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India blames Pakistanis, calls for punishment

by Somini Sengupta and Robert F. Worth
New York Times

Mumbai, India

In a new sign of rising tension between two nuclear-armed neighbors, Indian foreign ministry officials summoned Pakistan’s ambassador Monday evening and told him Pakistanis were responsible and must be punished for last week’s terrorist attacks here, in which 173 people were killed over three days in the heart of India’s commercial capital.

India also suggested that the planners of the attacks are still at large in Pakistan, saying India expected “strong action would be taken” by Pakistan against those responsible for the violence, according to a statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs. The 10 men who appear to have carried out the attacks are now dead or in custody.

The statement added tartly that Pakistan’s actions “needed to match the sentiments expressed by its leadership that it wishes to have a qualitatively new relationship with India.”

It was not clear whether India had supplied Pakistan with any proof of its claims. Pakistani officials have said that they are not aware of any links to Pakistan-based militants and that they would act swiftly if they found one.

The Indian government is facing strong criticism at home for its handling of the attacks, and with elections just months away, it could risk being accused of diverting public anger from its failures if it does not furnish evidence for its claims. But there is also a groundswell of popular anger in Mumbai against Pakistan.

The attacks have raised tensions between the two countries to a level not seen since 2001, when a suicide attack on the Indian parliament pushed them to the brink of war.

The ominous atmosphere poses a special challenge for the United States, a strong ally of India and also dependent on Pakistan for cooperation in fighting al Qaeda. Renewed tensions between India and Pakistan could distract Pakistan from that project.

President Bush has dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India, where she is expected to arrive on Wednesday.

Speaking in London on Monday, she called on Pakistan in blunt terms “to follow the evidence wherever it leads,” adding, “I don’t want to jump to any conclusions myself on this, but I do think that this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation.”

The foreign ministry’s claim that the attackers were all Pakistani echoes a claim by the one attacker who was captured alive, identified as Ajmal Amir Qasab, said Inspector Rakesh Maria, head of the crime control bureau at the Mumbai police. Qasab also said he was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamist group blamed for terrorist attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere.

However, no foreign identification documents were found, and some of the attackers had fake Indian papers, Inspector Maria added.

Maria also said there were only 10 attackers in all, denying earlier suggestions by public officials that more may have been involved. It remains unclear whether more attackers may remain at large, and whether the militants had at least some accomplices on the ground before the violence began on Wednesday night.

Some new details emerged Monday about the difficulties faced by the Indian police commandos who responded to the killings here last week. The attackers used grenades to booby-trap some of the dead bodies in the two hotels where they struck, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, Inspector Maria said.

That tactic made fighting the attackers more difficult, and significantly delayed the cleanup after the violence ended, he said. The last militants were routed on Saturday morning, but the Taj hotel was not returned to the control of its owners until Monday morning.

But those details seemed unlikely to blunt the rising public anger at the government’s handling of the attacks, which have been widely described here as India’s version of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The ease with which the small band of attackers mowed down civilians in downtown Mumbai, and resisted police commandos for days in several different buildings, has exposed glaring weaknesses in India’s intelligence and enforcement abilities.

On Monday, rising public outcry pushed the chief minister of Maharashtra State, Vilasrao Deshmukh, a member of the governing Congress Party, to offer his resignation. Party leaders were still considering his offer Monday night.

“I accept moral responsibility for the terror attacks,” he said at a news conference.

Earlier in the day, his deputy, R.R. Patil, officially stepped down. The two gestures came a day after India’s highest-ranking domestic security official, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, resigned, saying he took responsibility for the failure to forestall or quickly contain the three-day killing spree.


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