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Pakistan charges 7 suspects in Mumbai attacks

The indictments are the first in a case being monitored by India and the United States to see if Islamabad makes good on promises to bring those responsible to justice.
India Terror Anniversary
One year after the rampage in Mumbai left 166 people dead, 1,000 men have been deployed to keep watch over high-profile targets, including the Taj Mahal hotel, where 32 people were killed. The hotel is now being renovated.Rafiq Maqbool / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan charged seven men in last year's Mumbai attacks on Wednesday, its first indictment in a case being monitored by India and the United States to see if Islamabad makes good on promises to bring those responsible to justice.

Despite a crackdown in the months following the attacks, analysts say Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group blamed for the three-day assault on the financial center that killed 166 people, remains active and largely untouched by Pakistani authorities.

The Mumbai attacks halted a slow-moving peace process between Pakistan and India — which have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 — aimed at resolving their core dispute over Kahsmir, which they both claim. India says Pakistan must crack down on militants before talks can resume.

The charges were announced in a closed court located inside a high-security prison in Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, on the eve of the first anniversary of the attacks. They came after months of delays in the trial. A judge adjourned proceedings until Dec. 5, when prosecutors will present their opening arguments.

Later Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was in Washington, said the planners of the attacks are still free in Pakistan and issued .

Lone surviving gunmanTwo of the defendants, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, have been publicly accused by India of masterminding the attacks. They were arrested in December, while the other five were detained in subsequent months.

The men, who could face the death penalty if convicted, pleaded not guilty to charges of planning and helping to execute the attack, defense lawyer Shahbaz Rajput and prosecutor Malik Rab Nawaz said.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is alleged to have sent 10 gunmen to Mumbai to attack luxury hotels, a busy train station and other sites, including the Chabad House — a once-popular site with Jewish travelers where six foreigners were killed.

India is trying the lone surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab, who also faces the death penalty.

According to testimony in that trial, the group of attackers landed in Mumbai after setting sail from the Pakistani port city of Karachi. They are alleged to have kept in contact with handlers in Pakistan during the siege via telephone.

India has sent Pakistan dossiers of what it says is evidence linking Pakistani nationals with the attack, including Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who remains free.

Under heavy international pressure, Islamabad has admitted much of the Mumbai plot originated on its soil and cracked down on militant training camps in its portion of Kashmir.

But Pakistan's security agencies have a long history of supporting Lashkar and other militant groups as proxies against the much larger Indian army in the disputed region of Kashmir. Islamabad says it no longer does this, but many powerful Pakistani politicians and army officers are believed to remain sympathetic to groups that target Indian interests.

"I think Mumbai has made things more difficult for (Lashkar-e-Taiba), but I don't think it has seriously impeded their ability to operate," said Stephen Tankel, who is writing a book on the group.

Curbing militant groupPakistani authorities have defended their efforts, saying both Lashkar and its front group Jamaat-ud-Dawa have been banned and U.N. sanctions imposed.

"All their installations, including schools, hospitals, colleges, dispensaries and other charity offices, are under the control of government-appointed administrators, who are ensuring that no militant activity is conducted," said Rana Sanaullah, the law minister for the Punjab region where the group's leadership is based.

But analysts say the efforts have done little to curb the group's popularity.

"You don't see them flaunting their capabilities, but there is no indicator that they have weakened," said Pakistani military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

In fact, she said, public sympathy for the group had strengthened because of strong anti-India sentiment.

"There were Jews and foreigners killed in Mumbai, but the objective was basically to create terror in India, which seems to be chugging ahead," she said.

Western targetsLashkar-e-Taiba, which means Army of the Pure, was established in the early 1990s to reclaim territories it views as Muslim land, primarily the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir. The territory is split between the two nuclear-armed rivals, and both claim it in its entirety.

The group has come under renewed focus since it was linked to a U.S. terrorism investigation following last month's arrests of David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, in Chicago.

The two men are accused of plotting with two unidentified Lashkar-e-Taiba associates, including a senior operative, and Pakistan-based al-Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri to kill an editor and a cartoonist at Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. The paper published cartoons in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad that ignited outrage in much of the Muslim world.

The alleged involvement of Lashkar operatives in the plot has raised fears that the extremist group is considering attacks on Western targets as well as India — or providing support to other groups doing so.

"It has grown from a very regional group physically focused on Kashmir to a group with ties to Afghanistan and al-Qaida," said Rick Nelson, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "As it gains in momentum, as it gains in popularity, as it gains in success, it's going to invariably gain a more global following."

Lashkar-e-Taiba has denied any link to the two men.

"All our cadres are local Muslims, and we have no network in America on any other place," spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi said in a statement published in an English-language newspaper in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir.