x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'Indian operative' used to plan Mumbai attacks

A Pakistani militant group apparently used an Indian operative to scout targets for the attacks, Indian authorities say.

NEW DELHI // A Pakistani militant group apparently used an Indian operative as far back as 2007 to scout targets for the Mumbai attacks, authorities said, 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.

The surviving gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, told interrogators he had been sent by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba and identified two of the plot's masterminds. Laskar, outlawed by Pakistan in 2002, has been deemed by the US a terrorist group with ties to al Qa'eda. 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 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 Kasab said he was trained, a senior police officer involved in the investigation said. In Pakistan, the interior ministry chief Rehman Malik said he had no information on Lakhvi or Muzammil but that authorities would check. Ansari said he carried out the reconnaissance in the autumn of 2007, and that it also included the US consulate, the stock exchange and other Mumbai sites that were not attacked. Ansari is now in Indian custody, according to Mr 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". Mr Yash said during extensive interrogations Ansari confessed to scouting Mumbai, arranging a safe-house there for Lashkar militants and provided details on his involvement in the group.

He was arrested on Feb 10 in the northern city of Rampur after suspected militants attacked a police camp, killing eight constables. He said he was there to collect weapons to bring to Mumbai for a future attack. Mr Yash said Ansari's arrest did not derail Lashkar's plans for an attack.

"When they found that their mole in Mumbai had been caught ... they carried out the operations in a different way," he said. *AP