Pakistan's banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, suspected to have launched last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, has ordered its militant volunteers to leave Pakistan's territory and take refuge in Afghanistan, senior security officials in Pakistan and the Middle East have revealed to CBS News.
The orders were given several days in advance of Monday's arrest in Pakistan of Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior LeT commander, suspected by Indian officials of assisting the planning of the Mumbai attacks.
The arrest, which a senior Pakistani intelligence official confirmed to CBS News, came as part of a series of raids by Pakistani forces on camps used by Lashkar-e-Taiba.
According to information shared with CBS News on the LeT's orders, a number of the group's militant warriors were already holed up in Pakistan's tribal areas which lie along the country's border with Afghanistan -- a territory where the Pakistani military is fighting Islamic militant groups.
The tribal area has become the militants' focal point. Al Qaeda and the Taliban, through support from groups such as LeT, are waging a resistance movement against the Pakistani military on the Pakistani side of the border and against U.S. and NATO troops on the Afghan side of the border.
A senior security official from the Middle East with access to information on LeT's workings said that most of the group's militant fighters were in the tribal areas when the Mumbai attacks took place.
These militants had apparently moved out of the Pakistani portion of Kashmir between early October and mid-November, ahead of snowfall in the region, which makes it practically impossible for them to cross the mountainous snow-clad passes between the Pakistani side of Kashmir and the Indian portion of Kashmir.
"You have to know a bit about the tactics of this group before you understand what they are doing right now," said the Middle Eastern security official, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "I know on good authority that Lashkar-e-Taiba during the past few days has ordered its people to leave from the tribal areas for Afghanistan."
A Pakistani security official, familiar with the investigations ahead of Monday's arrest of Lakhvi, speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity said, "Most of these militants had either left for Afghanistan or were in the process of leaving from the tribal areas."
The Middle Eastern security official said the implication of the LeT's move may be that the group will now try to retaliate against Pakistan's military forces by staging a larger number of attacks after regrouping on Afghan soil.
"The possibility of more attacks on Pakistan by LeT members cannot be discounted" he said.
Pakistan's government has ordered a tightening of security at mosques and other places of worship ahead of Tuesday's Eid-ul-Adha festival, which follows the Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. This year, the height of the Islamic festive season comes as government forces wage a new crackdown on militants.
Senior security officials in Islamabad said eight militants were arrested overnight, including Lakhvi, from militant camps in Azad Kashmir, the part of the disputed mountainous state which is controlled half by Pakistan and half by India.
There were unconfirmed reports that scores of people had been taken into custody in the crackdown, which began on Sunday and marked the first overt reaction by Pakistani security forces since the Mumbai attacks.
The Mumbai attacks, which saw about 10 well-armed and well-trained gunmen storm a series of sights across India's financial capital, eventually killing 171 people, have seriously heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. More than five years of confidence building measures between the two nuclear-armed neighbors has been put at risk.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News that at least seven or eight camps suspected as training grounds for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) have been raided since Sunday afternoon. These raids included the one at a camp in Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistani controlled part of Kashmir, where Lakhvi was arrested along with seven other men.
There were conflicting accounts Monday of how many suspects had been arrested in all of the raids. The intelligence official who spoke to CBS Newssaid as many as 200 people may have been detained. But, a senior government official from Azad Kashmir -- the semi autonomous Pakistani region of Kashmir -- said no more than fifty people had been taken into custody.
Speaking on condition of anonymity from Muzaffarabad, the official said all of the raids had taken place in Kashmir. "The cold weather has meant that there are very few people in these camps right now," he said.
Groups such as the LeT typically recruit volunteers during late spring and try to sneak them across the border to the Indian side of Kashmir during the summer, to target Indian troops deployed there.
The Mumbai attacks, however, demonstrated a newfound, wider ambition of the groups, which now seem willing and able to attack locations much deeper inside India, well beyond Kashmir.
Western diplomats warned, however, that the arrests have not, as yet, demonstrated that the tide of growing militancy in Pakistan was being reversed. Since Sunday, dozens of Humvee vehicles and other supplies destined for U.S. and other NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan have been destroyed either in transit through Pakistan, or waiting to be transported.
In two daring attacks believed to have been carried out by Taliban militants, trucks carrying the Humvees and other supplies were set on fire.
On Sunday, militants laid siege to two transport terminals near the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar and burned more than 160 military vehicles. It was the.
Early on Monday, militants in Peshawar attacked a terminal for supply trucks, burning military vehicles that were waiting for shipment to Afghanistan.
"This incident is a setback for the ongoing effort in Afghanistan. The danger is that there could be more copycat attacks in the coming days, weeks or months," one NATO country diplomat told CBS News.