Pakistan's military on Sunday reportedly raided a militant camp in Kashmir suspected in connection with last month's Mumbai terror attacks and seized a man identified by the sole surviving Mumbai attacker as the group's mastermind.
The raid, if confirmed, would mark the first decisive action by Islamabad amid mounting pressure from the international community to bring to justice the group behind the deadly Mumbai rampage that killed at least 171. Pakistan's attention to the Mumbai attacks also comes amid increasing militant attacks on Pakistan's western border: today, for the second day in a row, Pakistani militants attacked supply lines near Peshawar.
The Guardian, citing an "official close to the extremist organization," said in Sunday's raid the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, had been seized.
The official from Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the charity and education arm of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, told Reuters that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was among four men taken into custody after a raid yesterday on a camp outside Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.
Lakhvi, one of Lashkar's operations chiefs, was named as a ringleader in the Mumbai plot by Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving gunmen captured after the attacks, according to Indian officials.
Reuters said Pakistani officials have not yet officially confirmed the raid. The wire agency reported that Lakhvi and another ringleader gave orders by phone to the 10 gunmen who carried out the Mumbai attacks beginning Nov. 26.
The agency noted that if the attack is confirmed, the next stage will likely be wrangling over how and where he is tried.
President Asif Ali Zardari has said that anyone arrested in Pakistan will be tried there, too.
The Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had ties in the past with Lashkar and other jihadi organizations fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, according to analysts, which could reduce the Pakistani authorities' readiness to be transparent in its handling of the situation.
Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, was also a founder of LeT and has operated under several aliases as the group's supreme operational commander. US officials said that he had directed the group's operations in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia and Iraq.
Also known as Abdullah Azam, he comes from Okara district in Pakistan's central province of Punjab, which is also where Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only militant captured in the Mumbai attacks, was born and raised.
Indian investigators say Kasab has identified Lakhvi as one of his LeT contacts and admitted to undergoing training at several militant camps in Pakistan, including one near Muzaffarabad.
Local residents, however, said they had seen army personnel taking control of the area along Shawai Nullah, some five kilometers northwest of Muzaffarabad, where the organization possesses a large plot of land on which several buildings had been built....
"I saw an army helicopter hovering over the area and around 5pm I heard two or three loud explosions," a woman who lives in the area told Dawn on phone.
The Los Angeles Times said that because the three-day, major Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, began today, the Pakistani government may have wanted to take action before the holiday virtually shuts down the country.
The newspaper also struck a note of caution, saying that most of LeT's training camps are actually thought to be on the other side of Pakistan, near its western border with Afghanistan.
It was unclear, though, whether Sunday's reported raid was mainly a symbolic slap or meant to be a genuine blow to the group's infrastructure. Most of Lashkar-e-Taiba's training centers are believed to be in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that US intelligence and counterterrorism officials say Pakistan's spy agency had helped train and fund Lashkar-e-Taiba. The report said US officials were now investigating those links and rethinking the threat from LeT.
American officials say there is no hard evidence to link the spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to the Mumbai attacks. But the ISI has shared intelligence with Lashkar and provided protection for it, the officials said, and investigators are focusing on one Lashkar leader they believe is a main liaison with the spy service and a mastermind of the attacks.
As a result of the assault on Mumbai, India's financial hub, American counterterrorism and military officials say they are reassessing their view of Lashkar and believe it to be more capable and a greater threat than they had previously recognized.
In a commentary for Dawn, Ahmad Faruqui wrote that the Mumbai attackers may have hoped to derail the peace process between India and Pakistan over disputed Kashmir and strengthen extremists in both governments.
They wanted to send a clear and strong signal to the incoming Obama administration in Washington that Kashmir was a live issue that needed to be put on the front burner, ahead of Afghanistan and ahead of Iraq.
But yesterday, near Peshawar along Pakistan's western border, militants attacked 160 trucks and Humvees heading to Afghanistan, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Today, militants torched some 50 NATO vehicles in a terminal close to the city. The attacks demonstrate a ramping-up of militants' efforts on all fronts, The Monitor reports.
...As the world focuses on Pakistan's eastern border with India, the militant threat along its western border is still spreading.
Sunday's attack marks an intensification of a militant strategy: attacking US and NATO supply lines. Some 70 percent of their equipment in Afghanistan comes through Pakistan.
At the same time, militants are pushing outward from tribal areas toward Peshawar in a "surge" of their own – trying to make headway before President-elect Obama takes office and sends more troops to Afghanistan.