WASHINGTON ~ US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell implicated Lashkar-e-Taiba this week in the deadly attacks in Mumbai that killed at least 188 people.
Speaking at Harvard University, the top US intelligence official left little doubt that he believed the group was responsible for the bloody attacks.
“The same group that we believe is responsible for Mumbai had a similar attack in 2006 on a train and killed a similar number of people,” said McConnell. “Go back to 2001 and it was an attack on the parliament,” he added.
The July 2006 bombings of Mumbai commuter trains killed at least 186 people and injured some 700 others. Indian police at the time blamed Pakistan’s intelligence service and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which fought Indian rule in divided Kashmir, for the attacks.
Indian officials also blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for the deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001. That attack killed 12 people and pushed New Delhi and Islamabad to the brink of war.
The radical Islamic group, whose name means “Army of the Pious,” has past links to both Pakistani intelligence and Al-Qaeda.
McConnell, who did not mention Lashkar-e-Taiba by name, said he did not see the Mumbai attack as a new form of terrorism.
“If you examine the groups we think are responsible, the philosophical underpinnings are very similar to what Al-Qaeda puts out as their view of how the world should be. It is a continuation,” he said.
About 10 gunmen landed in rubber dinghies in Mumbai Wednesday and wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and hand grenades, in a 60-hour assault that killed at least 188 people and injured more than 300. The dead included 22 foreign nationals.
Pakistan outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba after the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, though Indian officials allege the ban has not been enforced.
In his speech, McConnell emphasized the difficulty in fighting shadowy Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“Democratic systems that promote free speech and free movement and open discussion are incredibly vulnerable to someone who is willing to die in the context of a suicide bomber or a suicide attack,” McConnell said.
Washington has been dropping hints for days that the group was behind the attacks: a US counter-terrorism official speaking on condition of anonymity said on Saturday that Lashkar-e-Taiba may have been responsible for the attacks.
A spokesman for the Pakistan-based group denied any involvement in the Mumbai atrocities.
US officials had warned India in October that hotels and business centers in Mumbai might be targeted by attackers coming from the sea, according to US news media reports.
Indian intelligence officials intercepted a phone call on November 18 to an address in Pakistan used by the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, also revealing a possible attack from the sea, ABC News reported.
Indian police believe that top Lashkar-e-Taiba member Yusuf Muzammil masterminded the Mumbai attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Muzammil was identified as the brains behind the attacks by Ajmal Kasab, the only gunman who was captured alive, an unidentified senior police official told the US business daily.