NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – India’s foreign minister accused Pakistan on Sunday of trying to dodge blame over the Mumbai attacks’ Pakistani origins by leaking a story about a hoax call to Pakistan’s president that set off diplomatic panic.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Saturday that Pakistan had put its forces on high alert after a caller pretending to be Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee threatened President Asif Ali Zardari while the attacks were still going on.
“I can only ascribe this series of events to those in Pakistan who wish to divert attention from the fact that a terrorist group, operating from the Pakistani territory, planned and launched a ghastly attack on Mumbai,” Mukherjee said in a statement released on Sunday.
Pakistan insisted the call came from an official and verified phone number in India’s foreign ministry.
New Delhi has demanded Islamabad take swift action over what it says is the latest anti-India militant attack emanating from Pakistani soil.
At least 171 people were killed during the three-day assault last week across India’s financial capital, which has imperilled the improving ties between the south Asian nuclear rivals.
Officials from “third countries” called to inform Mukherjee of the hoax call, he said. He did not name them, but Dawn said the caller was a worried U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in both capitals last week to ease tensions.
“It is, however, worrying that a neighbouring state might even consider acting on the basis of such a hoax call,” he said.
Mumbai police have said the gunmen were controlled by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group blamed for earlier attacks including a 2001 assault on India’s parliament that nearly sparked a fourth war between India and Pakistan.
LeT was formed with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to fight Indian rule in Kashmir, but analysts say it is now part of a global jihadi network sympathetic to al Qaeda and may have direct ties with the al Qaeda network.
Britain’s Observer newspaper on Sunday reported it had used electoral rolls and accounts from villagers it did not identify to prove the only gunmen captured alive came from Faridkot, a village in the Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab.
The gunman, whom the Observer identified as Ajmal Amir Kasab, had already told Indian police he came from there. But Zardari and other Pakistani sources have expressed doubt he was from Pakistan. Indian police identify him as Mohammed Ajmal Kasab.
In Mumbai, hundreds of Muslims wearing black ribbons held silent vigils outside some of the attack sites. They carried placards with messages like: “Enemies of our motherland are our enemies” or “Killers of the innocent are enemies of Islam.” “These terrorists attack, and ordinary Muslims have to suffer the fallout and live in fear,” said Mumbai shopkeeper Salim Ali.
Last week, Muslim clerics refused to give burial rites to the nine dead gunmen. Most of India’s 1.1 billion people are Hindus, but about 13 percent are Muslims. Muslims and Hindus have clashed in the past, spurred by hardliners on either side.
India’s main opposition party capitalised on public anger at the authorities’ failure to prevent the 60-hour Mumbai rampage. Elections are due by May 2009.
The new home minister has admitted there were security lapses, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has proposed a national counterterrorism agency to cut across the state lines which now divide police forces and often frustrate coordination.
Police in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought for six decades, said on Sunday that one of two men arrested on Friday for helping get mobile phone cards to the gunmen had recently been hired as a constable. “We are investigating whether he was on an undercover operation,” a top Kashmir police officer said on condition of anonymity. The man, Mukhtar Ahmed, had worked for years as an informal anti-militant informant, the officer said.
An LeT-linked man suspected of reconnoitring Mumbai well before the attacks has been in custody since February in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, police Special Task Force chief Brij Lal told Reuters.
The disclosure about Faim Ansari, 26, was the first evidence to emerge of Indian complicity in the attacks.
“Strangely, Mumbai police had returned Ansari when we sought to hand him over to them after we discovered Mumbai road maps highlighting places like the CST railway station, the Taj hotel and state police headquarters in his possession,” Lal said.
The train station and Taj were both attacked last month, and police in Mumbai now want to question Ansari, Lal said. Mumbai police had no immediate comment.