Mumbai attack suspects being questioned, says Pakistan PM


Islamabad : Pakistan’s prime minister Wednesday said the two top leaders of an Islamic militant group that India believes to be responsible for the Nov 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai were being questioned by the police.

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Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah were detained in a raid this week at the offices of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

According to Indian officials, the lone surviving attacker in the Mumbai siege, which left 172 people dead and more than 200 injured, has identified LeT chief Lakhvi as the mastermind.

Zarar Shah is suspected by investigators to be responsible for arranging telephone cards, internet connections and satellite phones used by the terrorists, an Indian newspaper reported Wednesday.

But there has been confusion over how many leaders from outlawed militant organisations have been arrested.

Pakistan’s Defence Minister Ahmad told CNN-IBN Tuesday that the chief of terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) also was apprehended by Pakistani security forces, but Gilani could not confirm that.

“We have yet to receive latest report on Mr Masood Azhar,” he said. “As far as the other two people are concerned (Lakhvi and Shah), they are being investigated.”

An unnamed JeM source said the police were deployed outside Azhar’s family residence in Bahawalpur, a city in eastern Punjab province. “But Maulana is not there, he has already left the place,” he added.

Azhar is on a list of 20 fugitives India is demanding Pakistan to extradite. He was arrested by Indian authorities for alleged connection with Al Qaeda in 1994.

He was freed five years later in exchange for the release of passengers on a hijacked Indian Airline flight. The hijackers were led by Azhar’s brother, Ibrahim Athar.

After his return to Pakistan, Azhar was given a hero’s welcome by Islamists, which encouraged him to set up his own group, JeM.

The recent arrests were announced by Pakistani authorities as the tensions between the two South Asian nuclear-armed countries have been rising dangerously.

Pakistani jet fighters, including F-16s, Wednesday were flying over Islamabad with live ammunition as a media report said India’s air defences had been put on “highest alert”.

A report from CNN-IBN TV channel said the Indian Air Force raised its level of readiness to “Passive Air Defence.” The high alert is in response to heightened perceptions of air attacks on Indian positions.

All Indian military aircraft have been armed with bombs and missiles and are ready to take off within minutes. Even the warships of the Western Naval Command were aggressively patrolling the Arabian Sea, the report said.

Pakistani fighter planes circled over the capital Islamabad on Wednesday morning.

“We see and hear combat aircraft flying over Islamabad but once a while. So many flights in so short time as it happened this morning is something unusual,” said local resident Muhammad Iqbal.

A spokesman for Pakistan Air Force (PAF) told DPA they had no means to confirm the reports about alert status of the Indian Air Force, but said: “The PAF is ready to defend the country.”

He confirmed that planes were making “armed sorties” over Islamabad, but he insisted it was a regular exercise. Asked if in every regular exercise, the jet fighters carry live ammunition, he declined to reply.

According to the DawnNews channel, the Pakistan Navy also said it was alert to the movements of Indian vessels.

The report on CNN-IBN said the Indian alert was still defensive, and had been sounded in view of intelligence reports of possible air strikes at Indian installations from across the border or an aerial attack by terrorist groups based in Pakistan.

Under the alert, leaves of all key personnel in the Western and South-Western Air Commands, which face Pakistan, have been cancelled. But there was still no mobilization of troops on the border and the Indian Army is not on the highest alert level, the report said.