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Kashmir base reportedly hit

Pakistani troops are said to seal off a camp used by the group suspected in the Mumbai attacks.

December 08, 2008|Laura King | King is a Times staff writer.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pakistani troops on Sunday reportedly raided a camp belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba or an affiliated group, in what would be the government's first strike at militants accused in the Mumbai attacks.

Details were sketchy, but local news accounts and witnesses said Pakistani security forces sealed off the camp near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. It was not known whether any militants were present.

Pakistan's government has been under heavy pressure from the United States and India to move against those believed responsible for the rampage by gunmen last month in Mumbai, India's commercial capital. It was unclear, though, whether Sunday's reported raid was mainly a symbolic slap or meant to be a genuine blow to the group's infrastructure. Most of Lashkar-e-Taiba's training centers are believed to be in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border.

It had been thought that any Pakistani government action against the militants would probably take place before today's start of the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.

Pakistan's civilian leadership, mindful of religious sensitivities, is worried about a backlash from insurgents and their sympathizers if it carries out major raids or high-profile arrests during the holiday. Eid al-Adha formally lasts three days, but will basically shut down the country -- and much of the Muslim world -- this week.

Accounts said the Pakistani operation took place in the Shawai district, a mountainous area outside Muzaffarabad. A resident, Nisar Ali, told the Reuters news agency that the military closed off the area and that explosions could be heard.

Pakistan's military had no immediate comment on the reported raid, which came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated U.S. calls for Pakistan to move against militants suspected of carrying out the rampage at luxury hotels and other sites in Mumbai.

Indian investigators, supported by Western intelligence, believe Pakistan was used as a staging ground for the attacks. Indian authorities say that the sole captured gunman is a Pakistani and that the assailants were in touch by mobile phone with handlers in Pakistan during the 60-hour siege.

"I think there's no doubt that Pakistani territory was used, by probably non-state actors," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition." Pakistan has vehemently denied involvement by the state or any of its agencies, a stance thus far supported by the United States.

"I don't think that there is compelling evidence of involvement of Pakistani officials," said Rice, who visited India and Pakistan last week in an effort to calm tensions.

Suspicion in the attack has fallen largely on Lashkar-e- Taiba, or Army of the Pure, a 2-decade-old group that spent much of its existence fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir -- at times with the active assistance of Pakistan's intelligence services.

Pakistan banned the group in 2002, but a charitable wing, Jamaat ud-Dawa, operates openly, with a large base of support in Pakistan's Punjab province. Jamaat was a major presence in Muzaffarabad and surrounding areas after a deadly earthquake rocked Kashmir in 2005.

The head of Jamaat ud-Dawa, a former college professor named Hafiz Saeed, is a founding member of Lashkar. He is on a list of about 20 terrorist suspects whose hand-over India has demanded. Pakistan has indicated it will not comply.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Mubashir Zaidi contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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