By Ramola Talwar Badam
The Associated Press
MUMBAI, India (AP) — The only gunman captured by police after a string of attacks on Mumbai told authorities he belonged to a Pakistani militant group with links to the disputed region of Kashmir, a senior police officer said Sunday, Nov. 30.
India has blamed “elements” from Pakistan for the 60-hour siege during which suspected Muslim militants hit 10 sites across India’s financial capital, leaving at least 174 dead.
Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said the assailant now in custody — the only one of 10 to survive — told police the group had intended to hit even more targets.
“Lashkar-e-Taiba is behind the terrorist acts in the city,” Maria told reporters. “The terrorists were from a hardcore group in the L-e-T.”
A day after the siege ended, authorities were still removing victim’s bodies from the five-star Taj Mahal hotel, where three gunmen made a last stand before Indian commandos killed them in a blaze of gunfire and explosions.
A previously unknown group called Deccan Mujahideen — a name suggesting origins inside India — has claimed responsibility for the attacks. But suspicion in Indian media quickly settled on Lashkar-e-Taiba, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help wage its clandestine war against India in disputed Kashmir.
India’s Home Ministry could not be immediately reached for comment. The minister resigned Sunday under growing criticism of the government’s failure to prevent the attacks.
In the wake of fresh accusations, Pakistan reiterated its demands that India produce evidence.
“This is only an allegation. We have demanded evidence of the complicity of any Pakistani group,” said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari. “We will take the strictest action against any group or individual … if India provides us the evidence.”
But Maria said only that the suspect confessed his links to Lashkar during interrogation.
“Ajmal Qasab has received training in a L-e-T training camp in Pakistan,” he said. “Our interrogation indicates that the terrorists had other places that they also intended to target.”
He declined to offer any other details.
Earlier, a United States counterterrorism official had said some “signatures of the attack” were consistent with Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group that has operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.
Lashkar was banned in Pakistan in 2002 under pressure from the United States, a year after Washington and Britain listed it a terrorist group. It is since believed to have emerged under another name, Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
In April 2006, the U.S. Department of State listed Jamaat-ud-Dawa as terrorist organizations for being an “alias” of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Amid concerns, India’s accusations of Pakistani involvement will ratchet up tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals, the Washington sent FBI agents to help with the probe. President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support for the investigation, saying the killers “will not have the final word.”
Speaking earlier Sunday, a spokesman for a Jamat-ud Dawa denied any link to Lashkar-e-Taiba and said he condemned the attack.
“We condemn the killings of civilians. We condemn such killings in a terrorist activity, and at the same time we condemn it happening in the shape of state terrorism, as we see in Srinagar, Kashmir,” Abdullah Muntazir said, referring to alleged Indian army atrocities in Kashmir, which is claimed by both Pakistan and India.
India’s top security official, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, resigned Sunday as a chorus of criticism about the government’s handling of the Mumbai attacks grows louder.
“Our Politicians Fiddle as Innocents Die,” read a headline Sunday in the Times of India newspaper.
On Sunday, the Taj, a waterfront landmark popular among foreign tourists and Indian high society, was surrounded by metal barricades, its shattered windows boarded over.
“We have been to two funerals already,” Mumbai resident Karin Dutta said as she placed a small bouquet of white flowers for several friends killed in the hotel. “We’re going to another one now.”
The death toll was revised Sunday from 195 after authorities said some bodies were counted twice, but they said it could rise again, as areas of the Taj Mahal were still being searched. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore. ♦
Associated Press writers Chris Brummitt and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report from Islamabad, Pakistan and Ashok Sharma contributed from New Delhi.
There will be a memorial service for Mumbai terror victims on Saturday, Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. in Thomson Hall on the UW campus. Contact Debadutta Dash for more information at Debadutta.Dash@Westin.com.