You are here

Mumbai Attacks: A Deadly “Performance”

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • December 05, 2008

    For 62 hours, from the night of November 26 to the morning of November 29, the city of Mumbai was held hostage to terror attacks. A significant element in these attacks was the willingness of the terrorists to engage security forces in a frontal gun battle. Earlier attacks have generally involved simultaneous bomb blasts in crowded market places, hospitals and office complexes. The intensity and meticulous planning that went into the attacks are of an unprecedented nature. National Security Guard (NSG) commandos expressed surprise at the training level of the terrorists and the quantity of weapons carried by the terrorists.

    It has come to light from the interrogation of the arrested terrorist, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman , a resident of Faridkot village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, that 10 Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) men left Karachi docks and rowed out to the Arabian Sea in the early morning of November 23 and later on hijacked a Porbandar-based fishing boat Kuber to reach Mumbai. Ajmal’s interrogation report reveals that all his companions were Pakistani citizens – Abu Ali, Fahad, Omar, Shoaib, Umer, Abu Akasha, Ismail, Abdul Rahman (Bara) and Abdul Rahman (Chhota). All 10 terrorists undertook a special ten month training module known as the Daura-e-Shaifa, which specialized on raids against hotels and hospitals. It also included training in marine combat and navigation skills. The group reached Mumbai waters on November 26 during dusk, landed at Badhwar Park in Cuffe Parade and then split up into four batches to target Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus, Oberoi Trident Hotel, Taj Hotel, Leopold Café, and Nariman House.

    Each of these targets was well chosen in terms of their “performance” value -- the elite in Mumbai and foreigners usually thronged these places and targeting them would result in grabbing national and international media attention. This was doubly ensured by singling out American and British citizens and thus drawing the attention of the BBC and CNN, which provided round the clock coverage for millions of viewers worldwide. The Mumbai attacks also dominated the virtual world of the web, jamming popular blogs like Twitter.

    LeT has a long history as a Pakistan based terror outfit fighting for the liberation of Kashmir. Founded in 1987 by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and drawing inspiration from the Egyptian Brotherhood, LeT’s chief mission, according to its website, is to liberate Kashmir. The email circulated after the Mumbai attacks began and which appears to have originated from a computer in Pakistan, demanded of the “Indian government to stop atrocities against the Muslims”. It went on to warn that violence “shall continue up till Muslims have their own independent land…they shall continue until all our occupied states are returned to us…it is our innings now. We shall not allow this innings to go waste.” The email also stated that the purpose of the attack was to demonstrate the seriousness of the group’s intent and objectives.

    While a small cell of the terrorist outfit has been eliminated, the overall leadership and masterminds of the attacks are still at large in Pakistan and could possibly inspire further attacks. It is likely that terrorists would target urban centres like New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, and Raipur for their “performance” value given the wide coverage these would receive. At the same time, the security apparatus in industrial and IT hubs like Jamshedpur, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai also need to be beefed up. However, coastal areas like Chennai or Panaji or Thiruvananthapuram are likely to be avoided by terror outfits for sometime now given the “red alert” that has gone up along the country’s 7, 516 km coastline. Nonetheless, the Union Home Ministry’s Coastal Security Scheme must be strengthened and made “full proof” against terror.

    An alarming piece of information that has come to light after the Mumbai attacks is that the Uttar Pradesh police had intelligence since February 2008 that the LeT will carry out a fidayeen attack on Mumbai. This intelligence was based on inputs provided by Fahim Ahmed Ansari and seven others, two Pakistani nationals amongst them, that they were preparing to undertake a terror strike on Mumbai. Ansari in fact had carried out reconnaissance of the Oberoi Trident while he was in Mumbai from November 28 to December 10, 2007. This information was passed on to the Maharashtra police and its Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief, the late Hemant Karkare, who warned hotels like the Taj and the Oberoi Trident to invest in security equipment and personnel. But Karkare’s warnings went unheeded. This brings to the fore the fact that state forces alone cannot fight terrorism; the cooperation of civil society is a vital component in this fight.

    How to deter terrorist attacks that are occurring at regular intervals? Since the May 13, 2008 Jaipur attacks, the Indian government has been talking tough about the need for better intelligence co-ordination, well trained counter-terror forces and the establishment of a Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA). But nothing concrete has come out of all this talk, with the focus on counter-terrorism taking a back seat in the aftermath of each of these attacks. This time around, there will hopefully be more teeth to the government’s response. For one, an “All Party Meeting” at New Delhi on November 30 headed by the Prime Minister finalized the setting up of a FIA based on the Administrative Reforms Committee recommendations. At the same time, given that the terror group which targeted Mumbai was just one small cell of a larger terror network spread across South Asia, defeating the network would require the concentrated efforts of all countries in the region. It is time a common counter-terror framework under the mechanism of SAARC is created.