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Tue 2 Dec 2008 02:06 PM

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India demands handover of Mumbai suspects

Pakistan's PM says his gov't needs proof that terrorists were from his country as tensions rise.

India demanded on Tuesday that Pakistan hand over several terrorist suspects as the government faced mounting criticism over intelligence failures in the Mumbai attacks that left 188 dead.

But Pakistan's prime minister said his government wanted proof of India's allegation that all the attackers were Pakistanis, as tensions rose between the nuclear-armed neighbours over the siege of India's financial capital.

CNN and another US network reported that the United States had warned India in October that hotels and business centres in Mumbai would be targeted by attackers coming from the sea, as happened in last week's dramatic assault.

One US intelligence official had even named the Taj Mahal hotel, one of 10 sites hit in the 60-hour siege by gunmen, as a specific target, ABC television said.

It said Indian intelligence officials intercepted a phone call on November 18 to an address in Pakistan used by the head of the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba, revealing a possible attack from the sea.

About 10 gunmen landed in rubber dinghies in Mumbai on Wednesday and wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and hand grenades, in an assault that killed 188 and injured more than 300. The dead included 22 foreign nationals.

India's security and intelligence agencies have come under intense criticism over their handling of the incident, including allegations that not enough was done to prevent such an attack.

"Such comprehensive failure was held up to the world's view during 60 hours of unprecedented trauma, featuring 10 heavily armed terrorists who sailed into Mumbai from Pakistan and penetrated Indian defences as if it was child's play," The Hindu newspaper said on Tuesday.

Pakistan formally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has fought Indian rule in divided Kashmir and was blamed for the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament which almost led the two nations to war, in 2002.

But Indian officials allege that Pakistan has not fully enforced that ban, allowing the group to continue operating, and India says all the dead gunmen and the lone man arrested in the attack were all from Pakistan.

India formally demanded "the arrest and hand-over of those persons who are settled in Pakistan and are fugitives of Indian law," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said. "We will await the response of Pakistan."

The names come from a list of suspects originally put together by India after the 2001 parliament attack. It includes Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Others include Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed rebel group, and Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in India on charges of masterminding serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed around 300 people.

Pakistan has said in the past that it will not hand over any of its citizens to India and denies Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian national, is on its soil.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told CNN that his government wanted proof of allegations that his country's nationals were involved.

"They have given us (the names of) some of the organisations ... but that is not evidence. If they will give us evidence we are committed that we will extend full cooperation," Gilani said.

"Let the proof come, then we will give our point of view."

He also played down reports that Pakistan could move troops away from the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the country's northern tribal areas to reinforce security on its eastern border with India.

"Pakistan will act very responsibly," the prime minister said. "We have talked to all our friends (to see) that they will use their good offices to defuse the situation."

Questions about whether India ignored US intelligence warnings and if Pakistan would divert troops from the Afghan border will likely come up in discussions with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrives Wednesday.

She is due to meet with Indian officials though there has been no announcement if she will also visit Pakistan, a close ally in the US-led "war on terror" since the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars and nearly came to a fourth after the 2001 parliament attack, and the United States has urged both nations to remain calm in the wake of the latest bloodshed.

"In some ways that whole region is like a forest that hasn't had rain in many months and one spark could cause a big, roaring fire. That's what we're trying to avoid," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Monday.

"Obviously we want to help reduce tensions wherever possible," she said.

A spokesman said India was holding a security cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A government source said India would "carefully calibrate" any response.

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