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Interpol to aid Pakistan investigation of Mumbai attack

Interpol official praises Pakistan's efforts to find the plotters while chiding India for not sharing information. Pakistan has given details of bank accounts, Internet addresses and DNA samples.

March 09, 2009|Mark Magnier

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — With prosecution deadlines looming, Interpol announced an agreement Sunday with Pakistan to aid an investigation into the masterminds behind November's militant attack in Mumbai, which killed more than 170 people.

Ronald K. Noble, secretary-general of the France-based international security organization, also chided Indian officials for not being more forthcoming in helping their investigation of the deadly rampage in India's financial capital.

"So far, we have received no information from the government of India or any [Indian] police organization," he told reporters in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

Noble said Interpol had received telephone numbers, details of bank accounts, Internet addresses and information on the equipment and materials used to carry out the attack from Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency.

Pakistan has also pledged to provide Interpol with DNA evidence that was recovered, which will be cross-referenced against its global database of 83,000 DNA profiles. Local news media reported that the evidence included samples from relatives of various Pakistani suspects, including of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only suspected assailant in custody.

But Noble said that "in order for these comparisons to be complete, India will be required to send Interpol the DNA profiles that they obtained in their investigation."

India has shared information with the FBI, but some analysts say it might be reluctant to provide further evidence to Interpol for fear that might result in rival Pakistan gaining insight into its intelligence operations. Pakistan has reportedly rejected an offer of assistance from the FBI.

Noble said Sunday that Pakistan's investigation suggested that planning for the Mumbai attack took place in at least five European and Middle Eastern countries in addition to India and Pakistan, although he declined to identify specific countries. He said that at least four, including three in the Middle East, had failed to respond to Pakistan's requests for assistance and leads.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, authorities continued to search for the possible wreckage of an American drone aircraft that reportedly crashed in a militant stronghold in the northwest. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan declined to comment, saying that it was not their jurisdiction. The top-secret drone program, used for reconnaissance and launching missile strikes on suspected militants, is believed to be overseen by the CIA.

The CIA also declined to comment.

Local media reported that Pakistani authorities had freed 12 Taliban militants as part of a deal struck last month with Islamists in the troubled Swat Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. Western analysts have been concerned that appeasing the extremists would only strengthen their hand.

Militants reportedly killed 14 tribal police officers in an ambush in the Mohmand tribal region near the provincial capital Peshawar on Saturday night and Sunday. The militants reportedly killed six officers during the ambush and eight a few hours later.

Local Taliban head Omar Khalid told journalists by phone that his group had also destroyed three police vehicles and were holding an official and two policemen hostage pending the release of militant prisoners and the removal of all area checkpoints.

Interpol, essentially a clearinghouse, depends on voluntary cooperation from police organizations in its 187 member countries. Noble went out of his way Sunday to praise what he termed Pakistan's "thorough and highly professional" investigation into the Mumbai attack, which set an "example for the international policing community" befitting a "nation among nations."

That view is at odds with some accounts that say Islamabad responded only after international pressure forced its hand, and then in an incomplete fashion.

"Interpol is not in any position to evaluate the character of an investigation," said Ajai Sahni, head of the Institute for Conflict Management, a think tank based in New Delhi. "They're essentially a post office, a diplomatic organization that takes what Pakistan gives it and passes it on."

Furthermore, Sahni said, whatever evidence India provides Pakistan probably wouldn't result in a meaningful legal conviction, given the close connection between elements in the security establishment and Islamist militant groups.

Talat Masood, a retired general with the Pakistani army, countered that though Pakistan was slow off the mark, it had made up for lost time. Pakistan was initially in a state of denial, he said, but it eventually admitted that Pakistanis had played a role in the attack and moved to arrest suspects and investigate further.

Rehman Malik, the top official in Pakistan's Interior Ministry, urged India to provide answers to 30 questions because under law, a case must be filed before the end of March, a shorter deadline than India's.

Pakistan has refused India's request for several suspected plotters to be extradited, while India has refused to hand over the 21-year-old Kasab, the lone surviving suspect in the attack.

India is reluctant to share its information with Interpol, Masood said, because it doesn't want it to get back to Pakistan. On the other hand, he said, Islamabad would rather work with Interpol than with the FBI, which might be too intrusive about looking into Pakistani proxy groups, training camps and those working with various alleged attackers.

Interpol said that as part of the agreement, it had also received permission to have a permanent representative in Pakistan to help fight various forms of cyber-crime.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar and Times staff writer Greg Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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