By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 2 -- Pakistan on Tuesday offered to set up a joint inquiry into last week's terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai and said it would cooperate with India as it investigates the three-day siege of the country's financial capital.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi extended the offer in a statement broadcast on national television, as pressure mounted from both India and the United States for cooperation in unraveling the attack. "Both countries will benefit from bilateral engagement. This is not the time for finger-pointing. Terrorism is a major challenge. It is a common enemy," Qureshi said.
The attacks by a band of 10 gunmen killed at least 174 people and injured more than 300.
Qureshi delivered his remarks as members of Pakistan's National Assembly held a special session in the capital of Islamabad to discuss the country's response to the Mumbai assaults. Indian officials have pinned responsibility for the attacks on Pakistan-based elements of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a militant group linked to several previous terrorist attacks in India. The sole gunman to be taken alive, they say, has admitted that Lashkar was behind the terrorist rampage across the city.
In a speech Tuesday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said U.S. intelligence believes the group that attacked trains in Mumbai in 2006 is the same one that carried out last week's strike. Although he did not name the group, India has attributed the train bombing to Lashkar, and McConnell's remarks appeared to be a corroboration of Indian findings that Lashkar is once again to blame.
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's minister of information, said her country's top intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, would brief a parliamentary committee meeting about possible steps Pakistan might take amid rising tension between the two countries. "We must try to dampen down the discourse of conflict and work for peace in the region," Rehman said.
The calls from Pakistan for restraint and cooperation followed a demand from India that Pakistan turn over 20 individuals believed to be linked to terrorist acts across the border, including a series of bomb blasts that killed more than 250 people in Mumbai in 1993. Topping the list are Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian-born mafia figure suspected of financing and planning the 1993 blasts, and Masood Azhar, leader of a Pakistan-based group linked to the dramatic hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight in Afghanistan in 1999.
A Pakistani Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said that his office had received the wanted list and that the ministry was considering its response. He said many of the names have long been in demand by India.
Known as the "Gold Man" or "Don Dawood," Ibrahim -- a onetime Mumbai-based mafia kingpin -- has led India's most-wanted list for 15 years. He is considered a leading financier for Lashkar and other terrorist groups. Ibrahim, 53, was born in the Indian state of Maharashtra, the son of a policeman, but he turned to organized crime in his teens. International intelligence agencies have said he is probably hiding in Pakistan, where he allegedly holds stakes in a large number of properties and businesses in the southern city of Karachi and in Islamabad. In 2003, the United States designated Ibrahim a global terrorist, tying him to a vast arms- and drug-running network.
Azhar also ranks high on India's list of wanted fugitives. Founder of the militant Kashmiri group Jaish-i-Muhammad, Azhar was arrested in India in 1994 but was freed in exchange for the release of passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines flight.
Azhar was later held for a year by authorities in Pakistan in connection with a 2001 attack on India's Parliament. He was never formally charged and was released from house arrest by a Pakistani court in 2002.
Reports in India on Tuesday suggested that Indian authorities are focused on a Lashkar commander named Yusuf Muzammil as a possible mastermind of the Mumbai attack. A Pakistani intelligence source said Muzammil is based in Indian Kashmir and shares command of a cross-border operational council created after Pakistani authorities banned Lashkar-i-Taiba following the attacks on India's Parliament.
The Pakistani intelligence source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the inquiry, said Muzammil heads the council along with Lashkar commander Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhwi, who is based on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The source said three other commanders are of interest to Indian investigators, but little was known about their rank and role within the council.
Correspondents Emily Wax in New Delhi and Rama Lakshmi in Mumbai contributed to this report.