Group blamed for Mumbai attack also operating in Mideast

WASHINGTON — A United Nations Security Council committee put three Pakistani leaders of the group Lashkar-e-Taiba and a Saudi operative on a terrorist watch list Wednesday as new evidence surfaced that the group blamed for the Mumbai attacks has expanded its activities and its fundraising well beyond South Asia.

A U.N. document obtained by McClatchy said that LeT has sent operatives to attack U.S. troops in Iraq, established a branch in Saudi Arabia and been raising funds in Europe. The group may also have received money from al Qaida, suggesting that it has close ties with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network based along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, the document said.

Although Pakistan's government outlawed LeT in May 2002, it "continues to operate and engage in or support terrorist activities abroad," the document said.

"Is there real concern about Lashkar trying to expand its footprint? The answer is yes," said a U.S. counterterrorism official in response to questions about the document, which the U.N. committee reviewed before voting to add the four to the watch list. He requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

U.S. intelligence officials worry that as the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaida has taken a toll on its leaders, restricted the movement of its members and curbed its financial support, bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri, have cultivated ties with other militant Islamist groups, especially non-Arab ones such as LeT.

The U.N. document, which describes some of LeT's activities and fundraising, names LeT founder Muhammad Saeed as the group's "overall leader and chief," and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged military coordinator who was arrested by security forces on Sunday on the Pakistan-held side of the divided Kashmir region.

The U.N. Security Council al Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee also added Haji Muhammad Ashraf, whom the U.N. document calls Lashkar's finance chief, and Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahariq, whom it describes as a key propagandist who once coordinated fund-raising activities in Saudi Arabia, to the watch list.

The committee said in a statement that three of the four reside in Pakistan: Saeed, who insists that he left LeT to run a charity that the U.S. considers a LeT front organization, Lakhvi and Ashraf. It said that Bahariq is from Saudi Arabia.

Individuals and groups placed on the U.N. list are subject to international sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans. LeT was included on the list in May 2005.

The U.S. and India sought to have the U.N. designate the four as part of an crackdown on LeT, which is accused of training and sending the 10 gunmen who attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a train station and other targets during a three-day rampage earlier this month in Mumbai. More than 170 people died, including six Americans.

India also sought to have the U.N. committee include on the list Hamid Gul, a retired Pakistani Army general who headed the country's main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, in the late 1980s. However, China, a close ally of Pakistan that has veto power on the Security Council, apparently blocked Gul's inclusion.

Gul, a harsh critic of the U.S., insists that he has no connections to any extremist groups.

The U.N. document said that Saeed plays "a key role" in LeT's operational and fundraising activities.

"In 2005, (LeT founder) Saeed determined where graduates of an LeT camp in Pakistan should be sent to fight, and personally organized the infiltration of LeT militants into Iraq during a trip to Saudi Arabia," the document said. "Saeed also arranged for an LeT operative to be sent to Europe as LeT's European fundraising coordinator."

Lakhvi, the group's alleged military coordinator, "has directed LeT operations, including in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and Southeast Asia. In 2006, Lakhvi instructed LeT associates to train operatives for suicide bombings," the document said. "In 2004, Lakhvi sent operatives and funds to attack U.S. forces in Iraq, having directed an LeT operative to travel to Iraq in 2003 to assess the situation there."

The document alleged that Lakhvi has also been involved in fundraising activities, "reportedly receiving al Qaida-affiliated donations on behalf of LeT."

Ashraf has overseen Lashkar's finances since 2003, the document said. It alleged that he traveled to the Middle East to collect money and help the "Saudi Arabia-based LeT leadership with expanding its organization and increasing fundraising activities."

Bahariq was "credited with being the main financier behind the establishment of the LeT," which was founded in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, said the document. He then went on to become the group's leader in Saudi Arabia and coordinated fundraising with Saudi non-governmental groups and businessmen, it said.

"As of mid-2005, Bahaziq played a key role in LeT's propaganda and media operations," it continued.

The Mumbai attacks have fueled serious tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

The Bush administration has been pressing Islamabad to crack down on Lashkar and other extremist groups in an effort to dissuade India from launching retaliatory military strikes against Pakistan.

Washington fears that Indian retaliation could spark a fourth Indo-Pakistan war that would free al Qaida and other Islamic militant groups to intensify their insurgency in Afghanistan.


Read the press release of the U.N. Security Council al Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee


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