MUMBAI, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The gunmen who attacked Mumbai took orders from the operations chief of a Pakistani Islamist militant group who was designated a terrorist by the United States in May, Indian security officials said on Thursday.
The lone surviving gunman told his interrogators he and the other nine attackers were in contact with Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, whom the United States says is the operations chief of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group.
LeT made its name fighting Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region and is on U.S., U.N. and Indian terrorist lists. It has in the past had links with Pakistani intelligence.
India blames LeT for 2006 bombings on Mumbai trains, and a 2001 attack on India’s parliament that fuelled tension that pushed India and Pakistan to the brink of a fourth war.
Gunman Azam Amir Kasav told his interrogators they spoke to Lakhvi and other LeT leaders during their boat journey to Mumbai and also while they battled commandos inside two Mumbai hotels, where most of the 171 people who died in the attacks were killed.
According to two senior Mumbai police officials involved in the investigations, information on several calls made to Pakistan was contained on a satellite telephone found on a fishing boat hijacked and used by the gunmen on their journey to Mumbai.
“They were given directions like where to land the dinghy, where to keep the bombs,” said a security official, referring to the small boat the attackers used to come ashore in Mumbai.
They also found a GPS navigation device that had a route plotted back to Karachi, the officials said.
Kasav, who agreed to come to Mumbai on the promise of cash for his poor family, told officers that their handlers gave them “strategic advice” about the operation over the telephone and directed their movement, one of the officers told Reuters.
The 21-year-old militant, who said he was from Faridkot area of Pakistan’s Punjab province, also told investigators Lakhvi was among those who had briefed them about the targets in Mumbai.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said he doubts Kasav is a Pakistani, and has said that anyone found complicit in the attacks will be tried in Pakistan.
According to the United States government, Lakhvi, 48, has directed LeT military operations in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and southeast Asia and ordered the recruitment and training of suicide bombers in 2006.
“Prior to that, Lakhvi instructed LeT operatives to conduct attacks in well-populated areas,” said a U.S. Treasury Department media release announcing his designation as a terrorist.
India has demanded Pakistan hand over 20 men, including LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Lakhvi and Yusuf Muzammil, head of LeT’s anti-India operations.
New Delhi has long been angry that Pakistan is either unwilling or unable to stop militant groups from planning attacks on India from Pakistani soil. (Editing by Bryson Hull and Paul Tait)