LeT against improving ties between India and Pakistan: US official

Asserting that Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based militant groups continue to pose a direct threat to the US interests and its allies in the region, a top American counter-terrorism official has said that the LeT is against improving relations between India and Pakistan.

PTI| Last Updated: Sep 11, 2014, 11:27 AM IST

Washington: Asserting that Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based militant groups continue to pose a direct threat to the US interests and its allies in the region, a top American counter-terrorism official has said that the LeT is against improving relations between India and Pakistan.

"Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is against improving relations between India and Pakistan, and its leaders consistently speak out against (India) and the US, accusing both countries of trying to destabilise Pakistan," Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director, National Counterterrorism Center, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers yesterday.

LeT has attacked Western interests in South Asia in pursuit of its regional objectives, as demonstrated by the targeting of hotels frequented by Westerners during the Mumbai attacks in 2008, Rasmussen said in his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on "Cybersecurity, Terrorism and Beyond: Addressing Evolving Threats to the Homeland."

LeT leaders almost certainly recognise that an attack on the US would result in intense international backlash against Pakistan and endanger the group's safe haven there, he said.

"However, LeT also provides training to Pakistani and Western militants, some of whom could plot terrorist attacks in the West without direction from LeT leadership," he said.

In his remarks, Rasmussen said Pakistani and Afghan militant groups including Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Haqqani Network and LeT continue to pose a direct threat to US interests and its allies in the region, where these groups probably will remain focused.

"We continue to watch for indicators that any of these groups, networks, or individuals are actively pursuing or have decided to incorporate operations outside of South Asia as a strategy to achieve their objectives," he said.

"TTP remains a significant threat in Pakistan despite the ongoing Pakistan military operations in North Waziristan and leadership changes during the past year. Its claim of responsibility for the June attack on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi that killed about 30 people underscores the threat the group poses inside the country," Rasmussen said.

The Haqqani network is one of the most capable and lethal terrorist groups in Afghanistan and poses a serious threat to the stability of the Afghan state as we approach 2014 and beyond, he added.

Last month, the US listed four top Haqqani members - Aziz Haqqani, Khalil Haqqani, Yahya Haqqani, and Qari Abdul Rauf - on the "Rewards for Justice" most-wanted list for their involvement in terrorist attacks and ties to al-Qaeda.

"The Haqqanis have conducted numerous high-profile attacks against US, NATO, Afghan Government, and other allied nation targets. In October 2013, Afghan security forces intercepted a truck bomb deployed by the Haqqanis against Forward Operating Base Goode in the Paktiya Province."

"The device, which did not detonate, contained some 61,500 pounds of explosives and constitutes the largest truck bomb ever recovered in Afghanistan," Rasmussen said.

He said the US anticipates that despite core al Qaeda's diminished leadership cadre, remaining members will continue to pose a threat to Western interests in South Asia and would attempt to strike the homeland should an opportunity arise.

"Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's public efforts to promote individual acts of violence in the West have increased, as the Pakistan-based group's own capabilities have diminished," he said.

"Despite ISIL's challenge, Zawahiri remains the recognised leader of the global jihadist movement among al Qaeda affiliates and allies, and the groups continue to defer to his guidance on critical issues."

"Since the start of the Arab unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, Zawahiri and other members of the group's leadership have directed their focus there, encouraging cadre and associates to support and take advantage of the unrest," he added.