- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Two leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) continued to run the Pakistan-based terrorist group’s operations while locked up in a Pakistani prison, according to a 2009 diplomatic message by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In her Aug. 10, 2009, cable, part of a document dump by the website WikiLeaks, Mrs. Clinton wrote that LeT founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, the group’s operations commander, “continue to run the organization, despite being detained for their role in the November Mumbai attacks.”

Terrorists attacked Mumbai in a three-day assault in November 2008, killing 166 people, including six Americans. U.S. and Indian intelligence agencies believe LeT was behind the attack.

Mrs. Clinton wrote that Lakhvi was responsible for LeT’s military operations budget, which was around $5.2. million a year. He reportedly used the money to purchase “all materials required for [LeT] operations other than weapons and ammunition, according to a source claiming direct and ongoing access to [LeT] leaders,” she said.

The Pakistani government has banned LeT, but the group continues to operate under different names, including the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).

Mrs. Clinton said the intelligence community continues to see reporting indicating that JuD is “still operating in multiple locations in Pakistan, and that the group continues to openly raise funds.”

“It is unclear what, if any, steps the [government of Pakistan] has taken to freeze JUD’s assets or otherwise implement U.N. 1267 sanctions, which include an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo,” she added.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said Pakistani support for LeT could lead to an attack similar to that in Mumbai.

“Two years after 26/11 the Pakistani army and other parts of the power elite continue to protect LeT from any real crackdown despite intense U.S. pressure, so another Mumbai could come any time,” Mr. Riedel said.

The Mumbai attacks, which began on Nov. 26, are commonly referred to as “26/11.”

U.S. officials have long expressed frustration over Pakistan’s unwillingness to sever ties to some militant groups, including LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Haqqani Network.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity owing to the sensitive nature of the matter, told The Washington Times the international community remains concerned about Pakistan’s continuing relationship with such groups.

Pakistan is a strong counterterrorism partner. At the same time, we are quite aware of Pakistan’s ongoing contacts with various militant groups in the region,” the U.S. official said.

In a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Nov. 30, 2008, British Foreign Minister David Milliband said LeT needs to “feel the full force of the law,” according to a Dec. 1, 2008, cable.

However, China earlier blocked U.S. efforts in the U.N. Security Council to keep sanctions against Saeed and JuD before the Mumbai attacks. In her cable, Mrs. Clinton wrote that U.S. efforts were “placed on hold by China at the behest of Pakistan.”

The Lahore High Court released Saeed without charging him in October 2009. Lakhvi is still in prison and faces charges in connection with the Mumbai attacks.

Mrs. Clinton said the intelligence community had concluded that Saeed continues to lead JuD and LeT, despite his public resignation from leadership of the latter group after it was banned by Pakistan.

When LeT was declared a terrorist organization by Pakistan in 2002, it transferred most of its assets and personnel to the newly formed JuD, ensuring its survival, she wrote.

According to the intelligence community, LeT and JuD share offices, phone numbers, leaders and bank accounts.

“We are also aware that LeT and JUD share many senior leaders, including Hafiz Saeed, who according to information available to the USG, as of 2009 continued to control LeT and issue guidance to LeT members,” Mrs. Clinton wrote.

LeT’s old offices merely changed the name on the door,” she added.

However, the intelligence community has been unable to assess to what extent senior JuD leaders such as Saeed are involved in specific terrorist operations or the level of detail to which they are knowledgeable about specific past and pending attacks, Mrs. Clinton said.

The Lahore High Court released Saeed without charging him in October 2009. Lakhvi is still in prison and faces charges in connection with the Mumbai attacks.

Mrs. Clinton wrote that Islamabad “watch-listed” JuD in 2003, but the government had resisted pressure to take action against the group, particularly after JuD’s popular relief efforts in response to the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the cables revealed U.S. concern that Gulf states, prominent among them being U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, continue to be a key source of funding for groups such as al Qaeda, the Taliban and LeT.

“Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the … Taliban and LeT — groups that are also aligned with al Qa’ida and focused on undermining stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in December 2009.