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Some in ISI knew of 26/11, Lashkar alive in Pak, determined to attack India again

Some in ISI knew of 26/11, Lashkar alive in Pak, determined to attack India again

Author: Lydia Polgreen and Souad Mekhennet
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 1, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/some-in-isi-knew-of-26-11-lashkar-alive-in-pak-determined-to-attack-india-again/523677/0

Ten months after the devastating attacks in Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, the group behind the assault remains largely intact and determined to strike India again, according to current and former members of the group, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and intelligence officials.

Despite pledges from Pakistan to dismantle militant groups operating on its soil, and the arrest of a handful of operatives, Lashkar has persisted, even flourished, since 10 recruits killed 163 people in a rampage through Mumbai last November.

Indian and Pakistani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, offer a detailed picture of the operations of a Lashkar network that spans Pakistan. It included four houses and two training camps here in this sprawling southern port city that were used to prepare the attacks.

Among the organizers, the Pakistani document says, was Hammad Amin Sadiq, a homeopathic pharmacist, who arranged bank accounts and secured supplies. He and six others begin their formal trial on Saturday in Pakistan, though Indian authorities say the prosecution stops well short of top Lashkar leaders.

Indeed, Lashkar's broader network endures, and can be mobilized quickly for elaborate attacks with relatively few resources, according to a dozen current and former Lashkar militants and intelligence officials from the United States, Europe, India and Pakistan.

In interviews with The Times, they presented a troubling portrait of Lashkar's capabilities, its popularity in Pakistan and the support it has received from former officials of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment.

Pakistan's chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, helped create Lashkar two decades ago to challenge Indian control in Kashmir.

Pakistani officials say that after September 11, 2001, they broke their contacts with the group. No credible evidence has emerged of Pakistani government involvement in the Mumbai attacks, according to an American law enforcement official.

But a senior American intelligence official said the ISI was believed to maintain ties with Lashkar. Four Lashkar members, interviewed individually, said only a thin distance separated Lashkar and the ISI, bridged by former ISI and military officials.

One highly placed Lashkar militant said the Mumbai attackers were part of groups trained by former Pakistani military and intelligence officials at Lashkar camps. Others had direct knowledge that retired army and ISI officials trained Lashkar recruits as late as last year.

"Some people of the ISI knew about the plan and closed their eyes," said one senior Lashkar operative in Karachi who said he had met some of the gunmen before they left for the Mumbai assault, though he did not know what their mission would be.

The intelligence officials interviewed insisted on anonymity while discussing classified information. The current and former Lashkar militants did not want their names used for fear of antagonizing others in the group or Pakistani authorities.

But by all accounts Lashkar's network, though dormant, remains alive, and the possibility that it could strike India again makes Lashkar a wild card in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

Despite pledges to work together to fight terrorism, the Pakistani and Indian intelligence services are not on speaking terms, according to officials in both countries and the United States. The gaps heighten the risks of a new attack substantially, American officials fear.

"The only cooperation we have with the Pakistanis is that they send us their terrorists, who kill our people, and we kill their terrorists," a senior Indian intelligence official said in an interview.

Asked how much his agency communicated with its Indian counterpart, a senior Pakistani intelligence official made an O with his thumb and forefinger. "Zero," he replied.

Since the Mumbai attacks, "our funds increased and more people wanted to join us," a senior Lashkar operative in Karachi said in an interview. A midlevel ISI officer told The Times this year that Lashkar's membership extended to 150,000 people.

Despite official denials, the ISI maintains links to Lashkar, though the current level of support remains murky, according to the senior American intelligence official interviewed by The Times, as well as Pakistani analysts, retired military officials and former Lashkar members.

"Hafiz Saeed is the army's man," said Najam Sethi, an analyst and newspaper editor in Lahore. He and other analysts said the ISI was in no hurry to discard a group it helped create for a covert war against India.

"They have not abandoned it altogether," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a military analyst in Lahore. "It is not a total reversal; it is a realization that this is not advisable at this time."

Senior ISI officials disputed the view. While acknowledging that the ISI had worked closely with the Lashkar in the past, they said things were different now.

"Prior to 9/11, we had a very strong contact with LeT, even on the leadership level," one senior Pakistani intelligence official said in an interview. "But after 9/11, we broke our contacts with not only LeT but also the Taliban."

"Today we think that it would have been better if we had not cut our ties with them the way we did," the official added, "so that we could control them more."

A senior Lashkar militant said the group was divided - with the operational wing, led by Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, chafing for more attacks on India, and the spiritual wing, led by Saeed, advocating a more cautious approach.

The senior Pakistani intelligence official said that some within Lashkar might aspire to a more ambitious agenda, and suggested that parts of the group might have acted on their own.

"Lashkar went rogue," the Pakistani intelligence official said. "Perhaps LeT or dissident factions wanted to emerge as a global player," like Al Qaeda.

Even as new details emerge about the Mumbai attacks, senior American military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials express grim certainty that Lashkar is plotting new attacks.

The United States warned Indian officials this year about a Mumbai-style attack by Lashkar against multiple sites in India, according to a senior Defense Department official and a senior American counterterrorism official.

If there is one thing on which intelligence agencies on both sides of the border agree, it is that the consequences of a new attack by Lashkar could be devastating.

"We do fear that if something like Mumbai happens in India again, there might be a military reaction from the Indian side and it could trigger into a war," said a senior intelligence official in Pakistan. "Right now we cannot guarantee that it will not happen again, because we do not have any control over it."

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