Pakistan’s probe finds links to Mumbai attacks: WSJ (Lead)

December 31st, 2008 - 5:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Dec 31 (IANS) Pakistan’s investigation of the Mumbai terror strikes has begun to show “substantive links” between the 10 attackers and a militant group its powerful spy agency “spent years supporting”, the Wall Street Journal said Wednesday, quoting people with knowledge of the probe.Zarar Shah, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader captured in a raid earlier this month in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, has confessed the group’s involvement in the attack as India and the US have alleged, a senior Pakistani security official told the newspaper.

“The disclosure could add new international pressure on Pakistan to accept that the attacks…originated within its borders and to prosecute or extradite the suspects. That raises difficult and potentially destabilising issues for the country’s new civilian government, its military and the spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence - which is conducting interrogations of militants it once cultivated as partners,” it added.

Pakistani security officials, says Shah, have admitted a role in the Mumbai attack during interrogation.

“He is singing,” WSJ quoted the security official, who declined to be identified, as saying.

The admission, the official said, was backed up by US intercepts of a phone call between Shah and one of the attackers at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the site of a 60-hour confrontation with Indian security forces.

The report comes on the day a Pakistani newspaper said Islamabad was under tremendous US pressure to extradite to India LeT commander Zaki Al Rahman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks.

“The Americans are believed to have given Pakistan a taped conversation Lakhvi allegedly had with the gunmen involved in the attacks,” the Dawn newspaper said in a dispatch from Washington, quoting US and diplomatic sources.

The sources said that American audio experts had checked the tape and concluded that it was genuine and that the speaker was Lakhvi.

Lakhvi and Shah were picked up during a crackdown following the ban imposed by the UN on the Jamat-ud Daawa, as the LeT was renamed after it was banned in the wake of the Dec 13, 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on the militant group. The Pakistani government now says it is unaware of Lakhvi’s whereabouts.

According to WSJ, a second person familiar with the investigation said Shah told Pakistani interrogators that he was one of the key planners of the operation, and that he spoke with the attackers during the rampage to give them advice and keep them focussed.

This person said Shah had implicated other LeT members, and had broadly confirmed the story told by Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the sole captured Mumbai attacker, to Indian investigators that the 10 assailants trained in Pakistani Kashmir and then went by boat from Karachi to Mumbai.

Shah said the attackers also spent at least a few weeks in Karachi training in urban combat to hone skills they would use in the Mumbai assault.

“The probe also is stress-testing an uncomfortable shift underway at Pakistan’s spy agency - and the government - since the election of civilian leadership replacing the military-led regime earlier this year,” WSJ said.

“Military and intelligence officials acknowledge they have long seen India as their primary enemy and Islamist extremists such as Lashkar as allies. But now the ISI is in the midst of being revamped, and its ranks purged of those seen as too soft on Islamic militants.

“That revamp and the Mumbai attacks are in turn putting pressure on the civilian leadership, which risks a backlash among the population - and among elements of ISI and the military - if it is too accommodating to India,” the newspaper noted.

The “big fear” in the West and India, WSJ said, is a repeat of what happened after the 2001 parliament attack: “Top militant leaders were arrested only to be released months later”.

“Lashkar and other groups continued to operate openly, even though formal ISI connections were scaled back or closed,” the newspaper said.

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