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Pakistan Confirms Arrests of Militants

Posted by tothewire on December 10, 2008

Zakiur ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the supreme operational commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba, at a rally in Pakistan in April.

Zakiur ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the supreme operational commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba, at a rally in Pakistan in April.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government publicly confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that its forces had seized two militant leaders, including the operational commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group suspected by India and the United States of carrying out the Mumbai attacks.

 

The confirmation of the arrest of the Lashkar leader, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was made by Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar in an interview on Indian television. It was the furthest the authorities in Pakistan have yet gone in publicly acknowledging the possible complicity of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Mumbai attacks last month, which killed 171.

Separately, the Indian authorities on Tuesday published further names and photographs of the gunmen who carried out the horrific Mumbai attacks.

Mr. Mukhtar, the Pakistani defense minister, identified the second militant leader arrested as Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Muhammad, another banned militant group based in Pakistan.

Mr. Azhar, who was freed in 1999 in exchange for hostages on a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was on a list presented to Pakistan by the Indian government days after the attacks in Mumbai. The list contained the names of 20 suspects wanted in connection with other terrorist attacks and pending criminal cases.

Mr. Lakhvi “has been picked up,” Mr. Mukhtar said, according to the television channel, CNN-IBN. “About Masood Azhar, I don’t think we had decided yesterday to pick him up but our president is determined that we remove all irritants and as a small irritant he has been picked up.” He said that President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan was “determined that we must cooperate with India.”

Mr. Zardari himself, in an op-ed article published in the Tuesday edition of The New York Times, said Pakistan feels India’s pain and that Pakistan “is committed to the pursuit, arrest, trial and punishment of anyone involved in these heinous attacks.” But Mr. Zardari also cautioned India against what he called “hasty judgments and inflammatory statements.”

The Indian authorities had already identified two of the Mumbai gunmen as Muhammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone survivor from the attacks, from the village of Faridkot, and Ismail Khan, from Deira Ismail Khan.

The Indian police on Tuesday provided names of the remaining eight Pakistani gunmen in last month’s attack, along with photographs. Five of the photographs were taken from identity cards the men were carrying; three others were morgue shots showing horribly burned and damaged faces. One of the men was burned beyond recognition, the police said.

The police provided a first name — and in some cases more — for the remaining eight gunmen as follows: Hafiz Arshad; Javed, from Okara; Shoaib; Nazih, from Faisalbad; Nasr, from Faisalbad; Babr Imran; Baba Abdul Rahman; Fahad Ullah, from Okara.

Each of the men also had aliases, and they knew each other only by those aliases during their training, the police said. Only in the final few days before the attack, while they traveled by boat from the port of Karachi in Pakistan across the Arabian Sea to Mumbai, did they learn each others’ true names, said Rakesh Maria, Mumbai’s joint police commissioner.

After mounting pressure from the United States and India, Pakistani authorities on Sunday raided a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, Pakistani and American officials said.

That operation appeared to be Pakistan’s first concrete response to the demands from India and the United States to take action against the militants suspected in the attacks, which have raised tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors to their highest point in years.

Since then, the authorities have carried out raids on at least five more offices of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified senior Pakistani security official. The official said that 20 more people had been arrested.

It was unclear from the defense minister’s remarks whether Mr. Lakhvi was detained in the first raid on Sunday. Lashkar-e-Taiba was founded 20 years ago with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies as a proxy force to challenge Indian control of part of Muslim-dominated Kashmir.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials told The New York Times that Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, continued nurturing the group, even after 9/11, when the Pakistani government pledged to sever its ties with militant groups.

While investigators and intelligence officials say there is no hard evidence linking Pakistan’s spy agency to the Mumbai attacks, they have pointed to Lashkar as the likely culprit.

The Pakistani government has resisted the notion that Pakistani citizens may have been involved in the Mumbai attacks, and it has so far refused to hand over the 20 criminal and terrorist suspects long demanded by the Indians.

The raid on Sunday appeared to be the first step by the Pakistanis that at least tacitly recognized the American and Indian claims. Counterterrorism experts familiar with the behavior of the Pakistani security services said there was a need by Pakistan to be seen to be doing something to alleviate the American and Indian pressure, as well as to avert the possibility of an Indian military strike.

Still, the effectiveness of that action might be less than India or the United States would like, they said. In the past, Pakistan detained militants under pressure from the United States and Britain, and then quietly let them go, said Sajjan M. Gohel, a director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London.

A senior Pakistani official said the operation was part of a gradual effort to bring the militants under control. This accords with the general view among civilian politicians that Pakistan cannot afford to appear as if it is being coerced into shutting down militant groups that have been created to fight India.

“Pakistan will do it at its own pace, not at gunpoint,” said a senior politician in the Pakistan Peoples Party, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak.

Moreover, the politician said that the efforts by Pakistan’s president, Mr. Zardari, to deal with the Mumbai attack were interpreted by the Pakistani public as an attempt to mollify the Indians rather than stand up to them.

“The street is upset,” the politician said. For that reason, the government could not move too harshly against Lashkar-e-Taiba, he said.

The murky relationship between Pakistani military and intelligence services and Lashkar seemed to contribute to the confusion over what actually happened during the raid and who had been detained, as well as to the official reluctance to discuss the matter.

Whether law enforcement officers or soldiers were on the scene in Muzaffarabad was unclear on Monday. Most Pakistani news reports said a helicopter hovered near the compound.

Some reports said the compound was run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, while others said it belonged to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the related charity organization.

On Sunday night, the senior official in the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, told the newspaper The Nation that he believed that the raid was being conducted by the local police, but that he was not sure.

The information department of the Pakistani Army released a statement on Monday evening saying an “intelligence-led operation against banned militant outfits and organizations” was under way. There had been arrests, it said, and the results of investigations would be available “on completion of preliminary inquiries.”

A resident near the compound told Dawn, an English-language newspaper, that she had heard an army helicopter over the area and then two or three loud explosions in the early evening.

All the national newspapers reported Monday morning that Mr. Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba leader, was among those who were arrested during the raid. Later in the morning, a senior security official confirmed that Mr. Lakhvi had been arrested, along with about a dozen others.

But by the afternoon, after a meeting of the Defense Council of the Cabinet, a civilian body that includes the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the security official said he understood that Mr. Lakhvi had not been arrested.

At one point during the day, word spread that Mr. Lakhvi had eluded arrest. On Monday night, two members of the cabinet declined to confirm whether Mr. Lakhvi was in custody.

If Mr. Lakhvi was indeed in custody, India and the United States would regard his arrest as a good first step, diplomats said.

But his arrest along with the arrests of a handful of others would fall well short of fulfilling the expectations of Washington or New Delhi, they said.

Mr. Lakhvi, who is in his 50s, fought in Afghanistan as a mujahedeen against the Soviet Union, said Arif Jamal, a visiting fellow at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University and the author of a coming book, “Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir.”

Mr. Lakhvi had not actually fought since 1989, Mr. Jamal said. He said Mr. Lakhvi possessed excellent organizational skills and a strong ideological commitment to the jihadist cause. “If Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved in the Mumbai attacks, Mr. Lakhvi would have an important role because of his organizational abilities,” Mr. Jamal said.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which regards itself as a wing of the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, dismantled most of his training camps after 9/11, Mr. Jamal said. “They keep erecting mobile camps for training,” he said.

Mr. Lakhvi was active in the relief effort organized by Jamaat-ud-Dawa after the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005. That was the last time Mr. Jamal said he had seen Mr. Lakhvi.

A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba, Abdullah Gaznabi, confirmed Monday that the Pakistani security forces had carried out a raid “under pressure from India and the United States,” but would say nothing specific about who or how many people had been detained.

“We have already made it clear that the Lashkar has nothing to do with the recent attacks in Mumbai,” he said by phone from an undisclosed location, “and by constantly trying to drag our organization’s name into these is nothing but to malign it.”

He also warned the government against sacrificing the cause of Kashmir, which has been disputed by India and Pakistan for more than 60 years. “Being Kashmiris, it is our right to use any part of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir for our just freedom struggle,” he said.

The Pakistani authorities offered on Monday to send a “high-level” delegation to India for a joint investigation, the foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, said.

Police officials in India, meanwhile, said they had identified the hometowns of all 10 known gunmen — all of them from Punjab Province in Pakistan — and said they had evidence further establishing the Pakistani origins of the men. “There are mailboxes from Pakistan, there are medical kits from Pakistan,” said Rakesh Maria, the joint police commissioner in Mumbai who is in charge of the case. “The rations — the flour, the rice — that has markings from places in Pakistan.”

By JANE PERLEZ

 and ROBERT J. WORTH

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Robert F. Worth from Mumbai, India. Reporting was contributed by Graham Bowley in New York, Eric Schmitt in Washington; Yusuf Jameel in Srinagar, Kashmir; and Salman Masood in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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