The 2008 Mumbai terror attack by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba was aimed at "dramatically" changing the future of South Asia and provoking a war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, a top United States counter-terrorism expert has said.
"Lashkar-e-Tayiba had carefully chosen the targets and meticulously researched them over several years. They received considerable assistance in doing so from two sources, the Pakistani intelligence service, called the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate or ISI and Al Qaeda," Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institute, wrote in an article in an American daily.
"The attack was intended to change dramatically the future of South Asia, perhaps even by provoking a war between the two nuclear powers rising in the subcontinent," Riedel wrote.
"Each had its own agenda for the operation," the former CIA official wrote in The Daily Beast.
Riedel termed the Mumbai attack as the most important terror strike since 9/11.
"The targets were the same, Indians, Americans, and Jews, the targets of the global jihad started by Al Qaeda in the late 1990s. I pointed this out to President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team at the time in several briefings in my role as South Asia transition director after his election," he said.
Riedel said perhaps the most shocking element of the Mumbai attack was the role played by David Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani descent, in the intelligence collection that preceded the attack.
Headley pleaded guilty in March 2010 to conspiracy to commit murder based on his role in the Mumbai attack.
Riedel wrote that Headley said he travelled to Pakistan five times for training in weapons handling, intelligence collection, surveillance, clandestine operations and other terrorist skills from both the LeT and the ISI. He also developed contacts with the Al Qaeda.
According to Riedel, in 2005, Headley said, he was given the task of travelling to India from the US and conducting the surveillance for the Mumbai attacks.
"In his guilty confession, Headley said the raid was planned with active ISI involvement at every stage. At each of his meetings in Pakistan, he said he met with ISI officers as well as the LeT terror leaders," Riedel wrote.
Sometimes the ISI gave Headley particular assignments other than what the LeT asked, for example, tasking him with taking photos of an Indian nuclear facility near Mumbai, he wrote.
"The Pakistani mastermind of the Mumbai plot, LeT leader Hafiz Saeed, remains free in Pakistan, where he continues to be a darling of the ISI and regularly calls for more attacks on India and America. Five years after Mumbai, justice has yet to be served," Riedel’s article says.