NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – India’s new home minister said on Friday last week’s Mumbai attacks had revealed security lapses and that evidence clearly showed longtime enemies from neighbouring Pakistan were responsible.
The ruling Congress party-led coalition is under renewed criticism from the opposition that it is weak on security after the three-day rampage by 10 Islamist gunmen in India’s financial capital capped a series of bomb blasts this year in India.
“I would be less than truthful if I said there were no lapses,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters in Mumbai. “These are being looked into. We will address the causes that led to the lapses.”
Chidambaram took over the post on Sunday after his predecessor Shivraj Patil quit. Elections are due by May and analysts say Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must demonstrate decisive action to counter criticism over security.
Underscoring the collective jitters after the attacks, gunshot-like sounds heard at New Delhi’s international airport early on Friday sparked a scare. Police said no one was hurt.
Police and commandos closed down the area by the heavily guarded airport, while an SUV with a lone occupant sped away. Police gave chase but lost the vehicle, NDTV news channel said.
The violence in Mumbai killed at least 171 people. India has said nine militants were killed and one captured alive, but U.S. analysts said more could have escaped.
“I think there are more. My sources say (there were) at least 23 of the gunmen,” said Farhana Ali, a former CIA and Rand Corp counterterrorism analyst and expert on militant networks. “If that’s true, that makes one wonder why we haven’t seen more attacks. Are they lying low?” she said. Chidambaram said India had no evidence yet of more attackers.
“Evidence from the CCTV footage and statements made by the surviving attacker point to the act being perpetrated by 10 terrorists. If there were others that had a role in the whole operation I would not be able to say now,” he said.
Indian newspapers said the Pakistan military’s spy agency ISI was involved in training the militants, who are said to belong to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group that has been blamed for earlier attacks in India. “The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) connection was clear and evident,” the Times of India quoted Indian intelligence sources as saying.
Pakistan has condemned the assault, denied any involvement by state agencies and vowed to help the Indian investigation. But it wants proof of Pakistani involvement before acting. “There is ample evidence to show the source of the attacks were clearly linked to organisations which have in the past been identified as behind terrorist attacks in India,” Chidambaram said when asked if ISI was involved. Chidambaram did not name the ISI specifically.
India has blamed the ISI for earlier attacks and for using militant groups like Lashker-e-Taiba as proxies in the latter years of their six-decade old conflict over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The Mumbai attacks have raised tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals and a four-year-old peace process is in danger of unravelling.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in both New Delhi and Islamabad this week, mediating between the old enemies, who have fought three wars since independence in 1947.
Rice told reporters before leaving Islamabad that the attacks showed “a level of sophistication that we haven’t seen here on the subcontinent before.” “That means that there is urgency to getting to the bottom of it. There is urgency to bringing the perpetrators to justice and there is urgency to … disrupt and prevent further attacks.” But she played down fear of a military response by India, saying the global struggle against terrorism needed cooperation.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who had been trying to push forward a peace process with India, told Rice he had asked India to see this as a chance towork together rather than be at odds. “The government will not only assist in investigations but also take strong action against any Pakistani elements found involved in the attack,” a statement quoted Zardari as saying.