WASHINGTON, (AFP) – US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell late Tuesday blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for the deadly attacks in Mumbai, the first time a US official publicly fingered the group.
"The same group that we believe is responsible for Mumbai had a similar attack in 2006 attack on a train and killed a similar number of people," said McConnell, speaking at Harvard University. "Go back to 2001 and it was an attack on the parliament."
McConnell did not mention Lashkar-e-Taiba by name, but the group, which fought Indian rule in divided Kashmir, is notorious for a deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001. That attack pushed New Delhi and Islamabad to the brink of war.
The radical Islamic group, whose name means "Army of the Pious," has past links to both Pakistani intelligence and Al-Qaeda.
McConnell, the top US intelligence official, said he did not see the Mumbai attack as a new form of terrorism.
"If you examine the groups we think are responsible, the philosophical underpinnings are very similar to what Al-Qaeda puts out as their view of how the world should be. It is a continuation," he said.
About 10 gunmen landed in rubber dinghies in Mumbai and wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and hand grenades, in an assault that killed at least 188 people and injured more than 300. The dead included 22 foreign nationals.
In his speech, McConnell emphasized the difficulty in fighting shadowy Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
"Democratic systems that promote free speech and free movement and open discussion are incredibly vulnerable to someone who is willing to die in the context of a suicide bomber or a suicide attack," McConnell said.
Washington has been dropping hints for days that the group was behind the attacks: a US counter-terrorism official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP on Saturday that Lashkar-e-Taiba may have been responsible for the attacks. A spokesman for the Pakistan-based group denied any involvement in the Mumbai atrocities.
US officials had warned India in October hotels and business centers in Mumbai would be targeted by attackers coming from the sea, according to US news media reports.
Indian intelligence officials intercepted a phone call on November 18 to an address in Pakistan used by the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, revealing a possible attack from the sea, ABC News reported.
Indian police believe that top Lashkar-e-Taiba member Yusuf Muzammil masterminded the Mumbai attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Muzammil was identified as the brains behind the attacks by Ajmal Kasab, the only gunman who was captured alive, an unidentified senior police official told the US business daily.
Pakistan outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba after the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, though Indian officials allege the ban has not been enforced.
Separately, ABC News reported that the attackers were also armed with five bombs, two of which were described as sophisticated.