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Afghan intelligence ties Pakistani militants to guesthouse attacks

KABUL — An Afghan intelligence official said Tuesday that the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba orchestrated the deadly attack that targeted two guesthouses in the capital last week.

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which left 16 dead, within hours of its start. But Afghan intelligence spokesman Sayed Ansari said investigators had reached a different conclusion based on evidence that the attack was carried out by a team of suicide bombers who spoke Urdu, a Pakistani language, and who were searching for Indian victims.

Lashkar-i-Taiba has focused most of its attacks on India, which blames the militant organization for the siege that killed 165 people in Mumbai in November 2008. Evidence that it was involved in Friday's bombings in Kabul could undermine fragile peace efforts between longtime foes Pakistan and India, whose foreign secretaries met last week.

The possibility Lashkar-i-Taiba was involved provided a fresh signal that a group initially focused on fighting India over disputed Kashmir might be turning its guns toward Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top U.S. military intelligence official in Afghanistan, said Monday a growing number of the group's fighters were streaming into that country's south for combat experience.

"They are aligning with the Taliban," said Mohammad Saad, a retired Pakistani brigadier and security analyst.

Saad said that several members of the group are training with associates of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region bordering Afghanistan, but that language challenges have forced most of them to work alongside Afghan fighters inside Afghanistan.

That also points to increased mixing of militant groups in the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, where U.S. troops and intelligence are seeking to blunt Taliban and al-Qaida control. Analysts say insurgencies that are commonly described as distinct are actually a complex stew of overlapping and shifting alliances.

That was underscored Tuesday as the Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan insurgency, confirmed in a statement that the chief of yet another Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, had been killed by a U.S. drone strike Feb. 24. The commander, Qari Zafar, was wanted by U.S. and Pakistani officials in connection with a 2006 bombing of the U.S. consulate in Karachi.

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Live media rules

The Afghan government denied Tuesday that it had banned live media coverage of insurgent attacks, saying it was developing guidelines, not restrictions, to prevent live footage from aiding fighters at the scene. Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said insurgents had used live broadcasts from the scene of attacks in the past to give instructions to their fellow militants. Omar said he would meet today with the spokesmen of all the Afghan ministries to discuss the formulation of guidelines.

Associated Press

Afghan intelligence ties Pakistani militants to guesthouse attacks 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 10:24pm]
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