BLOOMBERG. Pakistan acknowledged for the first time that its territory was used to plot the November terrorist attack in Mumbai and said eight suspects have been charged.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s comments today reverse his government’s denials of any significant Pakistani role in the Nov. 26-29 assault on India’s financial center. Terrorism and cyber-crime charges were filed today against the suspects, who are accused of helping 10 gunmen attack hotels and other targets, Malik said.
In India, whose officials have said Pakistan was stalling in the Mumbai investigation, the Foreign Ministry called Malik’s announcement “a positive development.” The ministry said in a statement that “we will share whatever we can” after Malik said Pakistan needs more information from India.
India handed Pakistan and other governments a dossier on Jan. 5 that cited intercepted communications and other evidence to identify the banned Pakistan-based guerrilla group Lashkar-e- Taiba as the author of the attack. India demanded that the plotters be extradited and repeated today that “we would also expect that the government of Pakistan take credible steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan.”
“The fact that they are admitting some culpability by Pakistanis is a huge start,” said Vikram Sood, a retired Indian intelligence chief who leads a New Delhi institute on international affairs. “But there still are very big questions: Why has Pakistan not made the ban on Lashkar-e-Taiba effective?”
The U.S. government has pressed Pakistan to cooperate in prosecuting the plotters and Malik stressed that his government is doing so. “Our sincerity is pure, we have gone the extra mile,” he said at a press conference in Islamabad.
Pakistan announced on Feb. 9 it would charge the suspects, after a meeting of its cabinet committee on defense, which includes Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the chiefs of the politically powerful armed forces. That announcement came the day before U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke arrived for his first visit to Pakistan as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the region.
As Malik commented at the news conference, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anshuman Gaur said officials were watching him live on several Indian television networks -- a sign of the importance of Pakistan’s response to relations between the neighboring countries.
“People are watching it not only here at the ministry, but right across the country,” Gaur said.
Banned in 2002
While Pakistan formally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002, the group continued to operate under the name Jamaat ud-Dawa, according to independent analysts and a United Nations counter- terrorism committee. Pakistan appears likely to be “seriously constrained” from any broad crackdown on Lashkar-e-Taiba by its military and intelligence agencies, the Washington-based RAND Corp. said in a Jan. 19 report.
India’s allegation that Lashkar carried out the Mumbai assault is sensitive for Pakistan’s military, whose Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate has backed Lashkar and other Islamic groups as proxy forces in Kashmir, the territory both countries claim. While Pakistan formally denies supporting the groups, independent Pakistani and U.S. scholars, retired officials and Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, have confirmed the policy.
Indian Help Sought
Malik said Pakistan’s investigation into the Mumbai attack so far has been flawed “because of lack of evidence from India, so we have sent a set of 30 questions to India for which we need answers.” He said Pakistan wants the full statement of the surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab, who is in Indian custody.
Six of the eight people charged by Pakistan are under arrest, Malik said. He didn’t specify what charges they face or the penalties if they are convicted. While Malik did not specify the nationalities of the suspects, Pakistan has acknowledged it is holding several Pakistani citizens in its investigation.
Malik named Hamad Amin Sadiq, who has been arrested, as the “main operator” in the plot, without elaborating. Sadiq’s role was previously unreported. Others held include Zarar Shah and Zia-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who has been described by U.S. and Indian officials as a top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander.
Funding was obtained in Spain and Italy and the terrorists used mobile phone SIM cards from Austria and India, Malik said. One person involved in the attacks , Javed Iqbal, lived in Barcelona, and Malik declined to give details about his arrest.
The group used e-mail to communicate using Internet domains based in Russia and Houston, he said. Malik said the attackers sailed in three boats from near the Pakistani port city of Karachi and that one of the boats has been seized.Spanish authorities had no knowledge of any connection to Spain in the case and have been in contact with their Pakistani counterparts since the arrests were announced today, according to an Interior Ministry official in Madrid who declined to be identified.