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Pakistan Targets Suspected Mumbai Attackers

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Pakistani security forces have raided a camp used by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the recent terror attacks in Mumbai. That move comes after both India and the U.S. demanded that Pakistan take action against the group. Here's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking yesterday on CNN.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): I think there's no doubt that Pakistani territory was used by probably non-state actors. I don't think that there is compelling evidence of involvement of the Pakistani officials. But I do think that Pakistan has a responsibility to act. And it doesn't matter that they're non-state actors.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jackie Northam joins us from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, to talk more about this. And Jackie, what do you know about this raid on the Lashkar-e-Taiba compound?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, this compound is near a town called Muzaffarabad, and it's on the Pakistani side of the disputed Kashmir region. Pakistani security forces went in on Sunday, and we're getting reports that there was fighting between the soldiers and the suspected militants and that several people have been arrested. This is the first real action that Pakistan has taken against the suspected militants. The new government here is under enormous pressure to do something following the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan is awash in rumors and conspiracy theories and speculation. And there were genuine concerns that India was going to launch its own attack on this particular Lashkar-e-Taiba camp. And if that happened, it obviously would have exacerbated an already very tense situation between Pakistan and India. And many people here felt that if it happened, Pakistan would have to respond militarily. And no one wanted to see that happen.

MONTAGNE: Well, is this enough to satisfy India's demand that Pakistan bring those responsible for the Mumbai attacks to justice? I mean, after all, isn't one of the leaders - some of the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba, aren't they out still, and rather openly?

NORTHAM: Well, that's right. Yes, the Pakistan government banned the group in 2002. But, you know, they're still sort of hiding in plain sight, as they say here. You know, the Pakistan government has said, look - and it keeps saying to the Indian government - if you want proof - if you have proof of Pakistan's involvement in the Mumbai attacks, give it to us. However, until now, all that New Delhi has given Islamabad is a list of 20 men it says are behind the attacks. Secretary Rice has said the U.S. didn't think that there was any involvement by the Pakistani government. But, you know, there's been ongoing speculation here whether former officials with Pakistan's intelligence agencies were involved.

Lashkar-e-Taiba was set up in the early 1980s by the intelligence agencies, really to act as a proxy fighting force in the disputed area of Kashmir - in other words to fight Indian troops in this predominantly Muslim area. And the question is how much involvement do the intelligence agencies still have with Lashkar-e-Taiba and other similar groups? And if that's found out to be true, it won't do much to ease tensions between the two countries.

MONTAGNE: Well, those tensions got very high when Pakistan put its air force on high alert because of something rather odd, it turns out - a prank telephone call.

NORTHAM: Well, you're right. It was a very strange incident. What happened was Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, received a telephone call purportedly from India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee. Now this was just as the Mumbai terror attacks were unfolding. And because of the situation, the standard verification procedure was bypassed. Zardari took the call. And the man who he thought was India's foreign minister began speaking in a very threatening manner.

And that convinced many in the Pakistani government that India was preparing for war. And so for the next 24 hours, Pakistan's air force was put on high alert. You know, it was by itself a small incident, but again it really shows how precarious the situation is in this region.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Jackie Northam speaking to us from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

INSKEEP: And we'll bring you more on this story as we learn it. The Associated Press and other news services are saying today that Lashkar-e-Taiba leader who allegedly orchestrated the Mumbai attacks has been arrested by the Pakistani forces. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.