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US Official: India Knew Of Plot On Mumbai’s Coast

MUMBAI, India – India received a warning from the United States before last week’s attacks in Mumbai that militants were plotting a waterborne assault on the city, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday as domestic intelligence officials said they were aware of a Pakistan-based plot.

Another U.S. official added that there is reason to suspect the assailants were part of a group at least partly based across the border in Pakistan.

As the evidence of the militants’ links to Pakistan mounts, a list of about 20 people – including India’s most-wanted man – was submitted to Pakistan’s high commissioner to New Delhi on Monday night, said India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee.

The revelations come as the Indian government faces widespread accusations of security and intelligence failures after suspected Muslim militants carried out a three-day attack across India’s financial capital, killing at least 172 people – including six Americans – and wounding 239.

India has already demanded Pakistan take “strong action” against those responsible for the attacks, and the U.S. has pressured Islamabad to cooperate in the investigation. America’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will visit India on Wednesday.

A Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of intelligence information, said Tuesday that the U.S. passed on information to India about a potential attack on Mumbai from its long waterfront. But the official would not elaborate on the timing or details of the U.S. warning to Indian counterparts.

Another American official said the assailants could have been at least partly based in Pakistan – the closest the U.S. has come to laying blame for the attacks. The State Department official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, was careful to say not all the evidence is in.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Israelis began burying the six Jews killed in one of those attacks, the assault on a Jewish center run by the ultra-Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement.

Several thousand ultra-Orthodox mourners gathered for the first funeral, that of Leibish Teitelbaum, an American who lived in Jerusalem.

Four Israelis and a Mexican Jewish woman were also killed. A memorial ceremony was scheduled for later Wednesday for the 29-year-old rabbi who ran the Jewish center, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his 28-year-old wife, Rivkah.

Indian officials continued to interrogate the only surviving attacker, who reportedly told police that he and the other nine gunmen had trained for months in camps in Pakistan operated by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India’s foreign intelligence agency received information as recently as September that Pakistan-based terrorists were plotting attacks against Mumbai targets, according to a government intelligence official familiar with the matter. He said the information, which he attributed to Indian sources and not the Americans, included indications that hotels would be targeted but did not specify which ones.

The information was then relayed to domestic security authorities, said the official, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the details and spoke on condition of anonymity. But it’s unclear whether the government acted on the intelligence.

The famous Taj Mahal hotel, scene of much of the bloodshed, had tightened security with metal detectors and other measures in the weeks before the attacks, after being warned of a possible threat.

But the precautions “could not have stopped what took place,” Ratan Tata, chairman of the company that owns the hotel, told CNN. “They (the gunmen) didn’t come through that entrance. They came from somewhere in the back.”

A day after soldiers finishing removed the last bodies from the hotel, where the standoff finally ended Saturday morning, wood boards covered its marble latticework and seafront entrance as plainclothes police searched for evidence.

The building was the last to be cleared, following the five-star Oberoi hotel, the Jewish center, and other sites struck in this city of 18 million.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has promised to strengthen maritime and air security and look into creating a new federal investigative agency, met Tuesday with top security aides to review any government lapses.

Among those sought by India is fugitive Dawood Ibrahim – a powerful gangster, the alleged mastermind of 1993 Mumbai bombings, and India’s most-wanted man.

Also included is Masood Azhar, a terror suspect freed from an Indian prison in exchange for the release of hostages aboard an Indian Airlines aircraft hijacked on Christmas Day 1999.

In the past, Pakistan has denied harboring the men. However, Pakistan said it would consider India’s request and respond after receiving the list.

“We must try to dampen down the discourse of conflict and work toward regional peace,” said Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman.

While the cross-border rhetoric between Pakistan and India has increased since the attacks, both countries – by their often-bellicose standards – carefully refrained from making statements that could quickly lead to a buildup of troops along their already militarized frontier.

Mukherjee appeared to tone things down further Tuesday, telling reporters that “nobody is talking about military action,” according to the Press Trust of India news agency. Mukherjee, responding to questions on what actions India would take, said only “time will show.”

In Pakistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi pledged full cooperation.

Qureshi said Pakistan has offered a “joint investigative mechanism and joint commission.” He didn’t say when the offer was made or if India had responded.

With the investigation still under way, and FBI and Scotland Yard teams assisting, more details emerged about the suspects and the attacks.

The sole surviving attacker, Ajmal Qasab, told police his group trained over about six months in camps operated by Lashkar in Pakistan, learning close-combat techniques, hostage-taking, handling of explosives, satellite navigation, and high-seas survival skills, according to two Indian security officials familiar with the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the details.

Lashkar was outlawed in Pakistan under pressure from the U.S. in 2002, a year after Washington and Britain listed it a terrorist group.

Qasab told investigators the militants hijacked an Indian vessel and killed three crew members, keeping the captain alive long enough to guide them into Mumbai, the two security officials said.

The men, ages 18-28, then came ashore in a dinghy at two different Mumbai areas before slipping into the city in two teams, officials said.

The gunmen hired two separate taxis after reaching Mumbai, planting bombs that later exploded in each vehicle, officials said. Two more unexploded bombs were found outside the Taj Mahal hotel.

The gunmen struck at several sites, including a train station, where they mowed down police and passers-by; the Jewish center; and the two luxury hotels, representing the city’s wealth and tourism, reportedly seeking out Westerners.

The 19 foreigners killed were Americans, Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Mexico, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia, Singapore and Mexico.

Associated Press writers Ravi Nessman in Mumbai, Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Pakistan, Anne Gearan in Brussels, Belgium, and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.

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