WASHINGTON — Evidence suggests that a group partly based in Pakistan carried out last week's attack in India, U.S. officials said Tuesday, also revealing that the U.S. had warned the Indian government beforehand that terrorists appeared to be plotting an assault on Mumbai.
The brutal, prolonged attack on India's financial capital has some roots in Pakistan, a senior State Department official said. That's the closest the U.S. has come to placing blame for the coordinated assaults, although the official was careful to say that not all the evidence is in. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Indian authorities have claimed a Pakistan connection for days, but the United States has not wanted to "jump to conclusions," as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday. The administration fears that any misstep amid the extraordinarily high emotions surrounding the three-day assault, which killed 172 and wounded 239 in the heart of Mumbai, could spark new and possibly deadly tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
Rice set to visit
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Pentagon news conference Tuesday that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, had gone to the region to meet with officials. Rice also is to visit India on Wednesday, carrying the U.S. demand that Pakistan cooperate fully in the investigation into the attack.
Among those killed in Mumbai were six Americans.
The revelation of a U.S. warning to Indian counterparts about a possible coming attack comes as the Indian government faces widespread accusations of security and intelligence failures in the wake of the assault.
Washington passed on information it had that a waterborne attack on Mumbai appeared in the works, said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of intelligence information. The official would not elaborate on either the timing or details of the U.S. warning.
NBC News reported Tuesday that a confidential U.S. intelligence analysis concludes that some of the Mumbai terrorists were likely trained by the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba terrorist group, with "camps located in Mansera and Muzzarafabad in Pakistani-administered Kashmir." The 10 terrorists behind the Mumbai massacre "spoke Punjabi" and were of "likely Pakistani origin," the report said.
The 17-page report was written by the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a public-private group that serves as a liaison between the State Department and multinational corporations, NBC said.
NBC also reported that Indian authorities have found the names of several high-ranking members of Lashkar — including Yusuf Muzammil, head of Lashkar's operations unit — in the satellite phone used by one of the Mumbai attackers. There's evidence that calls were placed to some of the Lashkar leaders from the satellite phone, NBC reported.
Neither Gates nor Rice would confirm that the United States had passed specific information to India ahead of the attacks.
"Obviously we try to pass information to countries all around the world if we pick up information," she said at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Lashkar group under scrutiny
The State Department issued at least two terrorism-related warnings to Americans in India in October, including one specifically covering western India, which includes Mumbai.
These warnings are usually issued after threat information is received, but are less specific than what intelligence agencies would pass on to their counterparts. They highlighted the holiday season in India and the potential for large crowds in shopping areas, restaurants and train stations, which are frequently targeted by terrorists. The warnings did not specifically mention hotels.
U.S. counterterrorism officials said the Mumbai attack was similar to past operations undertaken by groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Lashkar, a terrorist group based in the disputed Kashmir region, was banned in Pakistan in 2002 under pressure from the U.S., a year after Washington and Britain listed it a terrorist group. It is since believed to have emerged under another name, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, though that group has denied links to the Mumbai attack.
Active in Kashmir
The State Department includes Lashkar on its foreign terrorist organizations list, one of three in Kashmir. Lashkar has attracted Pakistani members as well as Afghan and Arab veterans who fought the 1980s Soviet occupation of nearby Afghanistan.
It has been active in Kashmir since 1993 but extended its operations into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, a second U.S. counterterrorism official said.
"One thing people are looking at is the real possibility of a Kashmiri connection. Some of what's been learned so far points in that direction," a second U.S. counterterrorism official said.
Amid some information that the terrorists trained in camps in Pakistan, India has demanded that Islamabad hand over suspected terrorists believed living there and had said that Pakistan's leaders must take "strong action" action against those responsible.
On the origins of the terrorists, the official did not detail the evidence leading to a connection in Pakistan, and did not single out any one terror organization as suspect. But the official said "a variety of information, some of it public, some of it not" points to an unspecified terror group "partially or wholly ... located on Pakistan's territory."
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