Jamat ud Dawa, formerly Lashkar-e Taiba parading in a Pakistani city (file photo)
Jamat ud Dawa, formerly Lashkar-e Taiba parading in a Pakistani city (file photo)

Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Taiba or LET was for a long time considered a militant group  fighting Indian rule of Kashmir. But after Chicago-based American David Headley pled guilty last week to links to the group and the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, some US experts and lawmakers expressed concern that Lashkar could prove more dangerous to US interests than al-Qaida.

David Headley is the first American to be linked to the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Headley, a Muslim from Chicago, pled guilty to playing a part in the the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks as well as plotting to attack a Danish newspaper over controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Defense Attorney Robert Seeder:

"Mr. Headley pled guilty today to a number of serious criminal offences," said Robert Seeder. "His conduct contributed to the harm of many people, his plea of guilty to all 12 counts."

Recently, concern about homegrown terrorism has been on the rise in the United States.

But some members of Congress as well as terrorism experts say the US is too focused on al-Qaida, to the exclusion of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"In the wake of the Mumbai attack, the investigators uncovered in records and email accounts a list of 320 locations worldwide deemed by LET as possible targets for attack, only 20 of them were in India. The LET has been attacking the US forces in Afghanistan almost from day one," said Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committe.

LET's capabilities exceed those of al-Qaida, says Marvin Weinbaum at the Middle East Institute.

"It exceeds al-Qaida in its capacity for recruitment and fundraising across the Islamic world," said Marvin Weinbaum. "Unlike al-Qaida, LET has strong societal roots and enjoys the protection of the institutions of a State [Pakistani Intelligence]"

LET was banned by Pakistan in 2002. But experts say it is still active and has folded itself into a Pakistani charitable group known and Jamat ud Dawa.

Lisa Curtis at the Heritage Foundation says Pakistan must dismantle LET.

"The US needs to closely monitor Pakistani actions to dismantle the LET," said Lisa Curtis. "Merely banning the organization has done little to degrade its capabilities."

India blamed the 2008 Mumbai attacks on LET, saying it has evidence that Pakistani Intelligence was also involved.

Pakistan has put some LET members  on trial, but denies that intelligence was involved.  

LET's founder Hafiz Saeed was also arrested but later released by a Pakistani court for lack of evidence.

In New Delhi last week (3/19), US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake held talks with Indian officials to allay fears that the US is ignoring dangers posed by LET.

"The Headley case in our view illustrates the increasing global scope and ambition of LET and therefore the need for all of our countries to take the LET threat seriously," said Robert Blake.

Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hopes President Obama will convince Pakistan to be tougher on Lashkar.

"It is to President Obama's credit that he has made it an important objective that Pakistan target LET if a new US/Pakistan strategic relationship is to be sustained," said Ashley Tellis.

The most immediate danger, experts say, is that another Lashkar attack on India could trigger a war between India and Pakistan.

And that they say would seriously disrupt US efforts to get Pakistan to contain Islamic militants on its border with Afghanistan.