Praveen Swami

NEW DELHI: Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders were at an advanced stage of preparation for strikes in India when their plans were pre-empted by the arrests of two key operatives in Bangladesh and the United States, government sources told The Hindu.

David Coleman Headley — held earlier this month along with Tahawwur Hussain Rana by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of plotting attacks in India and Denmark — was to have carried out a pre-attack reconnaissance for the assault team, the sources said.

Arrests in Bangladesh

Lashkar commanders in Pakistan are thought to have planned anassault on the National Defence College here — or, in the alternative, take hostages at the élite Woodstock and Doon schools.

The physical execution of the attack, the sources said, was assigned to Lahore-based Sheikh Abdul Rehman Saeed, the long-standing commander of the Lashkar networks in Bangladesh that have often been used as staging posts for strikes inside India.

Earlier this month, police in Bangladesh arrested three Lashkar operatives on charges of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka and the High Commission of India.

Mufti Harun Izhar, Shahidul Islam and Saiful Amin were held from the Lalkhan Bazaar seminary in Chittagong, after India’s intelligence services intercepted phone conversations linking them to Lashkar commanders in Pakistan. Local cleric Mohammad Harun used his cellphone to pass instructions from Saeed to the jihadist cell.

Saeed is believed to have been in close contact with Sajid Mir, the Lashkar’s overall commander for transcontinental operations —and Headley’s controller. In e-mails exchanged in July and August 2009, an unidentified Lashkar operative instructed Headley to travel to India.

Lashkar commanders in Bangladesh have long used the country as a platform for attacks against India. Mid-level operatives often transited through the country. Top Lashkar operative Faisal Haroun — who crafted the 2006 sea-landing of assault rifles intended to have been used in a terror attack in Gujarat, as well as an abortive 2007 effort to infiltrate eight Lashkar “fidayeen” through the Mumbai coast — used Bangladesh as a base for networks whose reach extended across the Indian Ocean rim.

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