Nov 20 (Reuters) - The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba has been accused of plotting attacks in India and in the west, including the three-day assault on Mumbai in November 2008.
Here are some details about the militant group:
The group has its roots in the Markaz ad-Dawat wal Irshad (MDI), an organisation created in the mid 1980s to support the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and to provide Islamic charity and spiritual guidance.
The organisation then split into two wings:
— Lashkar-e-Taiba is its military wing. Founded in 1990, it began operations in Indian Kashmir in 1993. — Jamaat ud-Dawa is its humanitarian wing. It provides extensive education, healthcare and disaster relief.
Their religious ideology is Ahl-e-Hadith, a Salafist school akin to the Wahabbism of al Qaeda, which seeks a return to the "purer" practices of early Muslims.
This distinguishes them from the Deobandi tradition of the Taliban and other Pakistan-based militant groups.
While the military focus has been on Kashmir the ideology is pan-Islamic and in favour of the creation of a Caliphate in lands where Muslims once ruled — from India to Spain.
They are based in Punjab province and in Pakistani Kashmir and Jamaat ud-Dawa runs a large educational complex at Muridke near Lahore. The MDI’s founder, Hafez Saeed, is a former professor and the organisation was seen as one of the more intellectual of the Islamist groups.
OPERATIONS IN THE WEST
It has support and funding in the Pakistani diaspora, often in the form of donations for its charitable work. Analysts say it could exploit this network for attacks on the west.
Among operations linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba were:
— The Virginia Jihad Network broken up by U.S. authorities and accused of training for holy war in 2000-2001 and providing support to Lashkar-e-Taiba.
— French police formally investigated Ghulam Mustafa Rama, a British-Pakistani living in Paris, for allegedly helping "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid in December 2001. Police failed to prove the case against him, but he was convicted and jailed for recruiting for Lashkar-e-Taiba.
— Frenchman Willy Brigitte was convicted of involvement in planning attacks in Australia after spending 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp in 2001/2002.
— One of London underground suicide bombers in 2005 had briefly visited Lashkar’s Muridke headquarters, though police found no evidence of the group’s involvement in the attack.
— Two men were arrested in Chicago in October 2009, accused of plotting attacks in Denmark, according to U.S. authorities.
TRAINING AND SUPPORT FOR WESTERNERS
Counter-terrorism experts say Lashkar-e-Taiba poses a risk to the west in four ways:
— Through directly ordering and planning attacks
— By lending its network to other groups, including al Qaeda, to conduct attacks. This indirect support is seen as more likely than direct involvement
— By providing military training and indoctrination to westerners who travel to Pakistan and then return home to stage attacks. This is a particular concern in Britain, where a large part of the Pakistani diaspora is from Pakistani Kashmir.
— By acting as a gateway for potential recruits travelling to Pakistan either to fight in Afghanistan or to join al Qaeda, who may find Lashkar an easier first point of contact.
OPERATIONS IN INDIA
The Lashkar-e-Taiba’s main focus is on Kashmir and India. Among its operations, alleged or claimed, are the following:
— Recruiting and training men to fight India in Kashmir, where a separatist revolt erupted in 1989. One of Lashkar’s hallmarks is "fedayeen" operations where men are willing to fight to the death, but are not suicide bombers.
— An attack on the historic Red Fort in New Delhi in 2000, and on the airport in the Kashmiri capital Srinagar in 2001.
— An attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 which nearly led to war with Pakistan. India blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, another Pakistan-based militant group.
— A three-day assault on Mumbai in November 2008 which killed at least 166 people. Pakistan has arrested five men, including Lashkar’s operational commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused of involvement in the attack, but rejected Indian demands that its leader Hafez Saeed be arrested.
— Lashkar is believed to have built a network of sleeper cells in India, working with the Indian Mujahideen and capitalising on the anger of some Indians Muslims about perceived injustices by the Hindu majority.
This anger was fuelled by the destruction by a Hindu mob of the Babri mosque in northern India in 1992, and by the deaths of Muslims in communal violence in the state of Gujarat in 2002.
A spate of bombings in India in recent years have been attributed both directly to Lashkar-e-Taiba and to "home-grown" terrorism by disaffected Muslims, though the majority of Indian Muslims have condemned them.
The group has not been heavily involved in the Taliban-led campaign against western forces in Afghanistan, but is believed to operate in Kunar and Nuristan in the east of the country.
It has close links with Islamist militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but retains its own distinct and independent identity and ideology.
It is officially banned in Pakistan but unofficially tolerated, analysts say. It is seen as close to the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. It is the only group not believed to have launched attacks inside Pakistan itself.
Analysts ascribe Pakistan’s reluctance to act more forcefully against the group to various factors:
— It would create a new enemy at a time when the army is already fighting the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan and facing a wave of reprisal attacks in its cities
— Lashkar-e-Taiba cadres are seen as a kind of civil defence force to be used in the event of war with India
— The Jamaat ud-Dawa enjoys wide popular support for its humanitarian work
— Many Pakistanis support the revolt in Indian Kashmir where they see their fellow Muslims as victims of Indian oppression. India blames Pakistan for stoking the violence. (Reporting by Myra MacDonald, editing by Tim Pearce)