Image: India airport security
AP
Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard during heightened security checks at the international airport in Chennai, India, on Thursday. Indian airports were put on high alert after the government received warnings of possible airborne attacks.
updated 12/5/2008 5:23:07 AM ET 2008-12-05T10:23:07

India's top law enforcement official admitted Friday there were government "lapses" in last week's terror attack on Mumbai, amid a public uproar over security and intelligence failures in the deadly siege.

"There have been lapses. I would be less than truthful if I said there had been no lapses," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters. "I'm doing my utmost to overcome the causes of these lapses and to improve the effectiveness of the security systems in the country."

The assault on India's financial capital left 171 dead and 239 wounded. Chidambaram, only days in the post after the previous minister was ousted after the attacks, made the acknowledgment as new details surfaced that a Pakistani militant group had used an Indian operative as far back as 2007 to scout targets in the Mumbai plot.

The surviving gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, told interrogators he had been sent by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and identified two of the plot's masterminds, according to two Indian government officials familiar with the inquiry. Lashkar, outlawed by Pakistan in 2002, has been deemed by the United States a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida.

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.

Sketches of attack sites
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, Amitabh Yash, director of the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh police, said Thursday.

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, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik told reporters he had no immediate information on Lakhvi or Muzammil. According to the United States, Lakhvi has directed Lashkar operations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia, training members to carry out suicide bombings and attack populated areas. In 2004, he allegedly sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.

Islamist charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, accused by the United States of being the front group for Lashka, on Thursday denied any connection to the attacks.

"It is true we had links with Lashkar-e-Taiba in the past, but please remember, the past is the past," said Abdullah Muntazir, spokesman for the group, based on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan. "We are the victim of baseless Indian propaganda, we are not involved in attacks in India, we are just doing welfare work and nothing else."

Ansari told police about a planned Lashkar attack on Mumbai, providing eight or nine specific locations to be targeted, Yash said, adding that Ansari had detailed sketches of the sites as well as escape routes.

Ansari said during interrogations that he carried out reconnaissance in the fall of 2007 of different Mumbai locations, including the U.S. Consulate, the stock exchange and other sites that weren't attacked, Yash said. Ansari also confessed to arranging a safe house in Mumbai.

Authorities were working to determine whether Ansari, who is in Indian custody, helped the attackers acquire "such intricate knowledge of the sites," said Rakesh Maria, a senior Mumbai police official.

'Mole in Bombay'
Indian authorities already face a torrent of criticism about missed warnings and botched intelligence. Linking an Indian national to the plot also undermines India's assertion that Pakistani "elements" were solely responsible.

Ansari linked up with Lashkar while working at a printing press in Dubai. He was taken by sea to Pakistan to the Lashkar camp in Muzaffarabad and received a false Pakistani passport and citizenship papers, Yash said.

After traveling to Nepal last year, Ansari crossed back into India and settled in Mumbai, Yash said.

He was arrested Feb. 10 in the northern city of Rampur after suspected Muslim militants attacked a police camp, killing eight constables. He said he was there to collect weapons to bring to Mumbai for a future attack.

Yash said Ansari's arrest did not derail Lashkar's plans for an attack. "When they found that their mole in Bombay (Mumbai) had been caught ... they carried out the operations in a different way," he said.

Drugged with 'truth serum'
Meanwhile, police officers said they were trying to get as much detail as possible from Kasab.

"A terrorist of this sort is never cooperative. We have to extract information," said Deven Bharti, the head of the Mumbai crime branch.

Indian police are known to use interrogation methods that would be regarded as torture in the West, including questioning suspects drugged with "truth serum."

Bharti provided no details on interrogation techniques, but said "truth serum" would probably be used next week. He did not specify what drug would be used.

During questioning, details of Kasab's recruitment by Lashkar began to emerge, said police, describing him as a fourth grade dropout from an impoverished village who was gravitating to a life of crime.

"Lashkar recruited him, preying on a combination of his religious sentiments and his poverty," Maria said.

More on  Lashkar-e-Taiba | Mumbai

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