LeT stage-managed Mumbai strikes from Karachi, Lahore: NYT

December 5th, 2008 - 11:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 5 (IANS) For three months before the terror attackers landed on Mumbai’s shores, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative was in Karachi to manage the assault, the New York Times reported, citing a Pakistani official. The Lashkar commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi who is normally based in Kashmir, helped organise the plot from Karachi for the last three months, said a Pakistani official in contact with Lashkar, the influential US daily reported Friday.

Fresh evidence unearthed by investigators in India, the daily said, indicated that the Mumbai attacks were stage-managed from at least two Pakistani cities by top leaders of the Pakistan-based terror group LeT, prime suspect in last week’s attacks.

Indian and American intelligence officials have already identified a Lashkar operative, who goes by the name Yusuf Muzammil, as a mastermind of the attacks, it noted.

While Muzammil appears to have served as a control officer in Lahore, Lakhvi, his boss and the operational commander of Lashkar, worked from Karachi, the daily said citing investigators in Mumbai.

It now appears that both men were in contact with their charges as they sailed to Mumbai from Karachi, and then continued guiding the attacks even as they unfolded, directing the assaults and possibly providing information about the police and military response in India, the daily said.

The attackers also kept in contact with their handlers in Pakistan with cell-phones as they rounded up guests at the two hotels, the New York Times said, citing officials in a report from Karachi.

The attackers left a trail of evidence in a satellite phone they left behind on the fishing trawler they hijacked near Karachi at the start of their 500-mile journey to Mumbai.

The phone contained the telephone numbers of Muzammil, Lakhvi and a number of other Lashkar operatives, according to a report on the Mumbai siege released Thursday by M.J. Gohel and Sajjan M. Gohel, two security analysts who direct the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London, the New York Times said.

The numbers dialled on the phone found on the trawler used to call Muzammil matched the numbers on the cell phones recovered from the Taj and Oberoi hotels, the report said.

Based on evidence found on the trawler, it was possible that five other men were involved in the plot and were still at large, the report said.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose name means “army of the pure”, was founded with the help of Pakistani intelligence officers more than 20 years ago as a proxy force to challenge Indian control of Kashmir.

Since then, the group has broadened its ambitions, its reach and its contacts with an international network of jihadi groups. Its fighters have turned up in Afghanistan and Iraq and have been blamed for several other high-profile attacks in India before, the Times said.

“Today, it is technically banned in Pakistan but operates openly through affiliates. Its links to Al Qaeda remain murky, as does the extent of its current ties to Pakistan’s main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI,” it said.

In an interview to the New York Times this week, Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a parent organisation of Lashkar, denied that Lashkar or its leader Haffiz Muhammad Saeed had any connection to the attack.

The surviving gunman in Mumbai claimed to have met Saeed at a training camp in Pakistan.

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