Top Indian Official Admits 'Lapses' In Attacks

By: AP
By: AP
India

The windows on the first floor of the Taj Mahal hotel shatter after the use of a grenade launcher in Mumbai, India, Nov. 28, 2008. (AP PHOTO)

India's top law enforcement official admitted Friday there were government "lapses" in last week's terror attack on Mumbai, amid a public uproar over security and intelligence failures in the deadly siege.

"There have been lapses. I would be less than truthful if I said there had been no lapses," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters, saying he was seeking to bolster the country's security.

The assault on India's financial capital left 171 dead and 239 wounded. Chidambaram, only days in the post after the previous minister was ousted after the attacks, made the acknowledgment as new details surfaced that a Pakistani militant group had used an Indian operative as far back as 2007 to scout targets in the Mumbai plot.

Indian officials have accused Pakistani-based extremists in the Nov. 26-29 attacks, an assertion echoed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.

"The territory of a neighboring country has been used for perpetrating this crime," Singh said after meeting with visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. "We expect the international community to wake up and recognize that terror anywhere and everywhere constitutes a threat to world peace and prosperity."

The surviving gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, 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.

Kasab 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 before the attacks.

The information sent investigators back to another reputed Lashkar operative, Faheem Ansari.

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, Amitabh Yash, director of the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh police, said Thursday.

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 Kasab said he was trained, a senior police officer involved in the investigation said.

In Pakistan, the Interior Ministry chief told reporters he had no immediate information on Lakhvi or Muzammil.

According to the U.S., Lakhvi has directed Lashkar operations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia, training members to carry out suicide bombings and attack populated areas. In 2004, he allegedly sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.

Lashkar, outlawed by Pakistan in 2002, has been deemed by the U.S. a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida. The group has derived some of its funding from organizations based in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with its leaders making fundraising trips to the Middle East in recent years, U.S. officials say.

Islamist charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, accused by the U.S. of being the front group for Lashka, on Thursday denied any connection to the attacks.

"It is true we had links with Lashkar-e-Taiba in the past, but please remember, the past is the past," said Abdullah Muntazir, spokesman for the group, based on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan. "We are the victim of baseless Indian propaganda, we are not involved in attacks in India, we are just doing welfare work and nothing else."

Ansari told police about a planned Lashkar attack on Mumbai, providing eight or nine specific locations to be targeted, Yash said, adding that Ansari had detailed sketches of the sites as well as escape routes.

Ansari said he carried out reconnaissance in the fall of 2007 of different Mumbai locations, including the U.S. Consulate, the stock exchange and other sites that weren't attacked, Yash said. Ansari also confessed to arranging a safe house in Mumbai.

Authorities were working to determine whether Ansari, who is in Indian custody, helped the attackers acquire "such intricate knowledge of the sites," said Rakesh Maria, a senior Mumbai police official.

Indian authorities already face a torrent of criticism about missed warnings and botched intelligence. Linking an Indian national to the plot also undermines India's assertion that Pakistani "elements" were solely responsible.

Ansari linked up with Lashkar while working at a printing press in Dubai. He was taken by sea to Pakistan to the Lashkar camp in Muzaffarabad and received a false Pakistani passport and citizenship papers, Yash said.

After traveling to Nepal last year, Ansari crossed back into India and settled in Mumbai, Yash said.

He was arrested Feb. 10 in the northern city of Rampur after suspected Muslim militants attacked a police camp, killing eight constables. He said he was there to collect weapons to bring to Mumbai for a future attack.

Yash said Ansari's arrest did not derail Lashkar's plans for an attack. "When they found that their mole in Bombay had been caught ... they carried out the operations in a different way," he said.

Meanwhile, police officers said they were trying to get as much detail as possible from Kasab.

"A terrorist of this sort is never cooperative. We have to extract information," said Deven Bharti, the head of the Mumbai crime branch.

Indian police are known to use interrogation methods that would be regarded as torture in the West. Bharti provided no details on interrogation techniques, but said "truth serum" would probably be used next week. He did not specify what drug would be used.

Police described Kasab as a fourth grade dropout from an impoverished village who was gravitating to a life of crime.

"Lashkar recruited him, preying on a combination of his religious sentiments and his poverty," Maria said.

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Associated Press writers Ramola Talwar Badam in Mumbai, Sam Dolnick, Ashok Sharma and Tim Sullivan in New Delhi, and Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow contributed to this report.

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