Afghan intelligence ties Pakistani group Lashkar-i-Taiba to recent Kabul attack
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
KABUL -- An Afghan intelligence official said Tuesday that the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba orchestrated the deadly attack that targeted two guesthouses in the capital last week.
The assessment, if true, could signal a departure for the group, which has long focused on fighting India over the disputed region of Kashmir. India blames the militant organization for the siege that killed 165 people in Mumbai in November 2008.
Afghan intelligence spokesman Sayed Ansari said investigators had concluded that Lashkar was involved in the recent attack based on evidence that it was carried out by a team of suicide bombers who spoke Urdu, a Pakistani language, and who were searching for Indian victims. The Afghan Taliban had previously asserted responsibility for the assault, which left 16 people dead, within hours of its start.
The claim by Afghan intelligence could not be verified Tuesday, and it contradicts the conclusions of other observers. A U.S. military intelligence official told reporters Monday that he believed the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based Afghan militant group, was behind the attack. Indian officials have said they suspect that the two groups worked in concert to stage the raid.
Still, the involvement of Lashkar-i-Taiba would have significant implications. It could undermine fragile peace efforts between longtime foes Pakistan and India, whose foreign secretaries met last week. India had previously implicated Pakistan in the 2008 bombing of India's embassy in Kabul, saying Pakistani intelligence had collaborated with militants.
Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence official in Afghanistan, said Monday that a growing number of the group's fighters are streaming into that country's south for combat experience.
"They are aligning with the Taliban," said Mohammad Saad, a retired Pakistani brigadier and security analyst.
Saad said that several members of the group are training with associates of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region bordering Afghanistan, but that language challenges have forced most of them to work alongside Afghan fighters inside Afghanistan.
That also points to increased mixing of militant groups in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, where U.S. troops and intelligence are seeking to blunt Taliban and al-Qaeda control. Analysts say insurgencies that are commonly described as distinct are actually a complex stew of overlapping and shifting alliances.
That was underscored Tuesday as the Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan insurgency, confirmed in a statement that the chief of yet another Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, had been killed by a U.S. drone strike Feb. 24. The commander, Qari Zafar, was wanted by U.S. and Pakistani officials in connection with a 2006 bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.
Zafar's group originated in Pakistan's heartland, but he was killed in North Waziristan, the base of the Haqqani network. The network, led by Siraj Haqqani, is among the most lethal battling U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, and it has been implicated in several brazen attacks in Kabul.
Ansari, the intelligence spokesman, said Afghan officials "very close to the evidence" had determined that one of the bombers involved in Friday's Kabul attack yelled, "Where is the Indian director?" as he stormed one of guesthouses. Others had also sought out Indians, Ansari said.
"This kind of information, where the Indians are, is not the ability of the Afghan Taliban to know," Ansari said.
The Taliban, in its assertion of responsibility, said it was targeting foreigners. Six Indian nationals, including two army doctors and an engineer, were among those killed in the attack, as were eight Afghans, an Italian diplomat and a French filmmaker.
Correspondents Joshua Partlow in Marja, Afghanistan, and Emily Wax in New Delhi and special correspondents Javed Hamdard in Kabul and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.