New Delhi, Dec 5: A Pakistani militant group apparently used an Indian operative as far back as 2007 to scout targets for the elaborate plot against India's financial capital, authorities said, a blow to Indian officials who have blamed the deadly attacks entirely on Pakistani extremists.
As investigators sought to unravel the attack on Mumbai, stepping up questioning of the lone captured gunman, airports across India were put on high alert amid fresh warnings that terrorists planned to hijack an aircraft.
Also on Thursday, Dec 4, police said there were signs that some of the six victims of the attack in a Jewish center may have been tortured, their injuries suggesting they were strangled.
Members of an Israeli rescue group that had a team in Mumbai said it was impossible to tell if the bodies had been abused, however, because no autopsies were conducted in accordance with Jewish tradition.
The surviving gunman, Azam Amir Kasav, 21, told interrogators he had been sent by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashker-e-Toiba (LeT) and identified two of the plot's masterminds, according to two Indian government officials familiar with the inquiry.
Lashker, outlawed by Pakistan in 2002, has been deemed by the US a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda.
Kasav told police that one of them, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashker'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. Ansari, an Indian national, was arrested in February in north India carrying hand-drawn sketch of hotels, the train terminal and other sites that were later attacked in Mumbai, said Amitabh Yash, director of the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh police.
During his interrogation, Ansari also named Muzammil as his handler in Pakistan, adding that he trained in a Lashker 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 US, Lahkvi has directed Lashker 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 US forces in Iraq.
Islamist charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, accused by the US of being the front group for Lashkar, on Thursday denied any connection to the attacks.
"It is true we had links with Lashker-e-Toiba 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," he said.
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 US 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.
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 was linked up with Lashker while working at a printing press in Dubai. He was taken by sea to Pakistan to the Lashker camp in Muzaffarabad and received a false Pakistani passport and citizenship papers, Yash said.
After traveling to Katmandu in Nepal in 2007, Ansari crossed back into India and settled in Mumbai, Yash said.
He was arrested on February 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 had been caught ... they carried out the operations in a different way," he said.
Meanwhile, police officers said they were trying to get as much detail as possible from Kasav.
"A terrorist of this sort is never cooperative. We have to extract information," said Deven Bharti, the head of the Mumbai crime branch.
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 Lashker began to emerge, said police, describing him as a fourth grade dropout from an impoverished village who was gravitating to a life of crime.
"Lashker recruited him, preying on a combination of his religious sentiments and his poverty," Maria said.