Pakistani Authorities Said to Arrest Suspected Ringleader in Mumbai Attacks
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 8 -- Pakistani authorities arrested a suspected ringleader of last month's deadly attacks in Mumbai along with several others in a raid in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, Pakistani officials, witnesses and allies of the man said Monday.
Residents in the small Kashmiri town of Shawai Nala said dozens of Pakistani soldiers descended about 3 p.m. Sunday on a camp run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a Muslim aid organization suspected of funding the militant Pakistani group Lashkar-i-Taiba. Mehboob Ahmed, a resident of the nearby city of Muzaffarabad, the area's capital, said a Pakistani army helicopter gunship swept over the camp several times just before the ground was hit by rocket fire and a fusillade of bullets unleashed by Pakistani forces.
Pakistani security forces arrested 22 people, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of at least five Lashkar members named by Indian authorities as the organizers of the Mumbai siege, according to local residents and a Jamaat-ud-Dawa member.
Pakistani officials made no official statement about Lakhvi's arrest, and there were some reports that he had in fact not been arrested. While U.S. officials could not independently confirm the capture or comment on Lakhvi's alleged role in the Mumbai attacks, they viewed the action by Pakistan as positive.
"They seem to be stirring," one U.S. counterterrorism official said of the Pakistanis. "But results are what counts."
Police in Mumbai said last week that Lakhvi organized and directed the attacks from the camp near Muzaffarabad. They said Lakhvi worked in coordination with Lashkar commander Yusuf Muzammil, who directed part of the operation from a safe house in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. At least 10 gunmen commandeered a fishing boat to ferry them from Karachi to Mumbai, where they launched a raid on two luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish cultural center. The assault on India's financial capital killed more than 170 people and wounded at least 230.
Lt. Col. Baseer Haider, a spokesman for the Pakistani army, said the operation in Kashmir was being handled by Pakistan's Interior Ministry, the country's lead domestic security agency. An aide to Rehman Malik, chief of the Interior Ministry, said Malik was unavailable for comment Monday.
Indian officials have said the 10 gunmen who attacked Mumbai were trained at a Lashkar camp in Pakistan with the aid of current and retired officers from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI. Indian and U.S. officials maintain that Jamaat-ud-Dawa operates as a front organization and financier for Lashkar, which was banned by the Pakistani government after its members were charged with mounting a deadly attack on India's Parliament in 2001. The Indian accusations have provoked denials by Pakistani leaders and prompted a flurry of visits by top U.S. officials aimed at tamping down tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
A high-ranking Pakistani official said that in visits to Islamabad last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that failure by Pakistan to take quick and decisive action against Lashkar could result in unilateral U.S. action against the group.
Indian police in Mumbai have said the only gunman arrested in the attacks, Azam Amir Kasab, told investigators that he and the other attackers had received three months of training in weapons and marine navigational techniques. Police said they had identified the nine dead gunmen and the places they came from in Pakistan.
Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said that all but one of the 10 gunmen, including Kasab, were from four places in the central Pakistani province of Punjab. Three of the gunmen came from the town of Okara, three from the city of Multan, two from the city of Faisalabad and one from Sialkot, he said. Maria also identified Ismail Khan, 26, as the leader of the gunmen. He said Khan came from the northwest Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan.
On Monday, a committee of top Pakistani government and military officials met to discuss India's demand to turn over Jamaat-ud-Dawa's founder and leader, Hafiz Sayeed, and about 20 others believed by Indian authorities to be behind several terrorist attacks in India in recent years. Pakistan has declined to hand over those named by India, but said it would cooperate in an investigation into the Mumbai attacks and send a delegation of Pakistani officials to New Delhi.