As investigations into the Mumbai attack move into the next phase of trying the accused and widening the ambit of arrests,the US is sending Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) head Robert Mueller in the first week of March to tie up the entire exercise in which FBI investigators would play a key role in testifying the evidence gathered in Mumbai.
Mueller is expected to visit Pakistan as well.
This high-profile visit,sources said,is a clear signal of Washingtons willingness to carry forward the Mumbai investigations to their logical conclusion and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Mueller,who has been FBI Director since September 2001,did visit India in January 2002 after the attack on Parliament. But unlike that time when India had to make its case to convince him on the Pakistani origins of the attackers,this time there is no such confusion. Rather,FBI investigators were the ones responsible for unearthing the wealth of information from satellite phones and GPS equipment used by the 10 terrorists.
With a case having been registered in the US,too,as six of its nationals were also killed in the attack,FBI took back some data for further investigations in their laboratories. This rich body of evidence was the basis of the immense pressure brought on Islamabad to follow the leads and then eventually admit that the attack originated from Pakistani soil.
The next phase,sources said,involves prosecution of those arrested in India as well as Pakistan. The reply to Pakistans 30 questions will be given soon after Mumbai police files its chargesheet. The FBI,along with other US agencies,is deeply involved in keeping the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency on the right track. Besides the names that have been let out by Pakistan,the FBI is clear that there is incontrovertible evidence against two to LeT operatives Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah who have to face terror charges.
This legal process,sources said,means a complicated three-way evidence-sharing exercise involving agencies in India and Pakistan with the FBI playing a key role in the background. One of the main purposes of Muellers visit would be to discuss the mechanics of this at higher levels.
Mueller,who is slated to meet key heads of Indias security establishment,will also hold conversations on cooperation in strengthening Indias investigation apparatus,particularly the recently set up National Investigation Agency.