Mumbai Terror Attacks: Agencies Yet to Learn Hard Lessons

Animesh Roul

For almost over sixty hours, Mumbai, the financial capital of India, witnessed a series of terrorist attacks, multiple hostage crisis, mindless killings, fierce gun battles and at the end, a disrupted life. The terrorists have struck major targets including luxury hotels and a Jewish Center frequented by Westerners and elite Indian only to be holed up later inside these buildings with innocent civilians as hostage. Their demand was the safe release of Mujahideen held in Indian prisons. Prior to this, they also have targeted at least seven more places and went on a killing spree on that fateful Wednesday evening.

An unknown outfit, Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, for quite some time now, this name-game has been a part of Pakistan based terror groups' desperate attempt to give a homegrown Indian flavor to this ongoing Jihadi-terrorism in the region. Of course a collusive local hand is quite possible in this sort of terror operations, primarily for logistical support. Looking at the whole incident, it is beyond doubt that these highly trained terrorists have undergone specialised terror training at various camps located somewhere in Pakistan administered Kashmir or Karachi.

As evidences are forthcoming following the arrests of some Pakistani nationals including one Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab who was apprehended from the besieged Taj Mahal hotel, the needle of suspicion pointed strongly at the Pakistan-based and Kashmir-centric Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure). Even though this LeT denied any hand in this carnage, its footprints are quite evident.

It doesn't take any great wisdom to believe that Pakistan based and Kashmir centric terror tanzeems are behind most of the terrorist acts perpetrated on Indian soil. Among them, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami have been leading from the front in the so called Islamic Jihad against India. With strong Saudi Wahabi link and proximity to the notorious ISI, LeT's activities are not always clandestine in Pakistan. It operates openly with its so called political wing Jamat- ud- Dawa, nurturing dreams for a 'God's government' on the lines of Sharia laws in Pakistan and elsewhere. It preaches Armed Jihad as shortest route to reach god and heaven. LeT is the one which has introduced such type of Fidayeen missions in Jammu and Kashmir and intermittently striking India's heartlands with its tactics of indiscriminate shooting and grenade attacks.

Mumbai is always vulnerable to terrorism and gang violence for its business potential and porous sea coasts. We have experienced number of terrorist attacks in the past including 1993 serial blasts and 2006 serial train blasts. The latest events stand out as the most severe terrorist act. Meanwhile, the death toll in latest Mumbai mayhem has reached 195 including 22 foreign nationals and 15 security forces at the end of the prolonged and biggest terror fight the country has ever seen. While nearly 300 of them sustained physical injuries, millions of them get scarred for life.

There is obviously a growing concern that terrorists have uniquely used all possible types of terror tactics in Mumbai, ranging from hostage taking, driving explosive laden cars, using sea routes, indiscriminately shooting at civilians and using grenades to maximise the damage.

The Mumbai attacks didn't involve suicide bombers, but motivated Fidayeens (death squads), as propagated by Lashkar-e-Toiba which supports the later terror tactics as Islamic. According to JuD/Lashkar-e-Toiba's spokesperson, Abdullah Muntazir, who denied any involvement in Mumbai attacks, said on earlier occasions that a Fidayeen must complete their mission even in the worst circumstances. Quite plausibly Muntazir's definition, who is desperately trying to salvage JuD's public image, matches the recent operations in Mumbai.

Arguably, there has been a massive intelligence failure as Indian security agencies were caught napping again when metropolises like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, country's political and financial centres have always been an obvious target for terrorists who want to cripple the country from all possible fronts. Just after the 9/11 event in the US, Indian intelligence agencies received reports about an ongoing marine training of LeT operatives to infiltrate India's porous sea borders. Again couple of years ago, Indian Coast Guards apprehended Lashkar's seaborne terrorists, off the Mumbai coast. But Indian agencies have never learned the hard lessons. The irony is both Intelligence and security agencies only claim to have uncovered plots and neutralised terror sleeper cells, but never reached to the roots perhaps due to lack of political willingness or technological backwardness.

Always under severe criticism for a weak-kneed response to situations like Mumbai and inept handling of investigations, for the first time, India did not negotiate with terrorists and went on hot pursuit.

At this hour of national crisis, many fear that it could escalate into an Indo-Pakistani crisis as blame game has already begun at the highest level. However, the Islamabad administration has quickly stepped up damage control exercise by promising support in the investigations.

And now the battle is over, the investigating agencies would piece things together to get a clear picture of what had happened and how to fight this menace again in future. One thing is for sure that to outsmart terror groups, like LeT, it has to resort to proper investigations backed by human and technical intelligence rather than only rhetoric, false claims and complacency.

[Originaly Published as 'Agencies yet to learn hard lessons' in Sunday MiD Day, Mumbai, 30-11-2008.]

Author Note
Animesh Roul is Executive Director, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi