Indian Official Says Pakistan's ISI Trained, Supported Mumbai Attackers

After a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks turned parts of Mumbai's financial district into a combat zone, officials in New Delhi, India, and Islamabad, Pakistan, grapple with the political and diplomatic fallout of India's deadliest terror attack in 15 years.
By Emily Wax and Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 6, 2008

MUMBAI, Dec. 5 -- A week after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Indian officials on Friday stepped up their efforts to draw a connection between the violence and Pakistani government agencies.

In New Delhi, a high-level source in the Indian government, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said India has "clear and incontrovertible proof" that an Islamist militant group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Taiba, planned the attacks and that the group's leaders were trained and supported by Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.

"We have the names of the handlers. And we know that there is a close relationship between the Lashkar and the ISI," the source said.

U.S. intelligence officials, however, were more cautious in their interpretation of the evidence. Although U.S. analysts acknowledged historical ties between Lashkar and ISI, as well as more recent contacts between militants and Pakistani intelligence officers, they said they were not convinced that Pakistan supported the attacks in any significant way.

"Even if there were contacts between ISI and Lashkar-i-Taiba, it's not the same as saying there was ISI support," said a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official would not dismiss the possibility that further evidence would reveal active ISI involvement but said: "The evidence we've seen so far does not get you there."

Indian and U.S. investigators have identified Yusuf Muzammil, a Lashkar-i-Taiba leader, as the mastermind behind the attacks, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Pakistan to hand him and other suspects over. Pakistan denies any involvement in the attacks and has called on India to divulge its evidence.

The attacks, which left more than 170 people dead and more than 230 wounded, came as India and Pakistan appeared to be making headway in peace talks. But relations between the two nuclear-armed countries have plummeted to their lowest point since 2001, when a bombing in India's Parliament -- also allegedly carried out by Lashkar-- brought the two countries to the brink of war.

Indian newspapers reported this week that ISI helped train the gunmen. But in comments to reporters Friday, newly appointed Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram did not specifically mention the agency or Pakistan. "There is ample evidence to show the source of the attacks were clearly linked to organizations which have in the past been identified as behind terrorist attacks in India," Chidambaram said.

Pakistan has agreed to a 48-hour timetable set by India and the United States to formulate a plan to take action against Lashkar and to arrest at least three Pakistanis who Indian authorities say are linked to the assaults, according to a high-ranking Pakistani official. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said India has also asked Pakistan to arrest and hand over Lashkar commander Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhwi and former ISI director Hamid Gul in connection with the investigation.

Indian officials have said the sole surviving gunman in the attacks, who goes by the alias Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, 21, mentioned Lakhwi during police questioning. Police had earlier identified the gunman as Ajmal Amir Kasab.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who has expressed his country's solidarity with India, is expected to review plans by his nation's top military and intelligence officials and follow through on India's demands, the official said.

"The next 48 hours are critical," the official said.

At a news conference in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to deflect public anger at politicians for security lapses and the handling of the crisis. He also firmly rejected denials from Pakistani officials that the attacks originated in their country.

"The territory of a neighboring country has been used for perpetrating this crime," Singh said. "We expect the international community to wake up and recognize that terror anywhere and everywhere constitutes a threat to world peace and prosperity."

"The people of India feel a sense of hurt and anger as never before," he said.

Meanwhile, Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria, said authorities were investigating the alleged role in the plot of Faheem Ansari, 35, who is in Indian custody. Maria said Ansari allegedly helped the attackers acquire "such intricate knowledge of the sites."

Ansari was arrested earlier this year in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for his alleged involvement in a New Year's Eve grenade attack on a police camp there.

In a confession to Uttar Pradesh police, Ansari admitted scouting several Mumbai locations for a man calling himself Kahafa, who was later found to be an operative for Lashkar, officials say.

"Kahafa also asked me specific questions about the Mumbai airport," Ansari was quoted as saying. "He asked me to find out about the height of the airport wall, the location of the nearest building that is at striking distance from the runway. I took photographs and shot videos of these places."

But he said that "the delivery of weapons could not materialize and the plan was postponed."

Maria countered reports in the Indian media that more attackers were at large. "It is very clear; 10 came, 10 were accounted for," he said.

Correspondent Candace Rondeaux in Islamabad, Pakistan, and staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company