Laskhar as big a threat as Al Qaeda: former CIA official

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : The Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based terrorist network blamed for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, now constitutes as big a threat to the US and Britain as Al Qaeda, a former CIA official who has advised President Barack Obama was quoted as saying Sunday.

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The comment, made to the Sunday Telegraph, comes after Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told his British counterpart Sir Philip Rickett in London talks Friday that Pakistan must take immediate steps to “wind up” the terrorist infrastructure that continues to operate from its soil.

Informed sources told IANS that India told Britain squarely that Pakistan had to take immediate steps to do two things: First, punish those responsible for the Nov 26-29 Mumbai outrage, and second, dismantle the entire infrastructure that arms, finances and abets terrorism from Pakistani soil.

Meanwhile, Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official who has advised Obama, told the Sunday Telegraph that the attacks in Mumbai made the LeT as big a threat as Al Qaeda.

“In the aftermath of the Mumbai attack, the US and the UK intelligence services now have to regard Lashkar-e-Taiba as just as serious a threat to both of our countries as al-Qaeda,” he said.

“They have a much more extensive base among Pakistani diaspora communities in the UK than al-Qaeda.”

Riedel has told Obama that British-born Pakistanis, among whom the LeT and Al Qaeda have made extensive inroads, are today the biggest security threat to the US.

“The British Pakistani community is recognised as probably al-Qaeda’s best mechanism for launching an attack against North America,” Riedel said.

“The American security establishment believes that danger continues and there’s very intimate cooperation between our security services to monitor that.”

“President Obama’s national security team are well aware that this is a serious threat,” Riedel told the paper.

Riedel’s warning comes after the head of Britain’s spy agency said in January that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai had “indirect connections” with individuals in Britain and that Mumbai could become an “iconic” model for future terror attacks around the world.

MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans said that billing records have been uncovered revealing telephone calls between the LeT members and other countries, including Britain.

British government ministers say more than 70 percent of terrorist cases investigated in Britain have their roots in Pakistan, including the 7/7 terrorist attacks which killed 52 civilians and wounded 700 in London in 2005.

Riedel’s comments come amid a reported surge in American intelligence operations in Britain, home to the largest Pakistani population settled outside the home country after Saudi Arabia.

The Sunday Telegraph said intelligence briefings for Obama have detailed a dramatic escalation in American espionage in Britain, where the CIA has recruited record numbers of informants in the Pakistani community to monitor the 2,000 terrorist suspects identified by MI5.

A British intelligence source told the paper a staggering four out of 10 CIA operations designed to thwart direct attacks on the US are now conducted against targets in Britain.