`Lashkar a tool of ISI, ally of al Qaeda`

Fresh probes by a media group assert that Pakistan is a supporter of jihadist terror.

Washington: Pakistan, a key US ally in the war against terrorism, is a supporter of jihadist terror as seen in the close links between the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the ISI, according to fresh independent probes by a media group into the 26/11 attacks.

"The question, simply put, is whether the larger interests of the United States in maintaining good relations with Pakistan will permit (Sajid) Mir (the jihadi terrorist) and other suspects to get away with one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in recent history," veteran journalist Sebastian Rotella said in his latest investigative report, published in ProPublica, on the Mumbai terror attacks.

In his latest 26/11 investigative report published as part of the Amazon`s Kindle Singles program, Rotella documents details the close relationship between the perpetrators of the massacre -- the militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Pakistani government.

Rotella brings in fresh evidence of relationship between Mir, who commanded the Mumbai operations from a control room in Pakistan, and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The charges have, however, been strongly denied by Pakistan, which asserts that ISI had no links with the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre that killed 166 people and wounded more than 300.

Six Americans were among the 26 foreigners killed.

"Mir has close ties to Pakistan`s security forces and may have been an officer in the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. The ISI has been accused for years of playing a `double game`: acting as a front-line US ally in the fight against terror while supporting selected terrorist groups.”

"The Mumbai case provides the first detailed inside account of how that game is played, thanks to the confession of Headley, Mir`s American operative, a colourful character in a story of global intrigue," the report said.

"US investigators are persuaded that ISI officers recruited and trained Headley in spying techniques, then ran him as an agent in tandem with Lashkar. Pakistani military officers funded and directed Headley`s reconnaissance in India, supplied tactical advice for the Mumbai attack and participated in a follow-up plot against Denmark, according to US and Indian officials," it said.

The investigation leads to another disturbing revelation -- despite isolated voices of concern, for years the US intelligence community was slow to focus on Lashkar and detect the extent of its determination to strike Western targets.

"During that period, Washington largely accepted Pakistan`s quiet tolerance of Lashkar, which unlike its allies has not attacked the Pakistani state. Most US officials admit that counter-terrorism agencies grasped the dimensions of the threat only after the Mumbai attacks," Rotella wrote.

"Lashkar is not just a tool of the ISI, but an ally of al Qaeda that participates in its global jihad," Jean-Louis Brugui re, a French judge who investigated Mir told ProPublica.Com.

"Today Pakistan is the heart of the terrorist threat. And it may be too late to do anything about it," he said.

According to Rotella, several US and French anti-terror officials say Mir became an Army major, although he may not have reached that rank in 2001.

He eventually left the military, although it is not clear when or why, officials say.

Brugui re, the French judge, said the case showed "that Sajid Mir was a high-ranking officer in the Pakistani Army and apparently also was in the ISI”.

"In contrast, some investigators aren`t convinced that Mir served in the military. Headley`s confession to Indian investigators doesn`t mention Mir`s military affiliation, though it portrays him as a close associate of the ISI.”

"The crucial role that Pakistani security forces played in the camps has emerged in other cases. A Briton who trained with Lashkar and was later convicted as the ringleader of a foiled 2004 plot against London by al Qaeda testified that ISI officers screened and trained foreign recruits in Lashkar camps in 2000," the report said.

When he returned to the stand for the next day of testimony, the Briton refused to answer further questions, alleging that the ISI had reacted to his courtroom account by threatening his relatives in Pakistan, it added.