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Kashmiri militant denounces slaughter in Mumbai

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - A leader of militant groups in Pakistani Kashmir called the slaughter of civilians in Mumbai “reprehensible”, and denied that any member of his alliance was involved.

National Security Guard members rest outside Taj Mahal Hotel after an operation in Mumbai November 29, 2008. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

Sayed Salahuddin heads the United Jihad Council, an umbrella organisation banding together around a dozen ethnic Kashmiri militant groups.

Suspicion has fallen on a non-member, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Though it fights for the Kashmiri cause, L-e-T was founded in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab and mainly recruited Punjabis to its ranks.

“Let me be very clear once again that the United Jihad Council does not approve of civilian killings and under its code of conduct such an act is reprehensible,” Salahuddin said.

“I can say with utmost certainty that none of Kashmiri jihadi groups has any involvement with the events in Mumbai,” he told Reuters by telephone.

The targeting of Westerners and Jews as well as Indians in the attack supported views that the perpetrators subscribed to a global jihadi agenda, like al Qaeda’s, and not just a regional dispute like Kashmir.

Security analysts say L-e-T and Jaish-e-Mohammad, another Punjabi-based militant group fighting for the Kashmiri cause, have links with al Qaeda.

Salahuddin, whose own group is Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, said the attacks in Mumbai were probably carried out by an Indian group in response to the oppression of minorities, including Muslims.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since partition in 1947. Two of them have been over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. India holds two-thirds of Kashmir, and Pakistan calls its slice of the disputed region Azad, or Free, Kashmir.

The speaker of the Azad Kashmir parliament, Shah Ghulam Qadir, condemned India for levelling accusations before fully investigating, and said it endangered peace talks begun in 2004.

“Blaming Pakistan even before holding preliminary investigations is condemnable and runs the risk of derailing the peace process,” Qadir said.

Ordinary people in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan’s side of Kashmir, said they were shocked by the television images of the carnage in Mumbai, but several refused to believe the Indian claims that Islamist militants were responsible.

Hatred of India runs deep, and many people prefer to believe conspiracy theories than what they regard as an enemy government.

“It’s a tragic incident,” said Amber Mehmood, a working woman in the city.

“But I believe that it’s handiwork of Indian intelligence agencies aimed at gaining sympathy of the Western world and bringing Muslims into disrepute.”

She wasn’t alone.

“To me it appears an intelligence game. All fake and stage managed,” said Ayesha Shams, a young woman studying history at the city’s university.

A predilection for conspiracy theories is common among people who believe they are being oppressed and defamed.

Many Muslims still refuse to believe Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.