Indian prime minister: Train bombers supported by terrorists

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Talks between the rivals scheduled Thursday appear to have been scuttled.

BOMBAY, India -- India's prime minister said Friday the Bombay train bombers were "supported by elements across the border" and that Pakistan must rein in terrorists before a peace process can move ahead.

The comments by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared to signal a reverse in warming India-Pakistan relations, and came as Indian authorities named a third suspect in Tuesday's attack and investigators cast a wide net in their hunt for assailants, scrutinizing a cross-border Islamic militant network along with smaller homegrown groups.

Speaking days after the series of carefully coordinated bombs ripped through evening rush-hour trains, killing at least 200, Singh said Pakistan assured India two years ago that its territory "would not be used to promote, encourage, aid and abet terrorism.

"That assurance has to be fulfilled before the peace process and other processes progress," he said.

Talks between the rivals scheduled for Thursday appeared to have been scuttled. Press Trust of India news agency quoted "official sources" -- a euphemism for top government officials -- as saying that there was little possibility the foreign secretaries would meet in the wake of the bombings.

'Unsubstantiated'

In Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Singh's accusations were "unsubstantiated, and we have already rejected them." She urged the peace process to go forward.

On his first visit to Bombay since the attack, Singh said investigators are sure that terror cells are operating in Bombay and many other parts of India.

"We are also certain that these terror modules are instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border, without which they cannot act with such devastating effect," he said, referring to Pakistan. "They clearly want to destroy our growing economic strength, to destroy our unity and provoke communal incidents."

A divided region

After nearing the brink of war in 2002, nuclear-armed India and Pakistan launched a peace process that has brought them closer, yet concrete agreement on the most pressing and longstanding issue -- the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir -- has been minimal.

Earlier Friday, Bombay Police Commissioner A.N. Roy said a man known only as Rahil was the third person sought in connection with the blasts.

The Indian government's Anti-Terror Squad released photos Thursday night of two other suspects, Sayyad Zabiuddin and Zulfeqar Fayyaz. Their nationalities were not given, nor was it clear where the photos of the young, bearded men originated.

The investigation also spread to the neighboring kingdom of Nepal where police said they had arrested two Pakistanis in connection with the seizure of RDX explosives in the capital of Katmandu in 2001. They said the two men are also being investigated for links to the Bombay blasts.

Since the blasts, officials have been pointing to the Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, which operates in Kashmir. Many cited the presumed use of RDX high explosives as evidence of Lashkar's involvement.

But Lashkar denied any role, and the Press Trust of India news agency reported that forensic tests were indicating the use of lower-grade industrial explosives, such as dynamite, or even simple chemical explosives, such as ammonium nitrate.

Officials were quoted by the news agency as saying the use of such common explosives would suggest that smaller, local groups carried out the blasts -- not more sophisticated and better-equipped networks, such as Lashkar.

An Indian Home Ministry official said that among the leads investigators were pursuing was the possible involvement of the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India, which may have been aided by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The official requested anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing.

Pakistan also dismissed that allegation.

"This is baseless, and we reject it," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told The Associated Press in Islamabad.

Pakistan consistently denies stoking terror in India or fanning militancy in divided Kashmir. The rivals each claim the entire territory and have fought two wars over it since independence from Britain in 1947.

The Bombay police chief said the two suspects named Thursday had been on the run since mid-May, when authorities arrested three suspected Muslim insurgents and seized large quantities of arms, ammunition and plastic explosives after a long highway chase in western India's Maharashtra state. Bombay is its capital.

News reports at that time had said the arrested men were Lashkar-e-Tayyaba members.

Lashkar has in the past staged near-simultaneous explosions in Indian cities, including an October attack in New Delhi that killed more than 60 people. The group also was named in a 2001 attack on India's parliament.

On Thursday, a man claiming to represent al-Qaida reportedly claimed the terror network had set up a wing in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where Islamic militants have been fighting for years for independence from predominantly Hindu India or union with mostly Muslim Pakistan.

There was no way to immediately verify the al-Qaida claim. If true, it would be the first time Osama bin Laden's network has claimed to have spread into Indian territory.

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