Investigators in India Turn Focus to Homegrown Suspects

By Emily Wax and Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 11, 2008

NEW DELHI, Dec. 10 -- Having blamed a Pakistani terrorist group for last month's deadly attacks in Mumbai, investigators are turning their attention to homegrown suspects who may have assisted with attacks on Indian soil.

The suspects are thought to have offered help with surveillance, safe houses and border crossings. The potential involvement of Indians complicates India's initial assertion that the Mumbai attacks were carried out solely by Pakistani nationals.

Mumbai police are looking in particular at two Indian suspects in their custody who, they say, were trained by the Pakistani group Lashkar-i-Taiba and who may have helped extremists as they prepared to launch strikes.

Indian police say at least one Indian operative -- Sabauddin Ahmed, 29 -- aided Pakistani extremists by providing safe houses and guiding them across the border to carry out assaults in India.

Although Pakistani extremists once favored Kashmir as their route into India, crossing the border there has become more difficult in recent years as authorities have cracked down on infiltrators. Indian investigators say they are uncovering information on a vast network of paths into India through Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as the Arabian Sea, the route chosen by the 10 gunmen who carried out the Mumbai attacks.

The use of new land and sea routes, investigators say, has widened the theater of war beyond Kashmir and into the Indian heartland, as well as cosmopolitan cities such as Hyderabad and Bangalore, both of which were recently the scene of bombings.

"When it became more difficult for them to cross the Line of Control into Kashmir from Pakistan, the militants found other routes," said Ajay Sahni, a counterterrorism expert and executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. "Nepal is a completely unpoliced border, with a mixed population living all along the border, and they cross over with absolutely no documentation on a daily basis. Many people from Bangladesh come into India to work and return in the evening. These are very poorly policed; the fences are not well maintained," he said.

Use of the routes by extremists, analysts say, could force India to seek better cooperation from its eastern neighbors, just as it has with its western neighbor, Pakistan.

The focus on possible Indian collaborators comes nearly two weeks after the assault on India's financial capital, in which gunmen opened fire at several sites and laid siege to two luxury hotels and a Jewish outreach center, killing at least 171 people, including six Americans, and wounding more than 230.

Ahmed is being brought to Mumbai for questioning over his alleged links to Lashkar, the group that is said to have masterminded the attacks. Indian police arrested Ahmed, along with another suspect, Faheem Ansari, 35, earlier this year in connection with a grenade attack on a police camp.

It is unclear whether Ahmed was involved in the Mumbai assault. Ansari apparently had a map of Mumbai, with targets in last month's attacks highlighted. Police say Ansari may have been preparing for the attacks for more than a year.

Ansari sent detailed video clips and maps of key South Mumbai locations to Lashkar commanders through a conduit in Nepal, police say. Some of the locations were targeted by the gunmen. Ahmed had helped bring gunmen from Nepal for at least two attacks, in 2005 and 2007, police say.

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