Dec 4, 2008

World - Officials: Pakistan group leaders linked to attack

Ramola Talwar Badam

MUMBAI, India – India suspects two senior leaders of a banned Pakistani militant group orchestrated the three-day siege of the country's financial capital that killed at least 171 people, Indian officials said Thursday.

Evidence collected in the investigation pointed to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Yusuf Muzammil as masterminds behind the bloody rampage in Mumbai, according to two government officials familiar with the matter.

Lakhvi and Muzammil are top members of the outlawed Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba — which India blames in attacks — and are believed to be living in Pakistan, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the details. Lakhvi has been identified as the group's chief of operations and Muzammil as its operations chief in Kashmir and other parts of India.

The revelations came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Pakistan Thursday for meetings with civilian and military leaders after visiting Indian leaders in New Delhi. She aimed to raise pressure on Pakistan's government to help get to the bottom of the terror attacks, saying that Pakistan must mount a "robust response" to bring the terrorists to justice.

The U.S. wants Pakistan to do more to go after terror cells rooted in Pakistan. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen was pushing the same message in Pakistan on Wednesday.

Indian airports, meanwhile, were put on high alert after the government received warnings of possible airborne attacks.

"This is based on a warning, which has been received and we are prepared as usual," India's air force chief, Fali Homi Major, told the Press Trust of India news agency Thursday.

Last week's attacks were carried out by 10 suspected Muslim militants against hotels, a restaurant and other sites across Mumbai.

In a stunning new example of the botched security that has sparked public outrage since the assault, police on Wednesday found two bombs at Mumbai's main train station nearly a week after they were left there by gunmen behind the attacks.

While searching through about 150 bags, which police believed were left by the dozens of victims in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, an officer found a suspicious-looking bag and called the bomb squad, said Assistant Commissioner of Police Bapu Domre. Inside were two 8.8-pound (4-kilogram) bombs, which were taken away and safely detonated, he said.

After the attacks, police found unexploded bombs at several of the sites, including two luxury hotels and a Jewish center.

It was not immediately clear why the bags at the station were not examined earlier. The station, which serves hundreds of thousands of commuters, was declared safe and reopened hours after the attack.

The discovery has added to increasing accusations that India's security forces missed warnings and bungled its response to the Nov. 26-29 attacks.

Indian navy chief Sureesh Mehta has called the response to the attacks "a systemic failure." The country's top law enforcement official has resigned amid criticism that the 10 gunmen appeared better coordinated and better armed than police in Mumbai.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday adopted a more strident tone against longtime rival Pakistan.

"There is no doubt the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were perpetrated by individuals who came from Pakistan and whose controllers are in Pakistan," Mukherjee said after a meeting with Rice.

"The government of India is determined to act decisively to protect Indian territorial integrity and the right of our citizens to a peaceful life, with all the means at our disposal," he said, a turnaround from earlier statements that ruled out military action.

Many Indians wanted more than just harsh words.

At a candlelight gathering in Mumbai, many chanted anti-Pakistan slogans and called for war.

"India should attack Pakistan right away," said Sandeep Ambili, 27, who works for a shipping company.

"Something has to be done. Pakistan has been attacking my country for a long time," said another protester, Rajat Sehgal. "If it means me going to war, I don't mind."

Similar rallies were held in cities across India.

After a 2001 militant attack on India's parliament, also blamed on elements in Pakistan, the two neighbors posted nearly 1 million soldiers along their border in a yearlong standoff. The two nations have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, but neither government wants a fourth. Both now have nuclear weapons.

India has called on Pakistan to turn over 20 people who are "fugitives of Indian law" and wanted for questioning, but Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said the suspects would be tried in Pakistan if there is evidence of wrongdoing.

Much of the evidence that Pakistanis were behind the Mumbai attack comes from the interrogation of the surviving gunman, who told police that he and the other nine attackers had trained for months in camps in Pakistan operated by the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, told investigators his recruiters promised to pay his family from an impoverished village Pakistan's Punjab region $1,250 when he became a martyr.

Kasab said he and the other gunmen were "hand-picked" for the mission and trained for more than a year by Lashkar-e-Taiba, based in Kashmir, according to two senior officials involved in the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media about the investigation.


Associated Press writers Erika Kinetz and Ravi Nessman in Mumbai and Ashok Sharma, Jeremiah Marquez and Anne Gearan in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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