Indian police arrest two men in Mumbai investigation

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The Independent Online

Indian police arrested two men accused of providing mobile phone cards to the gunmen in the Mumbai attacks, the first known arrests in the probe since the siege ended, police said today.

The two men allegedly provided SIM cards to the group of 10 gunmen that attacked Mumbai last week, leaving 171 people dead, said Javed Shahim, a senior police official in the eastern city of Calcutta in West Bengal.

Shaim said one of the men was from West Bengal and the other was from the Indian portion of Kashmir.

Indian authorities believe the banned Pakistani-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has links to the disputed region of Kashmir, trained the gunmen and plotted the attacks.

The Kashmiri suspect was believed to be a local police officer, according to a police official in Srinagar, the region's biggest city, who declined to be named because the matter was still under investigation.

The men were arrested Friday night, but Shahim declined to offer further details. He was expected to speak to the press this afternoon.

The arrests could represent further evidence of homegrown ties to the attacks, which would be a blow to Indian officials who have blamed the siege against 10 sites across Mumbai entirely on Pakistani extremists.

Earlier, police said they were investigating another Indian national, Faheem Ansari, who was arrested in February in north India carrying hand-drawn sketches of hotels, the train terminal and other sites that were later attacked in Mumbai. Authorities say Ansari was a Lashkar operative surveying south Mumbai for a future attack.

News of the February arrest has added to a torrent of criticism about missed warnings and botched intelligence.

The lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, 21, is also in police custody.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, India's top law enforcement official, apologized for "lapses" that allowed the gunmen to rampage through Mumbai.

"There have been lapses. I would be less than truthful if I said there had been no lapses," Chidambaram told reporters Friday.

The minister, who assumed his post just days ago following the ouster of the previous minister in the attack's aftermath, spoke as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pressed the assertion that Pakistani extremists were behind the attack.

"The territory of a neighboring country has been used for perpetrating this crime," Singh said Friday. "We expect the international community to wake up and recognize that terror anywhere and everywhere constitutes a threat to world peace and prosperity."

Kasab, the surviving gunman, told interrogators he had been sent by Lashkar and identified two of the plot's masterminds as being involved, two Indian government officials familiar with the inquiry said. Police had earlier identified the prisoner as Ajmal Amir Kasab.