- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2008

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush held an hourlong video-teleconference Saturday with U.S. diplomats in India following the terror rampage left six Americans dead and raised tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

Bush held the secured video meeting from the Camp David presidential retreat where he spent Thanksgiving. He planned a brief statement about the attacks upon his return to the White House later Saturday.

Those participating in the session included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; David Mulford, the U.S. ambassador to India; Paul Folmsbee, consul general at the U.S. consulate in Mumbai; and members of Bush’s national security team.

“President Bush thanked our ambassador and our consul general for all the work they’ve done to help Americans affected by the terrorists,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

President-elect Barack Obama called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday night to offer condolences and was monitoring the situation. The siege, which killed at least 195 people, including 18 foreigners, in India’s financial capital, ended Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen inside a luxury hotel.

A previously unknown Muslim group with a name suggesting origins inside India claimed responsibility, but Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman was from Pakistan and they pointed a finger of blame at their neighbor and rival.

The U.S. is concerned about a potential flare-up between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed countries. To ease tensions, intelligence officials are searching for clues that might identify the attackers even as Indian officials claim “elements in Pakistan” were involved.

FBI agents were dispatched to India. A second group of investigators was on alert to join the first team if necessary. The State Department warned U.S. citizens still in the city that their lives remain at risk.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said some “signatures of the attack” were consistent with the work of Pakistani militant groups known as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that have fought Indian troops in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and are reported to be linked to al-Qaida. But the official emphasized it was premature to pinpoint who was responsible for the attacks. A second official, specializing in counterintelligence, also cautioned against rushing to judgment on the origins of the gunmen. The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“There were very worrying tensions in the region,” said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman.

As U.S. officials worked to ease hard feelings between India and Pakistan, a tentative rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed rivals could hang in the balance.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said in a statement that his country is “confronting the menace of terrorism with great vigor.” Haqqani insisted “it is unfair to blame Pakistan or Pakistanis for these acts of terrorism even before an investigation is undertaken.”

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, said six Americans were killed. Among them were:

Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivkah, 28. They were killed in an attack on the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s center in Mumbai, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin said in New York. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Rivkah Holtzberg only had Israeli citizenship.

Bentzion Chroman, an Israeli with dual U.S. citizenship who was visiting the center.

Rabbi Leibish Teitlebaum of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was visiting the center.

Alan Scherr, 58, and daughter Naomi, 13, of Virginia, who died in a cafe Wednesday night. They lived at the Synchronicity Foundation sanctuary about 15 miles southwest of Charlottesville, Va., and were among 25 foundation participants in a spiritual program in Mumbai, according to a spokeswoman for the foundation.

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee, Pamela Hess and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.

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