Gunman tied to Pakistani militant groupThe only gunman captured after a 60-hour terrorist siege of Mumbai said he belonged to a Pakistani militant group with links to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, a senior police officer said Sunday.
By: By Ravi Nessman, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
MUMBAI, India — The only gunman captured after a 60-hour terrorist siege of Mumbai said he belonged to a Pakistani militant group with links to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, a senior police officer said Sunday.
The gunman was one of 10 who paralyzed the city in an attack that killed at least 174 people and revealed the weakness of India’s security apparatus. India’s top law enforcement official resigned, bowing to growing criticism that the attackers appeared better trained, better coordinated and better armed than police.
The announcement blaming militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, threatened to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan. However, Indian officials have been cautious about accusing Pakistan’s government of complicity.
A U.S. counterterrorism official had said some “signatures of the attack” were consistent with Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group that has operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.
Lashkar, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help fight India in disputed Kashmir, 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.
Authorities were still removing bodies from the bullet- and grenade- scarred Taj Mahal hotel, a day after commandos finally ended the violence that began Wednesday night.
As more details of the response to the attack emerged, a picture formed of woefully unprepared security forces. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to strengthen maritime and air security and look into creating a new federal investigative agency — even as some analysts doubted fundamental change was possible.
Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said the only known surviving gunman, Ajmal Qasab, told police he was trained at a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in Pakistan.
“Lashkar-e-Taiba is behind the terrorist acts in the city,” he said.
A spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Zardari’s spokesman dismissed the claim.
“We have demanded evidence of the complicity of any Pakistani group. No evidence has yet been provided,” said spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
In the first wave of the attacks, two young gunmen armed with assault rifles blithely ignored more than 60 police officers patrolling the city’s main train station and sprayed bullets into the crowd.
Bapu Thombre, assistant commissioner with the Mumbai railway police, said the police were armed mainly with batons or World War I-era rifles and spread out across the station.
“They are not trained to respond to major attacks,” he said.
The gunmen continued their rampage outside the station. They eventually ambushed a police van, killed five officers inside — including the city’s counterterrorism chief — and hijacked the vehicle as two wounded officers lay bleeding in the back seat.
Constable Arun Jadhav, one of the wounded policemen, said the men laughed when they noticed the dead officers wore bulletproof vests.
With no SWAT team in this city of 18 million, authorities called in the only unit in the country trained to deal with such crises. But the National Security Guards, which largely devotes its resources to protecting top officials, is based outside of New Delhi and it took the commandos nearly 10 hours to reach the scene.
That gave the gunmen time to consolidate control over two luxury hotels and a Jewish center, said Sahni.
As the siege dragged on, local police improperly strapped on ill-fitting bulletproof vests. Few had two-way radios to communicate.
Even the commandos lacked the proper equipment, including night vision goggles and thermal sensors that would have allowed them to locate the hostages and gunmen inside the buildings, Sahni said.
Security forces announced they had killed four gunmen and ended the siege at the mammoth Taj Mahal hotel on Thursday night, only to have fighting erupt there again the next day. Only on Saturday morning did they actually kill the last remaining gunmen.
At the Jewish center, commandos rappelled from a helicopter onto the roof and slowly descended the narrow, five-story building in a 10-hour shooting and grenade battle with the two gunmen inside.
From his home in Israel, Assaf Hefetz, a former Israeli police commissioner who created the country’s police anti-terror unit three decades ago, watched the slow-motion operation in disbelief.
The commandos should have swarmed the building in a massive, coordinated attack that would have overwhelmed the gunmen and ended the standoff in seconds, he said.
The slow pace of the operations made it appear that the commandos’ main goal was to stay safe, Hefetz said.
“You have to take the chance and the danger that your people can be hurt and some of them will be killed, but do it much faster and ensure the operation will be finished (quickly),” Hefetz said.
J. K. Dutt, director-general of the commando unit, defended their tactics.
Singh promised to expand the commando force and set up new bases for it around the country. He called a rare meeting of leaders from the country’s main political parties, hours after the resignation of Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
President George W. Bush told Singh in a telephone call that “out of this tragedy can come an opportunity to hold these extremists accountable and demonstrate the world’s shared commitment to combat terrorism,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.
Among the foreigners killed in the coordinated shooting rampage in India’s financial capital were six Americans. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.