Putting the blame on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for staging the deadly car bomb and suicide attacks that targeted foreigners last week in Kabul, an Afghan intelligence official has said the gunmen appeared to have had a detailed knowledge of Indian guests at the hotels.
The assertion that the attacks in the Afghan capital were the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Taiba _ the same militants that India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist assaults that killed 166 _ could jeopardise recently restarted peace talks between Pakistan and India.
The Afghan Taliban insurgents already claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed 16 people, including six Indians, after a car bomb exploded and gunmen wearing suicide vests hidden under burqas stormed residential hotels popular with foreigners. At least 56 people were wounded.
Saeed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his agency has evidence that Pakistanis, specifically Lashkar-e-Taiba, were involved in the attacks. He also said one of the attackers was heard speaking Urdu, a Pakistani language.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is one of several militant Islamist groups that Pakistan's military intelligence helped create in the 1980s, seeking to use them against India.
Mr Ansari said last week's Kabul attacks bore similarities to two suicide bombings at the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 and the car bomb attack in January at a residential hotel in one of the safest neighborhoods in the capital.
Police said initially that two suicide attackers were involved in Friday's attack. Mr Ansari told three private television stations that there were four gunmen with Kalishnokov rifles and suicide vests _ and that they wore burqas, the all-encompassing veil for women, to hide their gear. He said one attacker stayed to detonate a van packed with explosives, while the other three spread out and entered two hotels, where they fired on guests and then set off their explosives.
On Friday, about 2 1/2 hours after the attacks began, an Afghan Taliban spokesman telephoned a reporter with The Associated Press to claim responsibility. He said foreigners were the target, but did not specifically mention Indians.
Mr Ansari, however, said the Taliban did not have the logistical capability for the assault, saying the gunmen appeared to have detailed knowledge, including names, of Indian guests at the hotels. He also claimed the Taliban ``had no knowledge'' of the Kabul attacks up to five hours after they began.
``We are very close to the exact proof and evidence that the attack on the Indian guest house ... is not the work of the Afghan Taliban but this attack was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba network, who are dependent on the Pakistan military,'' Mr Ansari said in an interview aired on Tolo TV, RTA and Shamshad broadcast stations in Kabul.
The victims killed in the assaults included six Indians, one Italian diplomat, a French filmmaker, three Afghan police and four Afghan civilians and one body too dismembered to identify.
The Kabul attack came a day after India and Pakistan held their first official talks since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which prompted New Delhi to pull out of the peace process. India insisted during the talks on Thursday that Pakistan needed to make more
aggressive efforts to rein in anti-Indian insurgents there.
Pakistan is trying seven men on charges that they planned and carried out the Mumbai attacks, but critics say Lashkar-e-Taiba continues to operate relatively freely.
Friday's assault was the deadliest in Afghanistan's capital since Oct. 8, when a suicide car bomber killed 17 people outside the Indian Embassy. A suicide car bomber killed more than 60 people in an attack at the gates of the Indian Embassy in July 2008 _ an attack that India alleges Pakistan's main spy agency was involved in.
But New Delhi did not immediately blame Pakistan after Friday's assault.
India sent a three-member team by air force jet on Saturday to work with Afghan authorities in the investigation, Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad said.
Mr Prasad said on Tuesday night that Afghan authorities had not yet told him Lashkar-e-Taiba was the prime suspect but added that he was not surprised. ``They were looking in that direction,'' he said.
He would not speculate on whether the allegations might derail the Pakistan-India talks.
Neither the governments of India nor Pakistan commented on the allegations Tuesday night. Spokesmen for Lashkar-e-Taiba could not be reached.
India is among the largest economic donors to Afghanistan and has some 3,500 citizens living here. New Delhi has also expressed an interest in training Afghan security forces, angering Pakistan.
India's growing role in Afghanistan is strongly opposed by Pakistan, which wants a friendly Afghan government without ties to its rival.
The Afghan Taliban, which has had longtime ties with Pakistani intelligence services, also opposes Indian influence in part because of New Delhi's links to some of its rivals.
NATO forces and Afghan soldiers have been conducting a major new offensive against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand to establish a civilian Afghan government in the former insurgent stronghold of Marjah.