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-Taiba, and intelligence officials, says a report in New York Times.
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 against India.
The United States warned Indian officials earlier 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, says the NYT report.
The counterterrorism official said the information, gleaned from electronic intercepts and other sources, was not specific and apparently did not result in any arrests. But it was significant enough for American officials to alert their Indian counterparts.
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, India's financial capital, last November.
The NYT report says, Indian and Pakistani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations, copies of which were obtained by the newspaper, offer a detailed picture of the operations of a Lashkar network that spans Pakistan. It included four houses and two training camps in Karachi 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 NYT, 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 ISI helped create Lashkar two decades ago to carry out destruction in Kashmir.
One highly placed Lashkar militant told NYT that 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.
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, the NYT report says.
The dossiers show that at the level of the police, the two countries can cooperate, and have exchanged DNA evidence, photographs and items found with the attackers to piece together a detailed portrait of the Mumbai plot.
But the files are laced with barbs and recriminations, reflecting the increasingly acid tenor of their relations. 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 NYT report says.
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 told NYT.
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.
The NYT report clearly says that the Pakistani investigation concludes “beyond any reasonable doubt” that it was Lashkar militants who carried out the Mumbai attacks, preying on their victims in a train station, two five-star hotels, a cafe and a Jewish center over three days starting last Nov. 26.
According to testimony by the only surviving attacker 22-year-old Ajmal Kasab, Lashkar recruits were vetted and trained around Pakistan, including at well-established camps in Muzaffarabad, in Pak occupied Kashmir, s well as in Mansehra, in North-West Frontier Province.
A core group, the 10 chosen for the Mumbai assault, was eventually moved to Karachi and its suburbs, where the real drill began and where Pakistani investigators later retraced the plotters' steps.
Beginning as early as May 2008, the group trained and planned brazenly while living in various neighborhoods in and around Karachi. They made scores of calls using cellphones, some with stolen numbers, starting in August. They set up voice lines over the Internet.
At one water sports shop, they bought inflatable boats, air pumps, life jackets and engines. One of their training camps, with five thatched rooms and a three-room house, was located near a creek, where they conducted water drills in the open.
The police later recovered an abundance of evidence: militant literature, pocket diaries, spent and live ammunition, empty gun magazines, life vests and receipts for supplies, including distributed weapons and explosives, the Pakistani dossier says.
At the other camp, which they named Azizabad, the group and their trainers set up a classroom. Using handwritten manuals, the recruits were trained how to use cellphones to keep in contact with their handlers during the attack. They pored over detailed maps of the Indian coastline, plotting the course they would take to Mumbai. They learned how to use global positioning devices, the NYT report says.
Working from Millat Town, a dusty Karachi suburb, Sadiq organized the cadre. Neighbors described him as quiet and pious, riding around the streets with his two young sons perched on his motorbike. The Pakistani dossier says he was a committed Lashkar militant.
In an interview, his uncle, Lala Yasin, said the same thing, adding proudly that Sadiq was willing to do anything to liberate Kashmir. “Lashkar-e-Taiba does not kill people without reason,” Yasin said in Karachi. “It is the champion of jihad. Muslims are like a body and if one part of your body is aching, the entire body may be jeopardized.”
Pakistani authorities have arrested seven men linked to the Mumbai attack, including Sadiq and Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the chief of operations for Lashkar. They are searching for at least 13 other suspects.
But their investigation has come up short of the founder of Lashkar, Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind. In June, a Pakistani court freed Saeed from detention, declaring that it did not have enough evidence to hold him. He now has an international warrant out for his arrest, issued by Interpol. Under continuing pressure, Pakistani authorities this month confined his movements once again. But they say they have no new evidence against him.
Indian officials say they have sent Pakistan a six-page summary of evidence of Saeed's complicity in the Mumbai attacks, a copy of which was given to NYT. The document, based on India's own intelligence and testimony from Kasab, quotes Saeed giving detailed instructions to the group that carried out the attack.
“One Hindustani boat has to be hijacked for going to Bombay from Karachi,” the document says, using Mumbai's former name. Saeed also told the group that it should aim to begin the assault around 7:30 p.m. “At this hour there is considerable crowd at the places of our target,” the document quotes him as saying.
Pakistani officials and legal experts say the evidence is not as clear-cut as India says. The case against Saeed rests almost entirely on the testimony of Kasab and serious questions remain about the way the Indian police obtained his statements, they say, according to NYT.