'Mastermind of Mumbai' seized by commandos

Pakistani forces claim they arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi in raid on camp of militant Islamist group
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The Independent Online

Pakistan has raided a camp used by militants in Kashmir and claims to have captured Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the man India accuses of masterminding the attacks on Mumbai.

Pakistani forces moved into a camp used by the militant Islamist group Lashkar-e-Toiba set amid the steep hills surrounding Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. There was the sound of gunfire and several explosions as helicopters hovered overhead. So far military action against the Islamic militant group has been confined to Kashmir but these operations are likely to be extended to the Punjab region.

The arrest of Mr Lakhvi, the operational leader of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has carried out several mass killings in India, would be the first sign that Pakistan is intending to act effectively against the perpetrators of the atrocities in Mumbai. Without significant Pakistani action, India is believed to have decided to undertake military strikes against Pakistan in the next few days.

The US has told Pakistan that failure to apprehend the leaders of Lashkar-e-Toiba is likely to leave India with no choice but to order a military strike in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Senator John McCain, expressing the US view semi-officially during a visit to Pakistan at the weekend, said the US could not object to India using force in retaliation for Mumbai since the US had retaliated militarily after the 11 September attacks. One Pakistani observer, who met him privately, said he believed "the US was giving a green light to India for one strike against Pakistan so long as it was in Kashmir and was not repeated".

Mr Lakhvi is alleged to have been in constant contact with the 10 gunmen who killed 171 people in Mumbai. In May, the US Treasury, when seeking to freeze his assets, said he had directed Lashkar's military operations in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and south-east Asia. Pakistan says it will not hand over Pakistani citizens to India but will try them at home. Last night there was no official reaction from India to Pakistan's move against Lashkar.

The Delhi government had demanded that Islamabad arrest and hand-over up to 20 fugitives it said were living in Pakistan, including Mr Lakhvi.

"I don't think that this alone will be satisfactory," said Bahukutumbi Raman, the former head of the counter-terrorism division of India's external security organisation, the Research and Analysis Wing. "After the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, the Pakistanis made some arrests ... and then quietly released them a few months later. This time they are either going to have to hand over Lakhvi or prosecute him themselves."

It is unclear if the Pakistani security forces will move against Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the public and legal face of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which was banned by the Pakistani government in 2002. The former organisation is concerned primarily with teaching, medical care and earthquake relief, but its members, though not its leaders, make no secret of its links with the banned group.

In Muridke, 15 miles north of Lahore, Jamaat-ud-Dawa supporters were taking down tents used for victims of the Baluchistan earthquake. They were also furling their movement's black and white flag which has a sword and a religious verse inscribed on it. "We won't take to the streets or destroy property because our leader hasn't told us to," said one supporter.

The founder and leader of both Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa is Hafez Mohammed Saeed. "They can arrest who they like but our leader is God and not Hafez Saeed," said another militant. At the Jamaat-ud-Dawa headquarters in Lahore, there was no sign that its members expected imminent arrest. "We have been harassed more by the media than the police," said their deputy spokesman Abdullah Montazir. He denied any connection with Lashkar-e-Toiba or the camp that had been raided in Muzaffarabad.

It is unlikely that India will be convinced that Pakistan is doing its utmost, but there is a limit to what the Pakistani government and the ISI military intelligence can do since Lashkar-e-Toiba, whatever its past links with the ISI, is no longer under its full control.

The Pakistani government is moving gingerly towards suppressing Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaamat-ud-Dawa because the latter has widespread popularity. The two groups are similar in their relationship to that between the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein. After years of working undercover and with a network of fanatical supporters, they will be extremely difficult to root out.