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US urges Pakistan to cooperate in Mumbai investigations

Condoleezza Rice visits India in an effort to ease tensions in the region after the Mumbai attacks.

The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses a press conference at the US embassy in New Delhi on Dec 3 2008.
The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses a press conference at the US embassy in New Delhi on Dec 3 2008.

MUMBAI // The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Pakistan today to co-operate "fully and transparently" in investigations into the Mumbai attacks that have strained India-Pakistan relations. Ms Rice spoke during her visit to New Delhi today in Washington's effort to ease tensions in the region after a three-day attack that left 171 people dead in Mumbai. "This is the time for everybody to cooperate and do so transparently, and this is especially a time for Pakistan to do so," Ms Rice told a press conference. India has said most, if not all, the 10 militants who rampaged through its financial capital were from Pakistan, including the one survivor. It has threatened to pull out of a nearly five-year-old peace process between the nuclear rivals if Pakistan fails to act swiftly against those responsible. Ms Rice cut short a visit to Europe and flew to India as tensions soared in south Asia. She is expected to visit Pakistan as well, officials in Islamabad said. "We have to act with urgency, we have to act with resolve and I have said that Pakistan needs to act with resolve and urgency and cooperate fully and transparently. That message has been delivered and will be delivered to Pakistan," Ms Rice said. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said he doubted the Indian claims that the surviving gunman was Pakistani. "We have not been given any tangible proof to say that he is definitely a Pakistani. I very much doubt ... that he's a Pakistani," Mr Zardari told CNN's "Larry King Live", adding that if given evidence his government would take action. Mr Zardari also signalled he would not accept an Indian demand to hand over 20 of its most wanted men that New Delhi says are living in Pakistan, saying if there was any evidence, they would be tried by his country's judiciary. "I don't want to get into the specifics of what Pakistan may or may not do, but I am going to take as a firm commitment Pakistan's stated commitment to get to the bottom of this and to know these are enemies of Pakistan as well," Ms Rice said. The US secretary of state said the attacks in Mumbai bore hallmarks of al Qa'eda. "Whether there is a direct al Qa'eda hand or not, this is clearly a kind of terrorism in which al Qa'eda participates," she said. "We are not going to jump to any conclusions about who is responsible for this." Meanwhile, the chief of the US military arrived in Islamabad today for talks to address simmering tensions between Pakistan and India, a diplomat said. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, will meet Pakistani government officials and his counterparts in the military, said US embassy spokesman Lou Fintor. As evidence of the militants' links to Pakistan mounted, the Mumbai police commissioner Hasan Ghafoor said yesterday that ex-Pakistani army officers trained the group, some for up to 18 months, and that they set out by boat from the Pakistani port of Karachi. He denied reports that the men had been planning to escape from Mumbai after their rampage.

"It appears that it was a suicide attack," Mr Ghafoor said, providing no other details about when the gunmen left Karachi, or when they hijacked the trawler. The revelations came as a senior Bush administration official said India had received a warning from the US that militants were plotting a waterborne assault on Mumbai. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of intelligence information, would not elaborate on the timing or details of the US warning.

The Indian government is already facing intense public accusations of security and intelligence failures after militants carried out the 60-hour siege across Mumbai last week. The Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee also said his country gave a list of about 20 people - including India's most-wanted man - to Pakistan's high commissioner to New Delhi on Monday. India stepped up the pressure on its neighbour after interrogating the only surviving attacker, who told police that he and the other nine gunmen had trained for months in camps in Pakistan operated by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Yesterday, US officials also pointed the finger at Pakistan-based groups, although they did not specifically mention Lashkar by name. The US National Intelligence director Mike McConnell said the same group that carried out last week's attack is believed to be behind the Mumbai trains bombings that killed more than 200 two years ago. While McConell did not identify the group by name, the Indian government has attributed the 2006 attack to Lashkar and the Students Islamic Movement of India.

Of greater concern for India was the apparent failure to act on multiple warnings ahead of the Mumbai attacks, which the Indian navy chief Sureesh Mehta called "a systemic failure". India's foreign intelligence agency also had warnings as recently as September that Pakistan-based terrorists were plotting attacks on Mumbai, according to a government intelligence official familiar with the matter. The information, intercepted from telephone conversations apparently coming out of Pakistan, indicated that hotels might be targeted but did not specify which ones, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk publicly about the details. The information was relayed to domestic security authorities, but it was unclear whether the government acted on the intelligence.

The Taj Mahal Hotel, scene of much of the bloodshed, had tightened security with metal detectors and other measures in the weeks before the attacks, after being warned of a possible threat. The building was the last to be cleared, following the Oberoi hotel, the Jewish centre, and other sites struck in this city of 18 million. The attacks left 171 people dead, including 26 foreigners, the Maharashtra state government spokesman Bhushan Gagrani said today. The death toll was revised down from 172 after authorities realised they had counted a victim twice.

"More bodies being found is ruled out," Mr Gagrani said. For the first time, the US also said there is reason to suspect that the terror attacks were the work of a group at least partly based in Pakistan. The remarks, from a senior State Department official, did not detail the evidence, and did not single out any organisation, but they were the closest a US official has come to laying blame for the assaults. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is under way, was careful to say that the evidence was not all in.

*AP