(CNSNews.com) - Indian intelligence specialists are investigating whether a series of deadly bombings in Mumbai (Bombay) Tuesday were the work of an al-Qaeda-affiliated, Pakistan-based terrorist group.
Police sources told several Indian media outlets Wednesday that the coordinated attacks were probably carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), with the help of Indian Islamists attached to a banned Muslim students' group, SIMI.
The view concurred with that of security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman, who suspects LeT as well as elements in SIMI and individuals linked to a fugitive Mumbai criminal underworld figure, Dawood Ibrahim.
If confirmed, the suspicions are likely to add to strains on Indo-Pakistan ties while intensifying the focus on Pakistan's lawless Waziristan, the remote region adjacent to the Afghan border where Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri are believed to be sheltering.
More than 170 people were killed in at least seven powerful blasts, occurring within minutes of each other on the commercial capital's commuter train network during evening rush-hour. A Mumbai police spokesman said more than 460 people had been injured.
In recent months, Indian anti-terrorist police have arrested a number of LeT suspects in the Mumbai vicinity, including the arrest on May 9 of 10 suspects in possession of 30 kilograms of explosive and weapons in a city several hundred miles away.
Raman, a former senior Indian intelligence official who now directs the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai, pointed to similarities between the orchestrated Mumbai blasts and al-Qaeda attacks targeting transportation networks in Madrid in 2003 and London a year ago.
"While there is no reason to believe that the terrorist strikes of July 11 might have been carried out by the Arab members of al-Qaeda, the inspiration and planning are likely to have come from the group," he said.
Raman also noted that, after President Bush's visit to India last March, bin Laden had for the first time referred in a message to India as an apparent target, by denouncing what he called "a Crusader-Zionist-Hindu war against the Muslims."
Following Tuesday's blasts messages of condolence and condemnation poured in from around the globe, with General Pervez Musharraf's government in Pakistan among those to deplore what it called a "despicable act of terrorism."
Relations between the traditional South Asian rivals have been improving over the past two years, but with fingers pointing towards LeT, Indian accusations will again fly.
The LeT is a Sunni, Wahhabi organization which was founded in Pakistan in the late 1980s, and signed up to bin Laden's 1998 fatwa forming the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews.
The group has been fighting to end Indian rule in part of disputed Kashmir, but has been increasingly linked to attacks seen as forming part of the broader al-Qaeda campaign against the West and its allies.
India has long charged that the LeT, along with a handful of like-minded groups, have operated with the support and assistance of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate -- the powerful intelligence agency which had close links to the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to 9/11.
After the al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S., Musharraf severed his country's formal ties with the Taliban and sided with Washington in the ensuing war against terrorists.
After 9/11, Musharraf was reported to have purged the ISI of members not supportive of the government's new stance. In January 2002, he bowed to outside pressure and declared a ban on LeT and three other groups.
Five months later, however, then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told lawmakers after a visit to South Asia that the British government "accepts that there is a clear link" between the ISI and terrorist groups including LeT.
In a statement provided to Indian media organizations, an LeT spokesman, Abdullah Ghaznavi, denied involvement in the Mumbai attack, saying New Delhi was trying to "defame the freedom struggle" in Kashmir.
Raman is particularly interested in the activities of Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian Muslim who made a fortune in the narcotics trade and has been based in Karachi, Pakistan since the early 1990s.
Ibrahim became India's most-wanted man after investigations found him responsible for the worst terrorist attack in Mumbai prior to Tuesday's one - a March 1993 bombing which cost 257 lives. India also claimed ISI involvement in that attack.
Months after 9/11, and shortly after LeT carried out an audacious assault on the Indian Parliament, India handed Pakistan a list of names of 20 terror suspects including Ibrahim, and demanded that Islamabad hand them over. Musharraf demurred.
In 2003, the U.S. Treasury declared Ibrahim an international terrorist subject to financial sanctions, citing intelligence that he was funding LeT terror attacks and that he and bin Laden had an arrangement to share smuggling networks. U.S. Treasury documents give four Karachi addresses for him.
An Interpol "special notice" warrant for Ibrahim's arrest also gives two addresses in Karachi.
But Pakistan has long denied knowing his whereabouts, and there has been little news of him for many months.
Just weeks ago, however, Pakistani media reported that the Indian government had stepped up calls for Pakistan to hand over Ibrahim, and that the fugitive had relocated from Karachi to Waziristan -- a mountainous area about half the size of New Jersey -- or the adjoining Afghan territory.
The reports said U.S.-backed Afghan forces operating on the Afghanistan side of the border with Pakistan had added Ibrahim's name to a list of most-wanted terrorists for whom they should be on the lookout.
Raman cited unnamed sources as saying Ibrahim's move from Karachi was linked to ISI concerns that his presence there could embarrass the Pakistani government, and that he was now in Waziristan, under ISI protection.
Last week, Pakistan reportedly asked Interpol to remove the Karachi addresses from its special notice on Dawood, saying he was not living there. Interpol then contacted the Indian government, whose Central Bureau of Investigation said on Friday it had given the international police organization "proof about his entire network in Pakistan."
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