeda.

When Wasi calls Akasha back at 9.20pm, his chief concern is ricochets. He reminds his neighbours in the control room that Ali, Soheb and Fahadullah - half the members of a six-man squad who've seized two hotels - have already been hit by their own bullets while executing hostages. He has a tip for Akasha.

Wasi: 'Stand the women up in a doorway so that when the bullet goes through their heads it then goes outside, instead of ricocheting back into your room.' 

Akasha: 'OK.' 

Wasi: 'Do one of them now, in the name of God. You've tied them up, right?' 

Akasha: 'Yeah. I'll untie their feet.' 

Wasi: 'Just stand them up. If they're tied up, leave them tied up.' 

Akasha then raises another objection. He doesn't want to kill the two women in the room where he and Umer are sitting. 

Wasi: 'It'll only take two shots. Do it in the room where you are now.' 

Akasha: 'All right, yes.' 

Wasi: 'Do it. Shoot them and shove them over to one side of the room.' 

Akasha shuffles off somewhere but leaves the line open. Wasi holds the line for a full seven minutes. He calls Akasha's name a few times, then hangs up. In the next call, ten minutes later, Akasha seems more upbeat. 

Akasha: 'Please don't be angry. I've rejigged things a bit and now...' 

Wasi: 'Have you done the job yet or not?' 

Akasha: 'We were just waiting for you to call back, so we could do it while you're on the phone.'

Wasi: 'Do it, in God's name.' 

Akasha: 'Just a sec... hold the line...' 

Akasha places the phone in his pocket. There is a lot of rustling (presumably Akasha crawling over to the hostages) followed by silence. Then a loud burst of gunfire. And then silence. More rustling, then Akasha is back. His voice has changed markedly. It's now a deep, eerie rasp. 

Wasi: 'That was one of them, right?' 

Akasha: 'Both.' 

A policeman helps an elderly man across Mumbai railway station, where 52 people were killed

A policeman helps an elderly man across Mumbai railway station, where 52 people were killed

At 9pm on Wednesday, November 26 last year, ten gunmen arrived in Mumbai by boat, having sailed from Pakistan in a hijacked Indian trawler. As they came close to the city they switched into a dinghy and landed on a small beach close to the middle of south Mumbai, the wealthy downtown area, home to the city's tourist hotels, banks and government offices.

The gunmen split into pairs and headed for their targets. All of them carried heavy backpacks and were dressed in western-style clothes.

The first pair of gunmen stopped at the Leopold Cafe, a popular hangout for Western tourists. They chatted outside for a while, then embraced. They were still smiling as they tossed hand grenades and mowed down everyone in the cafe.

A map showing the location of the Mumbai attacks

A map showing the location of the Mumbai attacks

At the same time down the road at the Taj Palace and Tower, Mumbai's grandest hotel, the CCTV footage shows two backpackers strolling casually into the lobby. Each of them is weighed down with 8kg of high explosives, a Kalashnikov, a pistol, eight hand grenades, hundreds of bullets and enough dried fruit and nuts to last a couple of days.

After rubbing shoulders with the well-heeled guests for a few minutes, they go to work, gunning down guests and staff in the hotel hallways, before linking up with the gunmen from the Leopold Cafe, who had smashed their way in through a hotel side door.

By 1am on Thursday, the Indian intelligence services had locked on to the terrorists' mobile phones. The first few traces led them to VOIP internet numbers used by the handlers in Pakistan, which can't be traced in the same way a mobile or landline can.

From this point on, the Indian police listened in to the hours of conversation between the gunmen and their handlers. The recordings provide a picture of total control. The gunmen were not battle-hardened mujahideen fighters but vulnerable youngsters, groomed over a period of months to foster obedience and a lust for death, which the controllers were able continuously to reinforce by mobile phone calls.

The gunmen at the Taj, young Pakistanis from villages in the Punjab, had never set foot in a modern hotel before, let alone the vast suites on the upper floors of the Taj. By 1.04am on the Thursday, police had recorded their very first intercept...

Ali: 'There are so many lights, so many buttons... and lots of computers with 22in and 30in screens.' 

Wasi: 'Computers? Haven't you burned them yet?' 

Ali: 'We're just doing it. You'll be able to see the fire sometime soon.' 

Wasi: 'We'd be able to see the fire if there were any flames. Where are the flames?

Ali: 'The entrance to this room is fantastic. The mirrors are really grand. The doors are massive too.' 

Wasi urges him to throw grenades at the police and prepare a bucket of water and towels to use against tear gas. But the gunman keeps talking about the hotel.

Ali: 'It's fabulous. The windows are huge, but it feels very safe. There's a double kitchen at the front, a bathroom and a small shop. And mirrors everywhere.' 

About 20 minutes later Wasi is concerned the gunmen have still not taken proper control of the hotel. He calls to ask what they have done and speaks to Ali.

Wasi: 'We told you to find an axe, did you not find one?' 

Ali: 'No, we couldn't find an axe.' 

Wasi: My brother, there will be an axe hanging next to each fire extinguisher in the hotel. On every floor in every corridor. Now you must start the fire. Nothing will happen until you start the fire. When people see the flames, it will cause fear outside.'

Ali: 'OK, we'll start the fire. The other brothers are nearly here now.' 

Wasi: 'Throw grenades my brother. There's no harm in throwing a few grenades.' 

Thirty minutes later the gunmen confirm that they have got the hotel under control.

Ali: 'They're massive rooms. Some of them are amazing. We burned some and cleared a few more.' 

Wasi: 'Did you start a fire in the ones you cleared out?' 

Ali: 'No, they're right next to each other. We'll set the fire on our way out. We don't want the fire to spread too quickly in case we can't get out.' 

Wasi: 'No, burn everything as you go along. The bigger the fire, the more pressure you will bring to bear. We're watching it on TV. If you start the fire it will put pressure on the security forces. They won't come up.' 

Ali: 'Listen. We don't even walk around our own houses as freely as we do here. We own the third, fourth and fifth floors, thanks be to God.'

Conversation between Mumbai terrorists

While the Taj came under attack, a mile away a third pair of gunmen ran into the lobby of the Oberoi Trident, another famous five-star hotel, slaughtering diners in the restaurants and herding hostages towards the upper floors. A few minutes later a taxi pulled up outside Mumbai's main railway station, Victoria Terminus.

The car contained two more gunmen: Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab and Ismail Khan. They slaughtered 52 people before melting into the backstreets, murdering as they went.

Then, as they sped o in a hijacked Skoda, Mumbai police got their first break. Kasab and Ismail drove straight into a police road block. Ismail was shot dead but 20-year-old Kasab survived thanks to the heroism of Assistant Sub Inspector Tukaram Omble, 48. 

He grabbed the barrel of Kasab's Kalashnikov and hung on to it as bullets tore into his chest. The manoeuvre, which cost Omble his life, bought the other policemen at the road block enough time to jump on Kasab and take him prisoner. It was a Lashkar gunman's worst nightmare: being taken alive (see box, previous page).

It caused concern among the controllers. The gunmen were supposed to die. To ensure no others were taken alive, the controllers started to impress on the gunmen the importance of dying. First, Wasi spoke to Fahadullah at the Oberoi hotel, who was sitting with his partner Abdul Rehman in a room on the 18th floor, watching the news coverage on TV. The intercept is timed at shortly after 1pm on Thursday.

Wasi: 'The manner of your death will instill fear in the unbelievers. This is a battle between Islam and the unbelievers. Keep looking for a place to die. Keep moving.' 

Fahadullah: 'Insh'Allah.' 

Wasi: 'You're very close to heaven now. One way or another we've all got to go there. You will be remembered for what you've done here. Fight till the end. Stretch it out as long as possible.'

In the evening, Fahadullah and his partner, at Wasi's insistence, leave the room and are ambushed by Indian commandos. The next intercept is timed at 8.13pm. The whooshing sound of the hotel fire sprinklers can be heard.

Wasi: 'How are you my brother?' 

Fahadullah (sounds weak): 'Praise God. Brother Abdul Rehman has passed away.

Wasi: 'Really? Is he near you?' 

Fahadullah: 'Yeah, he's near me. 

Wasi: 'May God accept his martyrdom.'

Fahadullah: 'The room is on fire, it's being shown on the TV. I'm sitting in the bathroom.' 

Next time Wasi calls, he urges Fahadullah to go out and fight. 

Wasi: 'Don't let them arrest you. Don't let them knock you out with a stun grenade. That would be very damaging. Fire one of your magazines, then grab the other one and move out. The success of your mission depends on your getting shot.' 

Fahadullah: 'Yes, I know.' 

Wasi: 'God is waiting for you. Stay on the line and keep the phone in your pocket. We like to know what's going on.' 

Conversations between Mumbai terrorists

These are the last words Wasi says to Fahadullah, who left the room and was eventually killed at dawn on Friday, just before Indian commandos staged a show of force with a helicopter landing on the roof of Nariman House.

There, too, Wasi had been trying to persuade Akasha to run outside and be shot dead.

Wasi: 'A stronghold can only last for as long as you can handle it. And now we're crossing that limit. What do you think?' 

Akasha: 'Please God.' 

Wasi: 'It's Friday today, so it's a good day to finish it.' Once the helicopter lands on the roof, Akasha and Umer suddenly find themselves under fire.

Wasi: 'Put the phone in your pocket and fire back.' 

Two hours later, at 8.47am on Friday, Wasi finally gets the news he's been waiting for.

Akasha: 'I've been shot.'

Wasi: 'Sorry?' 

Akasha: 'Pray for me.' 

Wasi: 'Oh God. Where have you been hit?' 

Akasha: 'My arm. And one in my leg.' 

Wasi: 'May God protect you. Did you hit any of theirs?' 

Akasha: 'Yeah, we shot a commando. Pray that God will accept my martyrdom.' 

Wasi: 'Praise God, praise God.' 

Akasha: 'Bye.' 

CCTV footage shows a gunman (left) and five hostages - a hotel guest and four members of the Taj Hotel's staff

CCTV footage taken from a camera located on the fifth floor of the Taj Hotel shows a gunman (left) and five hostages - a hotel guest and four members of the Taj's staff. When the fire took hold at the hotel, the gunman panicked and ran, leaving the hostages alive. They were able to escape and all five survived

By Saturday morning, 60 hours after the first shots at the Leopold Cafe, the operation was over and nine gunmen lay dead. Only Kasab survived - he is currently on trial and faces the death penalty if found guilty. Across Mumbai 166 victims lay dead and 308 injured.

Lashkar-e-Taiba remains one of the most active terrorist organisations in South Asia. It has tens of thousands of recruits. The Pakistani government has yet to find its leaders and put them on trial. It is only a matter of time before the Lashkar handlers get back in their chairs at the control room.

There's a passage in the phone transcripts that is grimly prophetic. At Nariman House, Akasha was being briefed by his handler for an interview he was to give over the phone to an Indian TV channel. 

'Give the government an ultimatum,' says a handler named Jindul, who was clearly the media consultant in the control room. 

'Tell them that this is just the trailer. Just wait till you see the rest of the movie.'

Akasha takes notes for his interview. 

'Let the government know...' he mutters as he writes, 'this is just the trailer.' But he doesn't seem to understand. Jindul explains impatiently: 

'It's a small example. A preview.' Akasha eventually gets the metaphor: 'The rest of the film remains to be seen. Should I write that?' 

'Tell them this is a small drop,' says Jindul, warming to his theme. 

'Let them sit and watch what we do next.' 

Dan Reed's 'Dispatches Special' on the terror attacks in Mumbai is on Channel 4, Tuesday at 9pm

THE POLICE INTERROGATION

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab was the only terrorist to survive the Mumba iattack. His shocking confession to police reveals what drove him to commit mass murder

During my investigation into the attacks I also obtained the video of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab's confession. It's another remarkable piece of evidence, taken just after 1am on Thursday November 27. Three hours previously, the 21-year-old on the hospital bed was gunning down women and children.

As Kasab begins to speak, it's hard to see the mass murderer in him. There's no sign of the fanatic, the zealot. He curses his Pakistani handlers, calling them 'dogs' and immediately blames his father, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba 'uncles'. 

Kasab talks to the police in the Nair Hospital, Mumbai, after his capture

Kasab talks to the police in the Nair Hospital, Mumbai, after his capture

Kasab: 'He made me do it,' he moans. 

Police interrogator: 'Who made you?' 

Kasab: 'Uncle.' 

Interrogator: 'Which Uncle?' 

Kasab: 'The one from Lashkar. They told me you'd beat me up, so before you do that I'm telling you the truth.' 

Interrogator: 'What's your gang called?' 

Kasab seems not to understand. Some of the other officers present chime in: 'Your organisation, your gang, your team?' 

Kasab: 'Oh... It's Lashkar-e-Taiba.' 

When asked about the massacre at the railway station, Kasab is equally direct. 

Kasab: 'They told us we had to do this job.' 

Interrogator: 'What do you mean by job?' 

Kasab: 'I was supposed to kill people.' 

Interrogator: 'Which people?' 

Kasab: 'Whoever was there.' 

Interrogator: 'What kind of people did they tell you to kill?' 

Kasab: 'Just ordinary people, no one in particular.' Next, the policeman tries to figure out the terrorists' exit strategy.

Interrogator: 'After completing your job today, where were you going to go?' 

Kasab: 'We were all going to die.' 

Interrogator: 'How's that?' 

Kasab: 'He told us we'd be going to heaven.' 

Interrogator: 'How many people did you kill?' 

Kasab: 'I don't know.' 

Interrogator: 'OK, how many rounds did you fire?' 

Kasab: 'Er... dunno. Two-and-a-half magazines.' 

Interrogator: 'And how many people did you kill?' 

Kasab: 'I don't know. I just kept firing and firing.' 

Interrogator: 'And this job. What time was it supposed to finish?' 

Kasab: 'They said as long as you're alive, keep killing, keep killing, the dogs.' 

Kasab then starts to weep - or pretends to. It's hard to tell from the recording.

Kasab: 'I mean, those were human beings, man...' 

Later, the policeman asks Kasab whether he had ever questioned his handler's instructions.

Kasab: 'I did ask... but he said, "These things have to be done if you're going to be a big man and get rewards." So I asked him if he'd done these things too, and he said yes, he had. So then I thought, well if he has done it, then I should do it too.' 

Kasab recounts to the policeman his father's words when he took him to the Lashkar office.

Kasab: 'Look son, these people have a good life, they eat well, now you can too. These people earn lots of money and so will you. Then we won't be poor any more.' 

Interrogator: 'Your father said that?' 

Kasab: 'Yes, so I said, "All right then, fine, whatever."'

Somehow Kasab seems too quickthinking, too much of a live wire, to agree to die in order to earn his father a couple of thousand dollars. Yet the fact is, as he freely admits, and as we know from the phone intercepts, the Mumbai gunmen were ordered deliberately to go to their deaths. There was to be no other possible reward than heaven.

At one point during the interview, Kasab describes how the recruits are filtered down into a small group. 

'The proper training - the one where they say, "Now this boy is ready to go" - that takes three months,' he says. 'After that, he's ready. He waits. Then they get him ready and say to him, "Off you go and die."'

Rakesh Maria, Mumbai's legendary police investigator, questioned Kasab later that day. Kasab told Maria that his handlers had seen how, once a fighter was martyred, his face would glow like the moon and a smell of roses would emanate from his dead body.

So once he had squeezed every drop of information out of him, Maria had Kasab taken to the morgue, where he was shown the bodies of his nine associates, charred by fire and mangled by bullets.

Kasab, says Maria, broke down and wept.