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Indian 'mole' may have scouted Mumbai sites, officials say

NEW DELHI - A Pakistani militant group apparently used an Indian "mole" as far back as 2007 to scout targets for the elaborate plot against India's financial capital, authorities said yesterday.

NEW DELHI - A Pakistani militant group apparently used an Indian "mole" as far back as 2007 to scout targets for the elaborate plot against India's financial capital, authorities said yesterday.

Indian officials have faced a torrent of criticism about missed warnings and botched intelligence. Revelations that the mole, Fahim Ansari, who was arrested in India in February, disclosed details of the Mumbai plot 10 months ago will be added to the list.

Linking an Indian national to the plot also undermines assertions by some Indian leaders that Pakistani extremists were solely responsible.

As investigators sought to unravel the attack, stepping up questioning of the lone captured gunman, Ajmal Amir Kasab, 21, airports across India were put on high alert amid fresh warnings that terrorists planned to hijack an aircraft.

Also yesterday, police said there were signs some of the six victims of the attack on a Jewish center were tortured.

"The victims were strangled," said Rakesh Maria, a senior Mumbai police official.

Members of an Israeli rescue group that had a team in Mumbai said it was impossible to tell if the bodies had been abused, however, because no autopsies were conducted, in accordance with Jewish tradition.

Kasab, the surviving gunman, told interrogators he was sent by the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and identified two of the plot's masterminds, two Indian officials familiar with the inquiry said.

They said Kasab told police that one of them, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar's operations chief, recruited him for the attack, and that his group called another top leader, Yusuf Muzammil, on a satellite phone after hijacking an Indian vessel to Mumbai.

The information sent investigators back to Ansari, another reputed Lashkar operative, who they hope could be key in pulling together different strands of the investigation.

Ansari was caught in north India carrying sketches of hotels, the train terminal and other sites that were later attacked in Mumbai, said Amitabh Yash, director of the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh state police.

During his interrogation, Ansari also named Muzammil as his handler in Pakistan, adding that he trained in a Lashkar camp in Muzaffarabad - the same area where Kasab said he was trained, a senior police officer involved in the investigation said.

In Pakistan, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said that he had no information on Lakhvi or Muzammil but that authorities would check.

Ansari "told us about a planned Lashkar attack on Bombay, on southern Bombay," said Yash, referring to Mumbai by its previous name. "He gave us eight or nine specific locations where the attack would be carried out," he said, adding that the suspect had detailed sketches of the places and escape routes from the sites.

Maria said authorities were trying to find out if Ansari played a role in how the attackers "got such intricate knowledge of the sites."

Ansari linked up with Lashkar while working at a printing press in Dubai. He was taken by sea to Pakistan to the Lashkar camp in Muzaffarabad and got a false Pakistani passport, which police found when he was arrested.

The revelations came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with leaders in Islamabad after visiting India's capital - part of a U.S. effort to pressure Pakistan to share intelligence and pursue terrorist cells believed to be rooted in the country.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari promised Rice his country would take "strong action" against any Pakistanis involved in the siege.

Yesterday, the U.S. Treasury Department designated as terrorists four individuals who hold leadership positions in Lashkar, including Lakhvi, and ordered any of their U.S. assets to be frozen.

Security forces swarmed New Delhi's international airport early today after gunfire was heard. Police said no one was injured and it was not a terror incident.