One phone call that particularly disturbed investigators was between Jamil and a policeman on Musharraf's security beat. An investigator on the case told TIME that the policeman, who has been arrested and is being interrogated, informed Jamil in which car Musharraf—who uses several decoy limousines—was riding. U.S. and Pakistani investigators say they believe that insiders within the President's guard were also in on a failed Dec. 14 hit, allowing would-be killers to plant five explosive charges under a bridge that blew up just after Musharraf crossed it. Jaish-e-Muhammad is also suspected in that near miss. Under a new order, police officers assigned to the President's motorcade are prohibited from carrying cell phones while on duty for fear they will use them to coordinate attacks on Musharraf.
That Jaish-e-Muhammad has the capacity to launch sophisticated attacks on the President, possibly with insider help, is a situation partly of Musharraf's making. The government in Islamabad has long coddled militant Islamic groups, encouraging them first to help drive the Soviets out of neighboring Afghanistan and later to torment Indian troops in the part of the disputed state of Kashmir that is under Indian control. It was to this latter cause that Jaish-e-Muhammad was devoted. Official tolerance of these groups, and in some cases assistance to them, continued after Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup. The President was especially supportive of Jaish-e-Muhammad's leader, warrior-cleric Maulana Masood Azhar. When Azhar was released from an Indian jail in a prisoner exchange in December 2000, he was permitted to stage a huge rally in Karachi attended by gun-toting followers. In 2001 Musharraf even tried unsuccessfully to persuade the various Kashmiri guerrilla groups to unite under Azhar.
After the two attempts on his life, Musharraf seems to have a new attitude. Acting on information gleaned from Jamil's cell phone, police in the central region of Punjab last week arrested more than 35 suspects from mosques and seminaries, most thought to be connected to Jaish-e-Muhammad. An unspecified number were released. Still, U.S. officials are encouraged that Musharraf finally seems committed to going after Jaish-e-Muhammad, a request Washington has made to Islamabad for years, to little effect. "He's serious," says a U.S. State Department official. "He was born again on Dec. 25."
One of those arrested last week was wanted as an accessory in the January 2002 abduction and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl. The Pakistanis have already convicted Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, a militant close to Jaish-e-Muhammad, of abducting Pearl and sentenced him to death. A witness says it was al-Qaeda commander Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who actually killed the journalist. Arrested by the U.S. on March 1, 2003, Mohammed remains in U.S. custody. According to a senior Pakistani antiterrorism official, he is being held at a military base on Diego Garcia. Pakistan's Interior Minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, told TIME "there's a strong possibility" that the Dec. 25 plotters were also "involved with al-Qaeda."
The two groups certainly know each other. Throughout the 1990s, before marching off to fight the Indians in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Muhammad militants crossed into Afghanistan to attend al-Qaeda training camps. Pakistan's intelligence services looked the other way. Officials in Pakistan say that these days Jaish-e-Muhammad activists give shelter to al-Qaeda militants and that al-Qaeda provides funding and guidance to Jaish-e-Muhammad, perhaps contracting the group out for killings. Says retired General Talat Masood, a consultant on security affairs in Islamabad: "The military had an alliance with these jihadi groups, but they got totally out of control."
Suicide bomber Jamil was known to Pakistani intelligence. A reedy young man from the village of Rawalakot in the Himalayan foothills near the Indian border, he fought alongside the Taliban against the Americans in Afghanistan. Wounded in the fall of Kabul, he was allowed to return home to Pakistan. On arrival in Peshawar, he was interrogated by Pakistani intelligence services and dismissed as harmless in April 2002. Like many Muslim extremists, Jamil, according to his relatives in Rawalakot, viewed Musharraf as too pro-Western. Militants complain that Musharraf betrayed the Taliban and, given his peace overtures to India in early January, they now accuse him of selling out Kashmiri Muslims too. Jamil's rants against the U.S. and Musharraf were so incessant that his family kicked him out, neighbors say. But was Jamil the ringleader of the Dec. 25 plot? "Of course not," scoffs Interior Minister Hayat. "The ringleaders never blow themselves up. They get minions to do that."
However dedicated Musharraf may now be to weeding out Pakistan's extremists, the task will be long and dangerous. On Thursday, terrorists in Karachi bombed a Christian study center, injuring 14 people. Says Hayat: "Their tentacles are spread far and wide." On the run now, these groups may be more dangerous than ever. Says an ex-commander of one of them in Lahore: "The boys aren't listening to anyone. They're desperate. They don't accept that the days of jihad are over."