SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - The banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for Mumbai attacks that killed 179 people, vowed on Saturday to fight India’s “illegal occupation” of Kashmir but said it has no links to the Pakistan government.
Indian media reported the same day that the lone surviving gunman from last month’s attacks asked Pakistan for legal help, after lawyers in India’s financial hub refused to take on his case citing moral and ethical concerns.
Under pressure from India and the United States, Pakistan has cracked down on Lashkar and an Islamic charity regarded as a Lashkar front, following the attack by Islamist gunmen in late November on luxury hotels and other targets.
Islamabad has said it would abide by a recent U.N. decision placing Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar’s founder, on a terrorism sanctions list of people and organizations linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Islamabad also has said it was investigating links with the attack, but maintains India has not provided any evidence.
The Pakistan-based Lashkar has denied being behind the three-day rampage at some of Mumbai’s most famous landmarks, and said it condemned them.
“Lashkar-e-Taiba has no link or relation with the Taliban or al Qaeda but we are fighting India’s illegal occupation of Kashmir,” Abdullah Ghaznavi, a spokesman for Lashkar, told Reuters by telephone.
“Our struggle will continue until Kashmir gains freedom.”
Indian Kashmir, the focus of two wars between India and Pakistan, has been riven by a separatist revolt against Indian rule since 1989 in which tens of thousands have died, and which has been backed by Pakistan-based militants.
The lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, wrote a letter to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi admitting his role and asking for legal help as a Pakistani national, Indian media reported.
Islamabad has said it was investigating links with the attack, but maintains India has not provided any evidence.
The United States has kept up diplomatic pressure to prevent Pakistani-Indian relations from worsening and keep Islamabad focused on the war on terrorism. Pakistan has responded by rounding up some of the 40 people India wants to be extradited.
“India is trying to malign Lashkar-e-Taiba and other mujahideen groups fighting in Kashmir but they will not succeed because the people of Kashmir are with us,” Ghaznavi said.
“Lashkar-e-Taiba is purely a Kashmiri militant organization and has nothing do with any Pakistan leader.”
In the Pakistani Kashmir capital Muzaffarabad, police on Friday raided an office, two schools and a religious seminary run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity regarded as a Lashkar front. The U.N. has put the charity on its terrorist list too.
Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Simon Denyer and Michael Roddy