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Monday, December 1, 2008

MUMBAI, India -- Indian officials investigating last week's terror attacks on Mumbai say they are focusing on whether the terrorists received local assistance in the city they targeted.

Mumbai Police joint commissioner for crime, Rakesh Maria, said in an interview that, according to preliminary investigation results, the nine attackers killed in clashes with security forces and the one captured by police all appear to be Pakistanis.

Yet, he added, "they had good knowledge of the place -- and we are looking at who helped them gain this knowledge." Pointing to possibility of local complicity, he said, was the fact that the 10 militants "were so well aware of the general layout" of their targets.

An alternative explanation probed by the investigators is that an earlier reconnaissance mission from abroad had visited Mumbai to scope out targets and prepare last week's attacks. The terrorists killed at least 172 people, holding off security forces for three days of pitched battles at two luxury hotels and a Jewish center that ended Saturday.

The one terrorist in police custody, identified by Commissioner Maria as 21-year-old Mohammed Ajmal Mohammed Ameer Kasab, told investigators he's never been to Mumbai before.

The terrorists tried to give an impression of being a homegrown Indian Muslim radical movement rather than a group of Pakistani infiltrators. A previously unheard-of movement, Deccan Mujahideen, claimed responsibility for the attacks, and, according to Commissioner Maria, the gunmen carried on their bodies fake student cards from several Indian universities -- and no other identity documents.

Some 150 million Muslims live in India, and, while radicals represent only a small minority, there have been numerous cases of Indian Muslim involvement in terrorism. After a series of bombings in 1993 -- the deadliest previous terror attacks in Mumbai -- India named as the main culprit the local Muslim organized crime kingpin, Dawood Ibrahim, believed to be currently in Pakistan.

Nothing among the Mumbai terrorists' possessions pointed to a direct link with Pakistan: in addition to guns, bullets and Chinese-made grenades, the militants carried bundles of Indian rupees, packets of raisins and nuts to keep their energy high, and roaming cellphones with numbers that were neither Indian nor Pakistani, Commissioner Maria said.

The Pakistani connection would have been almost impossible to prove if not for the lucky break -- the capture of Mr. Kasab alive, at a roadblock on Mumbai's Chowpatty beach after a long shooting spree Wednesday night. Mr. Kasab, who is cooperating with the investigators, is providing leads for the additional main directions of inquiry, such as how bombs got onto two Mumbai taxis that exploded that night, and what additional attacks may be planned against the city, Commissioner Maria said.

Most of what Mr. Kasab has said so far has proven accurate, the commissioner said. After his capture, the young man had become resigned to helping the Indian police, said Commisioner Maria: "He knows -- the game is up for him." The key piece of evidence provided by Mr. Kasab: information about the hijacked fishing vessel that ferried the terrorists from near Pakistan to waters off Mumbai.

On the fishing trawler, investigators discovered --- just as Mr. Kasab said they would do -- the slain lead crewman who had been thrown in the engine room, a satellite phone, and a global positioning device for navigational purposes. Another GPS unit recovered in Mumbai suggested that the terrorists planned to return to the vessel if they survived the attacks, Commissioner Maria said.

Mr. Kasab also provided the names of his comrades-in-arms, but these were noms-de-guerre rather than genuine identities, Commissioner Maria said. Commissioner Maria said Mr. Kasab has admitted to being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant groups with links to Kashmir, the disputed region between India and Pakistan. He said Mr. Kasab told interrogators that all the terrorists were members of the group.

Mr. Kasab was part of the pair that entered Mumbai's main railway station, killing dozens of men, women and children before going on a murderous rampage through the city. The training received in Pakistan allowed the gunmen to shoot at children without a moment's hesitation, Commissioner Maria said: "The indoctrination has gone to that extent."

In killing on a mass scale and taking hostages, the gunmen aimed to create an event that would undermine India's stability, he added: "They wanted to draw international attention. They wanted to undermine the Indian economy. They wanted to undermine our political system."

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at and Peter Wonacott at

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