Delhi 'bombing mastermind' is Kashmiri militant, say police

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The Independent Online

Indian police said yesterday they had arrested the suspected mastermind behind last month's Delhi bombings, in which at least 66 people died.

Police said they now believed the bomb attacks in crowded markets were the work of Lashkar-e Toiba, the most feared of the Islamic militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir.

The arrested man was named as Tariq Ahmad Dar, a salesman based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. Police said he did not personally plant the bombs, but was believed to be a "financier, co-ordinator, spokesperson and frontman" for Lashkar which had planned and organised the attacks.

"What he [Mr Dar] has told us, and the details we have, there is sufficient evidence to prove the conspiracy," Delhi's police chief, KK Paul, told reporters. He said the police believed they now knew the identities of at least four accomplices, including those who actually planted the bombs, and were searching for them.

But what has potentially much wider-reaching implications is the first open accusation from the Indian authorities that Lashkar was behind the attacks. In the past, such an accusation would have been enough to have had India and Pakistan massing their troops and threatening war.

Although most of Lashkar's militant activities are in Kashmir, it is not a Kashmiri group. It is based in Pakistan, and most of its militants are non-Kashmiri Pakistanis who infiltrate across the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir.

Indian police said yesterday that while two of the suspects they were searching for were Kashmiris, the others were "foreign nationals" - remarks that will be interpreted as meaning they are Pakistanis.

That has the potential to inflame relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking to reporters in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he attended a regional summit, said "indications do suggest external linkages" in the bombings, but stressed that "we have to do business with the government in power in our neighbourhood".

In the Nineties, Lashkar was one of several militant groups which was backed and supported by Pakistan's ISI intelligence to fight a proxy war against India in Kashmir. When India and Pakistan came to the brink of nuclear war in 2002, India not only accused Lashkar of being responsible for the attack on the parliament in Delhi that sparked the crisis, it accused the ISI of being ultimately behind that attack.

Relations between the two countries have improved vastly in the three years since, and Indian authorities have so far been careful to avoid any accusation that the ISI or the Pakistani authorities were in any way involved with this attack. Pakistan banned Lashkar in 2002 and the ISI is supposed to have severed all links, though there have been accusations from some in India that it has not.

Police said Mr Dar, who works for a pharmaceutical company, had received a deposit of 500,000 rupees (£6,270) in his bank account from abroad a few days before the bombings. He was in Delhi in early October to scout the locations used in the attacks, police said.

At least 200 people were injured in the Delhi attacks. Bombs were planted in two of the city's most crowded markets on the last shopping weekend before Diwali, the Hindu equivalent of Christmas, apparently to cause maximum carnage.

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