Islamabad: To wage a proxy war against India the Pakistan militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has moved its jihad onto the world stage and has the potential to match its strength with al-Qaida in strength and organisation, according to officials, experts and group members.

Blamed for the 2008 Mumbai bloodshed, Lashkar-e-Taiba has developed its own distinct networks all across the world. The group has found global funding sources and established links with groups that refused to hook up with al-Qaida fearing Osama bin Laden's group would hijack their causes, say analysts who have followed the organization.

According to interviews with analysts, intelligence officials and anti-terrorism investigators on three continents, the group also known as LeT could be poised to expand its reach beyond South Asia.

US court documents and an internal Indian government dossier on the Mumbai massacre show that Lashkar-e-Taiba (pronounced LAHSH-kar eh TAY-eh-ba) operatives have turned up in Australia, Europe, East Asia and the United States.

They have plotted to blow up sites in Australia, recruited from existing terrorist groups in European capitals and have become the greatest source of inspiration for radicalized Muslims living in the West, say intelligence officials in the United Kingdom and France.

Juan Carlos Zarate, a top counterterrorism official in the administration of President George W. Bush, said his "fundamental concern is that LeT could not (only) serve as the flashpoint for a broader South Asia conflagration but could also evolve into an alternate international jihadi platform for global terrorism."

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means Army of the Pure, belongs to the Salafist movement, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam similar to the Wahabi sect, the main Islamic branch in
Saudi Arabia from which al-Qaida partly emerged. The organizations operate separately but have been known to help each other when their paths intersect.

Former and current members interviewed by the AP denied the organization has ambitions beyond India and fighting to reunite the disputed territory of Kashmir. If LeT does have aspirations of becoming a global terrorism force, whether it acts upon them may depend on whether it is willing to strain its relationship with Pakistan.


(Agencies)