ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Created by Pakistan to wage a proxy war against India, the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group has moved its jihad onto the global stage and could match al-Qaida in strength and organization, according to officials, experts and group members.
Blamed for the 2008 Mumbai massacre, Lashkar-e-Taiba developed its own distinct networks worldwide, found global funding sources and established links with groups that refused to hook up with al-Qaida, fearing Osama bin Laden's group would hijack their causes, say analysts who have followed the organization.
U.S. court documents and an internal Indian government dossier on the Mumbai massacre acquired by the Associated Press show that Lashkar-e-Taiba (pronounced LAHSH-kar eh TAY-eh-ba) operatives have turned up in Australia, Europe, East Asia and the United States.
Members of the group, which is also known as LeT, have plotted to blow up sites in Australia, recruited from existing terrorist groups in European capitals and become the greatest source of inspiration for radicalized Muslims in the West, say intelligence officials in Britain and France.
Juan Carlos Zarate, a top counterterrorism official in the administration of President George W. Bush, said his "fundamental concern is that LeT could not (only) serve as the flash point for a broader South Asia conflagration, but could also evolve into an alternate international jihadi platform for global terrorism."
Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means Army of the Pure, belongs to the Salafist movement, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam similar in some respects to the Wahabi sect, the main Islamic branch in Saudi Arabia from which al-Qaida partly emerged. The organizations operate separately but have been known to help each other when their paths intersect.
Former and current members deny the organization has ambitions beyond India and fighting to reunite the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Last month LeT leader Hafiz Saeed addressed a rally of thousands demanding the hanging of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who had been arrested for killing two Pakistanis. Davis was released after compensation was paid to the family in accordance with Pakistani law.
Details of how several LeT members plotted mayhem and murder from nondescript locations in the United States and their hideouts in Pakistan were outlined in a 35-page plea agreement struck by David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani American who aided in the Mumbai assault.
In those meetings they gave detailed instructions on how to deliver, place and detonate explosives, according to the U.S. court document in Illinois obtained by the AP. They plotted the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people and discussed blowing up the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to protest its publication of offensive cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, the document said.
Headley is awaiting sentencing, having exchanged his cooperation for a sentence other than the death penalty.
Analysts and terrorism experts agree that Pakistan's intelligence agency, known as the ISI, is still able to control LeT, though ISI denies it.
"Its literature has always been about attacking the West. It is building the network that allows them to attack," said Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Center for Peace and Strategic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington. "The fact that they haven't struck out against the West proves to me in itself that they are still being controlled by the ISI."
Now operating under the name Jamaat-ud-Dawwa, which is also banned by the Pakistani government, it carries out charitable works in scores of villages — partially funded by the Punjab provincial government. It has used national disasters, such as last year's devastating floods, as recruitment and fundraising opportunities, Fair said.