Top Indian official admits government 'lapses' in Mumbai attacks
India's top law enforcement official has admitted there were government "lapses" in last week's attacks on Mumbai amid a public uproar over security and intelligence failures in the deadly siege.
"There have been lapses. I would be less than truthful if I said there had been no lapses," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters Friday, saying he was seeking to bolster the country's security.
The assault on India's financial capital left 171 dead and 239 wounded. Chidambaram, only days into his post after the previous minister was ousted after the attacks, made the acknowledgment as new details surfaced that a Pakistani militant group had used an Indian operative as far back as 2007 to scout targets in the Mumbai plot.
Indian officials have accused Pakistani-based extremists in the Nov. 26-29 attacks, an assertion echoed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.
"The territory of a neighbouring country has been used for perpetrating this crime," Singh said after meeting with visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Authorities given clues about attacks in February
The sole surviving gunman in the attacks, Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, has told interrogators he had been sent by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has fought Indian rule in the disputed northern province of Kashmir.
Kasab told police that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar's operations chief, recruited him for the attack.
On Saturday, Indian police said they arrested two men accused of providing mobile phone cards to the gunmen in the Mumbai attacks, the first known arrests in the probe since the siege ended.
The two allegedly provided SIM cards to the group of 10 gunmen that attacked Mumbai, said Javed Shahim, a senior police official in the eastern city of Calcutta in West Bengal.
Shaim said one of the men was from West Bengal and the other was from the Indian portion of Kashmir.
According to the U.S., Lakhvi has directed Lashkar 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 U.S. forces in Iraq.
The information provided by Kasab also sent Indian investigators back to another reputed Lashkar operative, Faheem Ansari.
Ansari, an Indian national, was arrested in February in north India carrying hand-drawn sketches of hotels, the train terminal and other sites that were later attacked in Mumbai, Amitabh Yash, director of the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh police, said Thursday.
He was arrested Feb. 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.
During his interrogation, 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 he carried out reconnaissance in the fall of 2007 of different Mumbai locations, including the U.S. Consulate, the stock exchange and other sites that weren't attacked, Yash said. Ansari also confessed to arranging a safe house in Mumbai.
Ansari said he trained in a Lashkar camp in Muzaffarabad — the same area where Kasab said he was trained, a senior police officer involved in the investigation said.
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.
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.
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.
Lashkar, outlawed by Pakistan in 2002, has been deemed by the U.S. a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda. The group has derived some of its funding from organizations based in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with its leaders making fundraising trips to the Middle East in recent years, U.S. officials say.