Washington, Dec 21 (ANI): US counter-terrorism officials have admitted that that they were caught caught off-guard by Lashkar-e-Taiba's "highly sophisticated" Mumbai terror strikes last month, which top spies now consider the debut of a new "brand name" to rival al Qaeda.
The Islamist group was formed with Pakistani government help decades ago, but US officials admit underestimating Lashkar's shift from waging a minor conflict in the Jammu and Kashmir region to threatening Westerners and Jews.
"There is real concern over the fact LeT has raised its profile. A lot of people are watching closely now to see if they're plotting new attacks," the Daily News quoted an US counter-terror official, as saying.
The group is as mainstream in Pakistan as its ally Hamas is in the Palestinian territories, he added.
Before the carnage that began November 26 in Mumbai, no Lashkar camps in Pakistan's tribal areas had been targeted during an intense CIA offensive in the fall, a senior intelligence official confirmed.
The agency has used unmanned drones to fire missiles at Taliban and al Qaeda operatives directing the insurgency in Afghanistan. Lashkar cross-trains with the two terror groups.
But US counter-terror efforts are now getting beefed up, sources said.
"Assume that the intelligence community has new targets it previously hoped would be only distractions, of which LeT is one," a third US official told the Daily News.
Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Lashkar, which once focused on the India-Pakistan fight over Jammu and Kashmir - hit a "new threshold" of terror by killing Americans, Brits and Jews.
"They specifically targeted a Jewish center that was off the main drag. It raises this outfit to a much higher level than where it was before," Mullen recently told reporters.
Americans and Jews now face greater danger from Lashkar overseas, officials said. (ANI)