ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Security forces overran a militant camp on the outskirts of Pakistani Kashmir’s main city and seized an alleged mastermind of the attacks that shook India’s financial capital last month, two officials said Monday.
The raid was Pakistan’s first known response to U.S. and Indian demands for the arrest of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, which have sharply raised tensions between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed powers.
Backed by a helicopter, the troops grabbed Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi among at least 12 people taken Sunday in the raid on the riverbank camp run by the banned group Laskhar-e-Taiba in Pakistani Kashmir, the officials said. There was a brief clash in the camp near Muzaffarabad before the militants were subdued, the officials said.
The officials, one from the intelligence agencies and one from a government agency, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Indian officials say the sole Mumbai attacker captured alive has told them that Lakhvi recruited him for the mission and that Lakhvi and another militant, Yusuf Muzammil, planned the operation. The three-day siege of India’s commercial capital left 171 people dead.
Analysts say Lashkar-e-Taiba was created with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in the 1980s to act as a proxy fighting force in Indian Kashmir.
The United States says the group has links to al-Qaida. In May, the U.S. Department of the Treasury alleged that Lakhvi directed Laskhar-e-Taiba operations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia. In 2004, he allegedly sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq, it said.
It was not immediately clear what Pakistan intended to do with Lakhvi.
Pakistan and India do not have an extradition treaty. Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari indicated anyone arrested in Pakistan in connection with the attacks would be tried in Pakistan.
Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002, but there have been few if any convictions of its members since then. Many suspect elements within the intelligence agencies keep some links with Lashkar-e- Taiba and other militants in the country, either to use against India or in neighboring Afghanistan.
An Islamist charity called Jemaat-ud-Dawa sprang up after the ban which U.S. officials say is a front for the group. It denies the accusation and has condemned the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars over the last 60 years, two over Kashmir. In 2001, an attack by suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba militants on the Parliament building in New Delhi brought the countries close to conflict.
The government convened a rare Cabinet-level meeting of the country’s defense and intelligence chiefs, but made no official comment on the raid or Lakhvi’s arrest. That is not uncommon here, especially when the subject is sensitive.
Later, the government said it was investigating allegations “concerning the involvement of any individual or entity in Pakistan” in the Mumbai attacks. It said it needed more evidence from India to continue the probe and proposed a “high-level delegation from Pakistan may visit New Delhi as soon as possible.”
The New York Times, citing unidentified American intelligence and counterterrorism officials, reported in a story published Monday that Lashkar-e-Taiba has gained strength in recent years with the help of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.
Officials cited by the Times said the ISI has shared intelligence with and provided protection for the outlawed group, though there is no evidence to link the spy service to the Mumbai attacks.
Islamabad’s young civilian government has denied any of its state agencies were involved in the Mumbai attacks, but said it was possible that the militants were Pakistanis. It has pledged to cooperate with India, noting it too is a victim of terrorism.
Pakistan has experienced a surge in militant violence since it sided with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As part of the alliance, it allows NATO and America to truck supplies to their forces in Afghanistan through the country.
Early Monday, militants in the northwestern city of Peshawar attacked a terminal for the supply trucks, torching scores of military vehicles waiting shipment, a witness and an Associated Press reporter said. The attack was the second in as many days on the supply line in the city, showing its vulnerability to militants that control large swaths Pakistan’s lawless regions close to Afghanistan.
Terminal laborer Altaf Hussain says several militants stormed the Bilal terminal, firing grenades. They then set fire to up to 50 military vehicles awaiting shipment, he said.
It and other terminals in the city employ lightly armed security guards, aimed more at preventing theft than organized militant assaults.
Up to 75 percent of the fuel, food and other logistical goods for Western forces battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan currently pass through Pakistan. NATO officials say the attacks on the supply line do not affect their operations in Afghanistan, but acknowledge they are looking for other supply routes to the country.