Manhunt on for elusive mastermind of Mumbai attack: ReportBy Arun Kumar, IANS
Sunday, November 14, 2010
WASHINGTON - While media attention has been focused on Pakistani-American terror convict David Coleman Headley, the real mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks has eluded authorities on four continents, according to a new investigative report.
It was Sajid Mir, another Pakistani, who allegedly led Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba’s bloody siege on Mumbai in November 2008,” the Washington Post said in a front page report Sunday published in association with ProPublica, an investigative journalism group.
US officials, at first slow to register the Pakistani group’s threat, are pressing the hunt for Mir and others before they can attack a Western target again, the Post said.
Before the attack, Mir had spent two years using Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents.
“On Nov 26, 2008, Mir sat among militant chiefs in a Pakistani safe house tracking an attack team as its dinghy approached the Mumbai waterfront,” the investigative group said.
“The Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group had made Mir the project manager of its biggest strike ever, the crowning achievement of his career as a holy warrior.”
Two years later, Mir and his victims are at the centre of a wrenching national security dilemma confronting the Obama administration, ProPublica said.
“The question, simply put, is whether the larger interests of the United States in maintaining good relations with Pakistan will permit Mir and other suspects to get away with one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in recent history,” it asked.
ProPublica said for five months, it has examined the investigation of the attacks and previous cases documenting the rise of Lashkar and conducted interviews with more than two dozen law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic officials from the US, India, Pakistan, France, Britain, Australia and Israel.
Mir’s “name has surfaced in investigations on four continents, his web reaching as far as suburban Virginia. Fleeting glimpses of him appear in case files and communications intercepts,” it said.
“A French court even convicted him in absentia in 2007. But he remains free and dangerous,” ProPublica said citing unnamed US and Indian officials.
ProPublica said its investigation “leads to another disturbing revelation”.
“Despite isolated voices of concern, for years the US intelligence community was slow to focus on Lashkar and detect the extent of its determination to strike Western targets.”
“Some officials admit that counter-terrorism agencies grasped the dimensions of the threat only after the Mumbai attacks.”
The FBI investigation into the killings of the Americans has focused on a half-dozen accused masterminds who are still at large: Mir, top Lashkar chiefs and a man thought to be a major in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, it said.
ProPublica cited US officials as saying Washington has urged Islamabad to arrest the suspects. “But US officials acknowledge that the response has been insufficient. The effort to bring to justice the masterminds - under a US law that makes terrorist attacks against Americans overseas a crime - faces obstacles.”
A US prosecution could implicate Pakistani military chiefs who, at minimum, have allowed Lashkar to operate freely. US pressure on Pakistan to confront both the military and Lashkar could damage counter-terrorism efforts, the group said.
“It’s a balancing act,” a high-ranking US law enforcement official was quoted as saying. “We can only push so far. It’s very political. Sajid Mir is too powerful for them to go after. Too well-connected. We need the Pakistanis to go after the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)