ISLAMABAD – Pakistan acknowledged for the first time that the Mumbai terrorist attacks were launched from its shores and at least partly plotted on its soil, saying Thursday that it had arrested most of the chief suspects including one described as "the main operator."
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Pakistan has started criminal proceedings against eight suspects — some of them also named by India as the masterminds of the attacks — but he reiterated that authorities needed more evidence from New Delhi to secure convictions.
The revelations suggest Pakistan is serious about punishing those behind the November attacks, which killed 164 people and stirred fear that the nuclear-armed neighbors could slide toward war and that Pakistan might be distracted from its struggle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
India and the U.S. have pressed Pakistan hard to dismantle Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned Pakistan-based group fighting Indian rule in the divided Kashmir region that is widely blamed for the Mumbai carnage. Islamabad and New Delhi have fought two out of their three wars since 1947 over the region.
India's Foreign Ministry called Pakistan's announcement "a positive development" and said it would consider Islamabad's request for further information.
Malik said investigators had traced a boat engine used by the attackers to sail from Pakistan to India and busted two hideouts of the suspects near the southern city of Karachi.
Other leads pointed to Europe and the United States, and Malik said Pakistan would ask the FBI for help.
"I want to assure the international community, I want to assure all those who have been victims of terrorism that we mean business," Malik said, waving a copy of Pakistan's initial findings at reporters gathered inside his ministry.
"We will continue our investigation, but we want tenable evidence from India. We want full cooperation from India so that this kind of ring be smashed."
India says all 10 gunmen — only one of whom was captured alive — were Pakistanis and that their handlers in Pakistan had kept in close touch with them by phone during the three-day assault.
New Delhi provided a dossier of evidence to Islamabad, testing Pakistan's insistence that it would do all in its power to punish those responsible — and that it has truly abandoned its past sponsorship of Islamist militants including the Taliban.
In Pakistan's first detailed response, Malik said criminal cases had been opened against eight suspects on charges of "abetting, conspiracy and facilitation" of a terrorist act.
He said six of them were in custody, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, both Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders named by India as the masterminds of the attack, and a person who sent an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attacks.
Indian media said at the time that they received an e-mail in the name of the previously unknown Deccan Mujahideen — a name which suggested an Indian rather than Pakistani group was behind the attacks and which now appears to have been a decoy.
Malik said the culprits were "non-state actors," a phrase used by Pakistani authorities to counter allegations that its intelligence agencies had a hand in the attacks.
Malik said the assailants used three boats to travel from Pakistan to Mumbai.
He said detectives had traced an engine recovered from one of the vessels to a shop in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. He said the shopkeeper had provided the phone number of the buyer which led to a bank account in the name of Hammad Amin Sadiq.
Malik said authorities had arrested Sadiq and obtained from him information that led them to bust two "hide-outs of the terrorists," one in Karachi and one about two hours drive away.
He described Sadiq, a 37-year-old who had been living in Karachi, as "the main operator" but didn't elaborate.
He said the detainees had told of how the group used a spot on the Pakistani coast to practice their sea-borne attack.
To stiffen its case, Pakistan was sending 30 questions to India about the attacks, Malik said. Among the additional details sought are the DNA of the 10 gunmen and information on intercepted phone conversations between the militants and their handlers.
He also asked New Delhi to investigate what contacts — and help — the attackers had inside India. The terrorists also used phones with Indian SIM cards, he noted. Their two suspected handlers are still at large.
India's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the government will consider Islamabad's request. "After that examination, we will share whatever we can with Pakistan," the statement said.
On Thursday, Malik also suggested a wider international dimension to the crime.
One suspect, Javed Iqbal, had been "lured" back from Barcelona, Spain, where he had been living, and was now in Pakistani custody. While in Spain, Iqbal had arranged Internet telephone accounts used in the attacks and bills had been paid in Italy, Malik said.
Suspects also used a digital teleconferencing system whose service provider is based in Houston, Texas, while a Thuraya phone was issued in a Middle Eastern country, he said.
Other bills were paid by a company in Islamabad and two people have been arrested as a result, Malik said.
"It is not only Pakistan, but the system of the other countries has also been used," Malik said.