US Worries Over Pakistan-India Conflict

Death toll nears 200 as violence comes to an end

U.S. officials are worried about a possible surge in violence between India and Pakistan after the bloody attacks in Mumbai that killed at least 195 people, including five Americans. To ease tensions, intelligence officials are searching urgently for clues that might identify the attackers even as Indian officials claim "elements in Pakistan" were involved.

FBI agents were preparing to fly to India to investigate the bloody attacks in the Indian financial capital as 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 also are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, emphasized it was premature to pinpoint who was responsible for the attacks. U.S. counterintelligence official cautioned against rushing to judgment on the origins of the gunmen who waged a two-and-a-half-day rampage through India's leading commercial center before being killed.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. U.S. officials are concerned about a flare-up in animosity similar to one that occurred after Pakistani militants attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001, the officials said.

Underscoring those fears, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called the foreign minister of India twice, along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, since the crisis began.

"There were very worrying tensions in the region," said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman. "She was calling the president of Pakistan to get his read on how those tensions might be affected."

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."

President George W. Bush pledged cooperation with Indian authorities and mourned the deaths of at least 195 people at the hands of gunmen.

"My administration has been working with the Indian government and the international community as Indian authorities work to ensure the safety of those still under threat," Bush said in statement Friday.

Bush was receiving regular updates, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Friday night. Senior administration officials were focused on ensuring that Americans were being helped in every way possible, she said.

Duguid, the State Department spokesman, cautioned that "Americans are still at risk on the ground," and repeated calls for U.S. citizens not to travel to the stricken city at least through the weekend.

Officials were working out the final details with Indian diplomats Friday for the departure of an FBI team, said U.S. authorities, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the operation. A second group of investigators was on alert to join the first team if necessary.

U.S. officials were checking with Indian authorities and hospitals to learn more about the extent of casualties.

Among the dead 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. Officials could not confirm whether Rivkah Holtzberg was, like her husband, an American citizen.

—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, said Bobbie Garvey, a spokeswoman for the foundation, which promotes a form of meditation.

Duguid said consular staff would continue to work with Indian police until all missing Americans were accounted for.

U.S. officials have activated a phone tree to contact American citizens who registered with the U.S. consulate in Mumbai, State Department spokesman Robert McInturff said.

President-elect Barack Obama has spoken by telephone with Rice about the attacks and received several intelligence briefings, State Department officials said. They said Rice spoke again Friday with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

"These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India's great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them," Obama said in a statement. "The United States must stand with India and all nations and people who are committed to destroying terrorist networks, and defeating their hate-filled ideology."

The State Department set up a call center for Americans concerned about family members who may be in Mumbai. The number is 1-888-407-4747.




Copyright AP - Associated Press
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