Pakistan fury over India's terror claim

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In a dramatic accusation which will raise the spectre of a new stand-off between two nuclear-armed neighbours, India said yesterday that Pakistani intelligence was behind the July Mumbai bombings in which at least 186 people were killed.

The Mumbai police accused Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency of planning and masterminding the attacks, and said they were carried out by a militant Islamic group based in Pakistan. Islamabad immediately denied the accusation and demanded that India produce some evidence to back it up.

"We have solved the 11 July bombings case," the Mumbai police commissioner, A N Roy, announced to a press conference yesterday. "The whole attack was planned by Pakistan's ISI and carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba and their operatives in India."

"India has always chosen this path of pointing fingers at Pakistan without evidence," Pakistan's Information Minister, Tariq Azim Khan, said. "If they have any evidence, they should provide us evidence and we will carry out our investigations."

The sudden accusation will raise fears of a return to the nervous days of 2002, when the two countries came to the brink of war after India blamed Pakistani intelligence for an assault on the parliament in Delhi and a series of attacks that followed. To many observers it was the closest the world has come to nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis.

The new claim came just hours after Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, defended the ISI in Britain against a leaked Ministry of Defence report which accused the agency of helping the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

"You'll be brought down to your knees if Pakistan doesn't co-operate with you," Gen Musharraf said in an interview with Radio 4. "That is all that I would like to say. Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you won't manage anything. Let that be clear. And if ISI is not with you, you will fail."

And appearing on ITV's Sunday Edition this morning, the President reveals that Tony Blair apologised to him for the leaked report. He also speaks out over last year's 7 July attacks in London, rejecting claims that the suicide bombers were indoctrinated in Pakistan and saying Britain's failure to tackle Islamic extremism within its own borders is a key factor in the emergence of home-grown terrorists.

Gen Musharraf adds that he believes Osama bin Laden is "probably" alive and could be hiding in Pakistan but angrily rules out US troops entering the country to hunt for him.

The ISI has long come under scrutiny for its close links to Islamic militants. Pakistan claims those links were severed after it joined President Bush's "war on terror" but India claims they are still very much alive.

Commissioner Roy's announcement yesterday came out of the blue. India used to routinely accuse Pakistan of being behind such attacks, but the current government under Manmohan Singh has assiduously avoided blaming its neighbour.

On 11 July, a series of co-ordinated bomb blasts went off on commuter trains all over Mumbai at the height of rush hour: the carriages were packed, and the bombs caused many deaths.

In the aftermath of the blasts, suspicion fell on Lashkar and on the homegrown Student Islamic Movement of India. Police said yesterday that those two groups had carried out the bombings but it was the ISI which had planned and was ultimately behind them.

The Mumbai blasts came after bombings in Delhi and the Hindu holy city of Varanasi. The public immediately blamed Pakistan, and, under intense pressure, Mr Singh's government broke off peace talks. But he avoided accusing Pakistan of being involved in the attacks and the peace process resumed. But there will be grave fears for it after yesterday's direct accusation.