SRINAGAR, India — One of two Indian men arrested for illegally buying mobile phone cards used by the gunmen in the Mumbai attacks is a counterinsurgency police officer who may have been on an undercover mission, security officials said Saturday, demanding his release.
The arrests, announced in the eastern city of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, were the first since the bloody siege ended. But what was touted as a rare success for India's beleaguered law enforcement agencies quickly turned sour as police in two Indian regions squared off against each other.
Senior police officers in Indian Kashmir, which has been at the heart of tensions between India and Pakistan, demanded the release of the officer, Mukhtar Ahmed, saying he was one of their own and had been involved in infiltrating Kashmiri militant groups.
Indian authorities believe the banned Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has links to Kashmir, trained the gunmen and plotted the attacks that left 163 people dead after a three-day rampage through Mumbai that began Nov. 26.
The implications of Ahmed's involvement — that Indian agents may have been in touch with the militants and perhaps supplied the SIM cards they used — added to the growing list of questions over India's security forces, which are widely blamed for not thwarting the attacks.
Earlier Saturday, Kolkata police announced the arrests of Ahmed and Tauseef Rahman, who allegedly bought SIM cards by using fake documents, including identification cards of dead people. The cards allow users to switch their cellular service to phones other than their own.
Rahman, of West Bengal state, later sold them to Ahmed, said Rajeev Kumar, a senior Kolkata police officer.
Both men were arrested Friday and charged with fraud and criminal conspiracy, Kumar said.
The announcement had police in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, fuming. "We have told Calcutta police that Ahmed is our man and it's now up to them how to facilitate his release," said one senior officer speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Other police officials in Kashmir supported his account.
The officer said Ahmed was a special police officer, part of a semiofficial counterinsurgency network. The force is run with funding from the federal Ministry of Home Affairs. Ahmed was recruited to the force after his brother was killed five years ago, allegedly by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants for being a police informer, the officer said.
"Sometimes we use our men engaged in counterinsurgency ops to provide SIM cards to the (militant) outfits so that we track their plans down," said the officer.
Kolkata police denied the claims from Srinagar. "This is not true," said Kumar.
And a day after India's top law enforcement official apologized for security lapses, there were new embarrassments — this time with holes in the prime minister's security.
Police preparing for a visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh near Kolkata hired high school children for the equivalent of $2.50 each to sit in trees for the day and look out for suspicious people.
Local police chief L.N. Meena defended using children in the prime minister's security detail, saying there were too many trees in the area and not enough police officers.
"The area is full of trees, so to check them to see if there were any antisocial elements or anyone making mischief, we employed the youths," he said.