Laskhar-e-Taiba Officials Confirm Arrest of Suspected Mumbai Terror Mastermind

Pakistan appears to be responding to growing international pressure. Forces in Kashmir have arrested several members of an Islamist terror group, including the man suspected of planning the attacks on Mumbai.


Pakistan appears to be moving more forcefully against extremists based in the country. Pakistani authorities have arrested several members of an aid organization with ties to the radical Islamist rebel group Laskhar-e-Taiba in connection with the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Reports suggest that between three and 15 men have been detained.

Indian right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena activists shout anti-Pakistan slogans as they burn an effigy symbolising Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba during a protest in Amritsar.
AFP

Indian right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena activists shout anti-Pakistan slogans as they burn an effigy symbolising Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba during a protest in Amritsar.

The men were arrested on Sunday in a suburb of Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, a high-ranking secret service official said on Monday. Pakistani officials confirmed on Monday afternoon that the suspected mastermind behind the terror operation was among those arrested. The man had been one of the suspects sought by India. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was arrested and taken from a camp of militant Islamists on Sunday by Pakistani forces. Earlier, the arrest had been reported by the Pakistani daily Dawn.

The news of the arrest came just hours after United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded the government in Islamabad take action. Rice said on Sunday there was evidence that the attacks had been planned on Pakistani soil.

Initially there were only vague allegations from Indian intelligence circles, but more than a week after the devastating attacks, Western security officials believe Laskhar-e-Taiba (which means "Army of the Pure") is clearly behind the bloodbath in Mumbai. "There is hardly any doubt remaining that the attacks were planned from Pakistan," one secret service man working on the case said. According to official figures, 163 civilians and security forces, as well as nine terrorists, were killed during the attacks on two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a train station and other targets at the end of November.

The analysis of electronic intelligence as well as the statements made by the only surviving terrorist to be arrested, a senior German foreign intelligence official said last week, offer a "conclusive picture that can only lead one to conclude that Laskhar-e-Taiba was responsible." The official added, however, that the attacks would not have been possible without the assistance of "local forces." The intelligence experts believe "more than 40" were involved in the attacks.

At the end of the 1980s, Laskhar-e-Taiba was more or less created by the Pakistani intelligence agency in order to heat up the guerrilla conflict with India in the contested Kashmir region. The Pakistani government banned the group in 2002. But the charity organization Jammat-ud-Dawa, which is still legal, is considered by Western intelligence agencies to be nothing more than a cover for Laskhar-e-Taiba. Its leader, 63-year-old Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, has become a legendary figure in the battle against India and lives totally undisturbed in the Pakistani city of Lahore. In several interviews with Western newspapers, he has denied any involvement and has repeatedly and self-assuredly stated that there is no proof against him.

Terror Coordinated by Smart Phone

In addition to the testimony of the arrested suspect, wiretapped telephone conversations have also indicated the attack was planned in Pakistan. In recordings of calls made available to Western intelligence agencies, the perpetrators can be heard telephoning from Mumbai to high-ranking Lashkar man Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, now believed to have been arrested. Officials believe that Lakhvi gave the perpetrators concrete instructions.

The attackers also had contact with another fighter in the group, named by different intelligence agencies as either "Yussouf" or "Muzammil." He is believed to be a Lashkar man entrusted with responsibility for operations. Following an analysis of connection data, it is believed that some of the perpetrators communicated with the leaders of the attack by smart phone.

Meanwhile, Western intelligence services, including Germany's BND, have created a detailed reconstruction of the attacks. Initially, analysts were surprised by the number of locations involved in the attacks, but now they are almost shocked by the degree of coordination. One German analyst spoke almost respectfully of a "crime that we have never seen before." The planning efforts and arming of the terrorists, the source said, was "highly professional."

No 'Internationalization' of Lashkar-e-Taiba

The details of the attack, especially, have created new worries for intelligence services. The arms used by the perpetrators alone -- all 10 had AK-47 machine guns made in Russia, Chinese pistols, and all had the same amounts of munitions and hand grenades -- suggest to intelligence officials that the men had advanced military training. "The marksmen knew how to use their weapons and how deadly they were," one intelligence source said. "These weren't dumb guys -- this is a totally new quality of terrorists."

Despite the meticulous planning, officials at European intelligence services do not believe the attacks were the work of al-Qaida. Several analysts agreed that Laskhar-e-Taiba still remains a local group without real connections to international terrorism. Nor have there been any observations of foreign fighters infiltrating the group. Laskhar-e-Taiba is known to have training camps in the border areas shared with Afghanistan, but there is no evidence of an "internationalization" of the group.

Meanwhile, heavy violence has erupted again along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. For the second night in a row, terrorists have attacked a truck depot in Pakistan that is used as a base to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. Eyewitnesses reported seeing an explosion as well as several fighters storming the facility in Peshawar. Around 50 military vehicles were burned out.

On Sunday, a police officer was killed in an attack on a truck depot in northwestern Pakistan. The attackers set 62 trucks on fire at the facility, which is also used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. It is suspected that Taliban militia extremists are trying to effect supplies for the international troops in Afghanistan. The majority of those supplies are shipped from Pakistan over the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.

-- Matthias Gebauer, with wire reports

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