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Indian police to question possible Mumbai "scouts"

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian police will question two jailed members of an Islamist militant group over whether they scouted Mumbai landmarks before last month’s deadly attacks on the financial hub, a senior police officer said on Wednesday.

Indian police guard the entrance to the damaged Nariman House in Mumbai December 16, 2008. Nariman House, home to the Mumbai chapter of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish movement, was one of 10 sites attacked by gunmen during a 60-hour siege in the city that began on November 26, 2008. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

Indians Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin, who were arrested in February over an attack on a police camp in northern India, will appear in court in the next two days to determine how long they can be held in custody in Mumbai, said Deven Bharti, a police commissioner in India’s financial capital.

Police say Ansari was trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group India, Britain and the United States have blamed for the Mumbai attacks, which killed at least 179 people.

Ansari has been in jail in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh state since February. He was arrested carrying maps highlighting Mumbai landmarks, several of which were hit in last month’s attack. Sabauddin was arrested as an accomplice.

Mumbai police want to question them over whether they had reconnoitered the city before the attacks, Bharti said.

“They are members of LeT and we are looking for further information on that, and whether there are any more local linkages to the Mumbai attacks,” he said.

India and the United States want Pakistan to do more to crack down on militant groups like LeT, which they say were nurtured by the Pakistan military’s spy agency as a means to destabilize New Delhi and fuel a separatist insurgency in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

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Fearing a rise in tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, they have also urged restraint from India in its response to the Mumbai attacks.

Bharti said investigations surrounding the lone surviving gunman from the attack, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, were continuing but gave no more details.

Mumbai police can hold Kasab until December 24 while they prepare a formal charge sheet.

Many lawyers in the city, including the 1,000-member Bar Council, are refusing to represent Kasab. Angry members of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party threw stones at the homes of three who said they would defend him, party officials said.

As evidence of tighter security in the still-nervous city, an evacuation drill was conducted on Wednesday at Mumbai’s domestic airport terminal to check the response of security agencies and airport officials to threats, an airport spokesman said.

All passenger areas, shops and offices at the terminal were evacuated for about 25 minutes, said spokesman Manish Kalghatgi.

“It was part of a planned annual exercise, and we are satisfied with our level of preparedness,” he said.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, on U.S. and U.N. terrorism lists, denies any involvement in the Mumbai attack or any links to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“Lashkar-e-Taiba is engaged only in the struggle to liberate Kashmir from Indian occupation and Kashmir’s freedom struggle is legitimate,” LeT spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi told Reuters by telephone in Srinagar.

In New Delhi, police charged 11 militants they arrested over serial bomb blasts in the capital that killed 23 people and wounded scores in September. They gave no indication of whether the men had entered pleas.

Police said the 11 were members of the Indian Mujahideen and had been trained by LeT and accused them of involvement in other bombings in the city which killed more than 100 people this year.

Editing by Paul Tait and David Fox