US sees Al Qaeda stamp, Pakistan refuses terrorist handover (Roundup)

December 3rd, 2008 - 8:31 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Washington, Dec 3 (IANS) The US Wednesday refrained from naming Al Qaeda for last week’s terror strike in Mumbai but said the attack bore the stamp of the militant outfit, even as Pakistan turned down India’s demand to hand over 20 “most wanted” terror suspects.On his part, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari also blamed “stateless actors” for the Mumbai attacks that killed 183, and said he was willing to let Pakistani security officials participate in a joint investigation with India.

And, following US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Delhi Wednesday to show solidarity with India in the wake of the terror attacks, it was announced that Admiral Michael Mullen, the highest ranking official of the US armed forces, will arrive in the Indian capital Thursday to extend US cooperation in beefing up the country’s coastal security.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Rice said: “Whether there is a direct Al Qaeda hand or not, this is clearly the kind of terrorism in which Al Qaeda participates.”

“This is not just terrorism in the general sense but meant to send a strong message that people are not safe,” she added.

“It is not just a case of coming to any conclusions, although the US is engaged in information sharing and providing forensic help,” Rice maintained.

“It is important to go to the source to know what happen…to follow all the leads (there are),” she added.

In this context, Rice noted that Pakistan “has unequivocally said that it intends to cooperate” in the probe into the Mumbai attacks and that Zardari “has said he will follow the leads wherever they go”.

“I think we should refrain from speculation on what Pakistan should do,” Rice said in reply to a question.

Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” Tuesday, Zardari said Pakistan will not hand over suspected terrorists like Dawood Ibrahim, Masood Azhar and Hafiz Muhammad to India, but try and sentence them in its own courts if it had proof against them.

“I am definitely going to look into all the possibility of any proof that is given to us,” Zardari said when asked if he would accede to India’s demand to hand over some 20 suspected terrorists believed to be living in Pakistan.

Larry King named Dawood Ibrahim, a powerful gangster; Masood Azhar, a terror suspect from Indian prison released in exchange for the hostages; and Hafiz Muhammad, the former chief of a terrorist group, as among those wanted by India.

“At the moment, these are just names of individuals. No proof, no investigation, nothing has been brought forward,” Zardari said.

Denying that Pakistan was involved in the Mumbai attacks, Zardari said he has seen no evidence that a suspect in Indian custody is a Pakistani national.

“I think these are stateless actors who have been operating all throughout the region,” Zardari maintained.

“The gunmen plus the planners, whoever they are, (are) stateless actors who have been holding hostage the whole world,” he added.

On whether the Mumbai attacks could trigger a fourth war between the neighbours, Zardari said: “Democracies don’t go to war. All those wars you’re talking about did not take place in any democracy. They all happened in the times of dictators. The whole nation of Pakistan is united on becoming friends with India.”

Indian officials have said that the only suspected attacker in custody has told the police he is a Pakistani national. Indian intelligence sources have told CNN’s sister network, CNN-IBN, that the police believe all the attackers were Pakistanis.

Speaking about Mullen’s visit, a defence official said in New Delhi: “His visit is significant in the wake of the Mumbai attacks where the terrorists breached the Indian coastal security to land on the city’s shore unchecked.”

During his two-day visit, Mullen will meet his Indian counterpart Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Indian Navy chief, to discuss various aspects of coastal security.

Mullen served as the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations from July 2005 to September 2007. He also commanded the US Naval Forces, Europe, and Allied Joint Force Command, Naples, and served as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations from August 2003 to August 2004.

For India, the effort to make the 7,516-km coastline impregnable has been proving to be an arduous task.

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