Pakistan fires official who confirmed Mumbai gunman's ID

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 7, 2009 

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani government on Wednesday abruptly fired its national security adviser after he confirmed that the surviving gunman captured in the Mumbai attacks is a Pakistani, a key piece of evidence contained in a dossier amassed by India on alleged Pakistani complicity in the three-day assault.

A McClatchy investigation established four weeks ago that the only assailant captured alive, Amir Ajmal Kasab, comes from Faridkot, an impoverished hamlet in Pakistan's Punjab Province.

Retired Army Gen. Mehmood Ali Durrani's confirmation of the surviving assailant's nationality, the first by a senior Pakistani official, followed weeks of denials by Islamabad that any of the terrorists were Pakistani.

Durrani's ouster suggests that a struggle is raging in the Pakistan government over responding to the Indian dossier and material gathered by the U.S. that blames the November attacks on a Pakistan-based Islamic militant group with ties to a Pakistani intelligence agency.

The attacks on two major tourist hotels, a Jewish center and other sites in India's financial capital left 163 people dead and stoked serious tensions between India and Pakistan, the nuclear-armed rivals that have fought three wars since winning independence from Britain in 1947.

Intent on pressing a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, India was expected to send Home Minister P. Chidambaram to Washington this week in part to seek additional intelligence that the U.S. may have on Pakistani links to the attacks, a State Department official said.

"The Indians want to use this visit to basically fill out their dossier," said the State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. "They think we've got the goods."

A U.S. government consultant, who asked not to be further identified to speak more frankly, said that India, which for years has been battling fighters from Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistan-backed militants on its side of the disputed Kashmir region, has warned the White House that it won't tolerate another strike by extremists linked to Pakistan.

"The Indians have said that if there is one more attack — it doesn't have to be a Mumbai — all hell will break loose. This is what they've told the White House," he said.

The Bush administration is pressing Pakistan to bring to justice those who were responsible for the attacks. It fears that retaliatory steps by India could ignite a conflict that would end Pakistan's crackdown on al Qaida and Taliban fighters along the border with Afghanistan.

The U.S. government consultant said the Bush administration already has shared large amounts of intelligence with India and Pakistan linking the Mumbai assailants to senior figures of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba extremist group, including at least one in Pakistani custody.

Durrani, a former ambassador to the U.S., confirmed that Kasab was Pakistani in an interview with a television channel, Dawn News, while an Indian station, CNN-IBN, also claimed to have gotten a similar story from him.

A statement from Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's office said that Durrani was sacked "for his irresponsible behavior" and a "lack of coordination on matters of national security."

Durrani was dismissed even though other Pakistani officials, including Information Minister Sherry Rehman, acknowledged the accuracy of his disclosure on Kasab.

His disclosure came after New Delhi leaked the entirety of its dossier to news outlets.

The document contained some chilling transcripts of intercepted phone calls between the attackers and their handlers, who seemingly were directing the operation from Pakistan.

The document, however, contained nothing to establish a link between the terrorists and the Pakistani government, the army or the powerful Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, a claim made loudly by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior officials.

Much of the "proof" contained in the file also appeared to be circumstantial at best.

According to the dossier, at one point during the assault, a handler named Kafa told a gunman named Fahadullah by satellite phone that he should "Kill all hostages, except the two Muslims" being held at the Oberoi Hotel.

Later, the recording has the voices of Fahadullah and another assailant directing the hostages to stand in a line, and for the two Muslims to step aside. The intercept then records the "sound of gunfire. Cheering voices in the background."

The document says that a satellite phone recovered from the attackers showed a telephone number "that links the terrorists to top functionaries" of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

A recovered GPS set was set to guide a boat from close to the Pakistani port of Karachi to Mumbai.

A logbook from a boat the terrorists hijacked has their names listed for watch duties.

The document also makes much of a series of items recovered from the boat, which had "unmistakable signs of having been manufactured in Pakistan." These include pistols, a packet of pickled, soap powder and "Touchme" shaving cream.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent in Islamabad. Landay reported from Washington.)

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY:

India says Pakistan officials had to know of Mumbai plans

Villagers confirm surviving Mumbai killer is Pakistani

Pakistan arrests head of group linked to Mumbai killings

Mystery phone call put Pakistan and India on the brink of war

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