Spotlight Falls on Pakistan After Mumbai Terror Attacks

November 30, 2008 - 10:53 PM
As India counts the cost of a deadly three-day standoff with Islamic terrorists, the key question exercising government officials and security experts alike is who was behind the coordinated and well-planned operation.~~
Mumbai attack flag

Caption: An Indian police officer and hotel staffer hoist an Indian national flag at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008, the day after a terrorist siege there ended (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – As India continues to count the cost of Mumbai’s three-day standoff with Islamic terrorists, the key question exercising government officials and security experts alike is who was behind the coordinated and well-planned operation.

A major focus of attention is the interrogation of only known survivor among the attackers, a 21-year-old Pakistani who was captured after being shot in the hand and according to police sources has provided detailed information.

The chief suspect is a terrorist group operating in Pakistan, with al-Qaeda sympathies and a long history of violent attacks. Fragile relations between the neighboring rivals have soured significantly, and the White House announced Sunday that President Bush has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit India in the coming days.

Like other attacks in India in recent years, the main goal appears to have been to incite fear, inter-communal distrust and socio-economic insecurity, as well as hostility between India and Pakistan.

Although one message purportedly sent by someone linked to the attack cited perceived injustices including references to “Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia and Kashmir,” the head of India’s paramilitary National Security Guard, J.K. Dutt, said the authorities received no demands from the gunmen, “who appeared to have come with the sole intention of killing as many people as they could.”

Mumbai’s ordeal began on Wednesday night, and only ended when commandos overcame the remaining gunmen holding the landmark Taj Mahal hotel early on Saturday morning.

Over a period of 59 hours, the terrorists attacked a railway station, two hospitals, a municipal facility, a cinema, a café, a bank, a Jewish community center and two hotels in India’s financial capital.

The gunmen seized control of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident Hotels and a Chabad-Lubavitch facility known as Nariman House. By the time the three sieges had been broken, 30 people had died at the Oberoi, more than 50 at the Taj Mahal, and six Jewish hostages had been killed at Nariman House.

Authorities said the death toll was 183 and could rise further. Unconfirmed reports said several dozen of the victims were foreigners, including Americans, Israelis, Australians, Canadians and Germans. At least 20 soldiers and police officers were among the dead.

According to the captured terrorist, who was named variously as Azam or Ajmal Amir Kasab, 10 attackers had set off by small boat from Karachi, then rendezvoused with a Pakistani ship and were issued with weapons – an assault rifle, a handgun, half a dozen magazines and eight hand grenades each.

En route to India they commandeered an Indian fishing boat, killed its crew, later beheaded its skipper, killed a coast guard officer and forced his colleague to take them towards Mumbai before killing him too. They then transferred to inflatable speedboats for the landing, Kasab reportedly confessed.

Once ashore they split into four groups and headed for their various targets, some by taxi. The attacks began after 9 PM on Wednesday.

The Times of India said Kasab told interrogators the attackers had planned to blow up the Taj Mahal, in an intended reprise of the destruction of Islambad’s Marriott Hotel last September.
Mumbai terrorist

Caption: The gunman identified by police as Kasab and now in custody was photographed on Nov. 26, 2008 at Mumbai’s Chatrapathi Sivaji Terminal railway station, among the terrorists’ first targets (AP Photo/Mumbai Mirror)

Collaboration

The captured man’s account suggested a sophisticated and meticulously planned operation, with strenuous training, a visit to Mumbai months earlier to reconnoiter the targets, and the involvement of individuals beyond the assault group, including those on the Pakistani ship as well as a separate group who Kasab claimed had checked into the hotels earlier to stockpile more weapons.

Rakesh Maria, Mumbai’s joint police commissioner, told Indian media the gunman told police he belonged to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based Sunni and Wahhabist group whose main focus has been to end Indian control in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Pakistan maintains an official policy of supporting Kashmiris’ “legitimate struggle for self-determination,” and LeT is widely suspected to have enjoyed historical support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.

Under outside pressure, Gen. Pervez Musharraf formally banned LeT and other militant groups in 2002 but they continue operating under different incarnations – in LeT’s case a so-called political wing, Jamaat ul-Dawat (JuD).

Both LeT/JuD and the Pakistani government have denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

For Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, there seemed little doubt about the origin of the terrorists.

“We will take up strongly with our neighbors that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them,” he said in a statement to the nation, the reference to Pakistan clear.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attack, while urging India not to “overreact.”

Emails sent to Indian media early on during the attacks claimed responsibility on behalf of something called the “Deccan Mujahideen” (the Deccan plateau accounts for most of southern India).

Some counter terrorism researchers who have been tracking “homegrown” Indian Islamists, believe they are linking increasingly with jihadist groups based abroad. A possible scenario could be an operation planned by Pakistan-based terrorists who collaborated with Indian-based radicals.

Some counter terrorism researchers who have been tracking “homegrown” Indian Islamists, believe they are linking increasingly with jihadist groups based abroad. A possible scenario could be an operation planned by Pakistan-based terrorists who collaborated with Indian-based radicals.

Animesh Roul, executive director of the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict in New Delhi, said Monday he believed the Mumbai terrorists were likely Pakistanis who had been “trained and brainwashed” by LeT leaders.

But the scale of the attacks and prior training required suggested the possibility as well of “a covert local hand, perhaps for logistics and prior security related inputs.”

Some Indian Muslims, primarily youths, have turned towards radicalism and violence, increasingly falling prey to  Pakistan and Bangladesh-based terror groups, Roul said.

As for claim of responsibility by the “Deccan Mujahideen,” he called it “a product of a fertile terror imagination and desperate attempt to Indianize the whole terror struggle.”al-Qaeda

Former Indian counter terrorism chief Bahukutumbi Raman noted that LeT was a member of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews. He said it also had “many associates in the Indian Muslim community.”

Indian security officials have said previous LeT attacks were carried out with the help of Indian Islamists, including members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). According to Indian terrorism expert K.P.S. Gill, SIMI’s operational control has for some time been based in Pakistan.

After Bush paid a first visit to India in March 2006 to strengthen Indo-U.S. strategic ties, bin Laden in a public message began referring to India as an apparent target, denouncing what he called “a Crusader-Zionist-Hindu war against the Muslims.”

Some experts believe terrorists like those behind the Mumbai attacks are likely inspired by, but not directly under the supervision of, al-Qaeda.

Unlike suicide attacks that have become a trademark of al-Qaeda, the Mumbai attackers reportedly prepared an escape route by sea, stored on a GPS device. The brazen nature of the attack – evidently well-trained men using assault rifles and grenades in multiple locations – bore similarities to earlier LeT operations.

The FBI and Scotland Yard have dispatched teams to help India’s investigation.