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India seeks 22 suspects in Mumbai attacks

/ Source: The Associated Press

An Indian court issued arrest warrants Tuesday for 22 Pakistani nationals accused of masterminding last year's deadly Mumbai terrorist attacks, including the founder of an Islamist militant group recently freed by a Pakistani court.

An Indian prosecutor demanded that Islamabad extradite all the suspects, though Pakistan has vowed that it will not transfer any Mumbai suspects to longtime rival India, saying instead it will try them in its own courts.

The warrants were issued in response to a prosecutors' motion in the ongoing trial of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving suspected gunman in last year's attacks, which left some 166 dead in a three-day siege.

Among those sought for arrest were Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, founder of the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba — which India blames for the launching attacks — and Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, two leaders of the group.

Pakistan arrested all three in December after Indian diplomats provided a dossier of evidence in a rare sharing of intelligence between the nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought three wars since independence.

However, a court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore earlier this month freed Saeed, a hard-line Islamic cleric, saying there was no evidence against him. Indian officials heatedly condemned the move.

Smoldering animosity
The Indian's court's issuance of arrest warrants Tuesday had been expected, since New Delhi has long identified the 22 suspects as terrorists.

Still, the demand for extradition — which Pakistan is unlikely to meet — emphasized the animosity that has smoldered between the neighbors since teams of gunmen rampaged through Mumbai last November.

New Delhi says the 10 gunmen — only one of whom was captured alive — were Pakistanis and that their handlers in Pakistan kept in touch with them by phone during the three-day assault on 10 sites, including two five-star hotels and a Jewish center.

Indian officials have also accused Pakistani intelligence agents of involvement in the attacks — a charge denied by Islamabad.

Pakistani officials did not immediately respond to news of the warrants.

'Sufficient evidence'
Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said Tuesday that the warrants would be handed to Interpol to deliver to the Pakistan government for extradition.

"We want the suspects to be sent to India to stand trial. There is sufficient evidence to prosecute them in India," Nikam told The Associated Press.

On Tuesday, Nikam told Special Judge M.L. Tahiliyani that Saeed, Lakhvi and others planned the Mumbai terror attacks and gave training to those who carried out the assault.

Pakistan has acknowledged the Mumbai attacks were partly plotted on its soil.

Saeed set up Lashkar in the 1980s with the blessing of Pakistan's intelligence services, and the group has a long and bloody history of guerrilla warfare and bombings aimed at Indian rule in Kashmir, which is claimed by both Pakistan and India.

Pakistan banned Lashkar in 2002 during a crackdown on militant groups that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, under pressure from Washington, which considers it a terrorist group.

Saeed is currently chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an organization he says is a charity to help impoverished and disaster-stricken Pakistanis. The United Nations has designated the group a front Lashkar-e-Taiba and says it is a terrorist group in its own right.

Abdur Rehman Makki, a close Saeed aide, rejected the Indian warrant, saying the Lahore High Court had already decided there was no evidence to prove Saeed was involved in the Mumbai attack.

"India is a country which does not have eyes. They are blind and you know what kind of decisions blind people could take," Makki told The Associated Press.

Handing Saeed to India for trial was "out of the question," he said.

"The only solution is that whatever murky evidence India had got, that should be given to Pakistan and a trial can take place in our court," Makki said.

Judge Tahiliyani is presiding over the trial of the only surviving suspected gunman, Kasab, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in the Indian court, including waging war against the country and murder. Kasab, said to be in his early 20s, will face the death penalty if convicted.

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