PAKISTAN - A Pakistani militant group apparently used an Indian operative as far back as 2007 to scout targets for the elaborate plot against India's financial capital, authorities said Thursday, a blow to Indian officials who have blamed the deadly attacks entirely on Pakistani extremists.
As investigators sought to unravel the attack on Mumbai, stepping up questioning of the lone captured gunman, airports across India were put on high alert amid fresh warnings that terrorists planned to hijack an aircraft.
Also Thursday, police said there were signs that some of the six victims of the attack on a Jewish center may have been tortured. "The victims were strangled," said Rakesh Maria, a senior Mumbai police official. "There were injuries noticed on the bodies that were not from firing."
Members of an Israeli rescue group which had a team in Mumbai said it was impossible to tell if the bodies had been abused, however, because no autopsies were conducted in accordance with Jewish tradition.
The surviving gunman, Ajmal Amir Qasab, 21, told interrogators he had been sent by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and identified two of the plot's masterminds, according to two Indian government officials familiar with the inquiry.
Qasab told police that one of them, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar's operations chief, recruited him for the attack, and the assailants called another senior leader, Yusuf Muzammil, on a satellite phone after hijacking an Indian vessel en route to Mumbai.
The information sent investigators back to another reputed Lashkar operative, Faheem Ansari, who they hope could be key in pulling together different strands of the investigation.
Ansari, an Indian national, was arrested in February in north India carrying hand-drawn sketches of hotels, the train terminal and other sites that were later attacked in Mumbai, said Amitabh Yash, director of the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh police.
During his interrogation, Ansari also named Muzammil as his handler in Pakistan, adding that he trained in a Lashkar camp in Muzaffarabad - the same area where Qasab said he was trained, a senior police officer involved in the investigation said.
In Pakistan, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik told reporters he had no information on Lakhvi or Muzammil but that authorities would check.
Ansari "told us about a planned Lashkar attack on Bombay, on southern Bombay," said Yash, referring to Mumbai by its previous name. "He gave us eight or nine specific locations where the attack would be carried out," he said, adding that Ansari had detailed sketches of the places and escape routes from the sites.
Ansari said he carried out the reconnaissance in the fall of 2007, which also included the U.S. consulate, the Bombay stock exchange and other Mumbai sites that were not attacked.
Ansari is now in Indian custody, according to Yash. It was unclear if he was being questioned again, but Maria said they were working to determine if Ansari played a role in how the attackers "got such intricate knowledge of the sites."