India's financial capital under terror siege


Mumbai-attacks-11262008.jpg

A terrorist outside the train station in Mumbai.

India's financial capital of Mumbai is under a terrorist attack as teams of gunmen attacked hotels, a train station, a restaurant, two hospitals, and an airport. Early reports from India indicate more than 100 people have been killed and more than 300 wounded, however the toll is expected to rise as security forces sort through the chaotic situation in the city. The Times of India reported 80 killed and more than 900 wounded.

The attacks started with military-style assaults at several locations in the city, followed by coordinated bombings. Gunmen opened fire with heavy machineguns, AK-47s and lobbed grenades inside the lobby of two five-star hotels and at a train station. Terrorists are said to have taken hostages at the posh Oberoi and Taj hotels after detonating bombs and opening fire on the patrons in the lobbies. Fighting has also been reported inside two hospitals and at a local airport.

The terrorists are seeking out foreigners, according to report from London Times. They wanted anyone with British or American passports," a witness said. "They wanted foreigners." Both the Oberoi (or Trident) and Taj hotels are frequented by foreign businessmen. Attacks have also been reported at the Marriott and Ramada hotels

At least a dozen foreigners, including Americans, have been taken hostage at the Oberoi hotel by at least 15 terrorists. More than 200 Indian counterterrorism commandos have been pushed into the city and are preparing to storm the hotel. The Oberoi hotel is on fire.

Fire at the Taj Hotel. Image from NDTV.

At the Taj, more than 15 hostages, including seven foreigners, have been taken hostage by two terrorists. Hundreds are said to be trapped inside the hotel. Commandos are also preparing an assault on the Taj, which was rocked by five bombs. The Taj is currently aflame.

Hotels have become the jihadi's target of choice, according to terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna. "There is a global trend to attack hotels," he told The Long War Journal. "In 2008 alone the best protected hotels in Pakistan (Islambad Marriott) and Afghanistan (Kabul Serena) were attacked. Open facilities are always a challenge to protect. The attacks specifically targeting hotels will have a significant impact on the the hospitality industry. With international hotels emerging as second embassies, governments and the private sector will need to work closely with each other to protect this vital sector."

Gunmen are also reported to have been cornered at the main rail station after opening fire on the passengers at the crowed terminal. Commandos have been deployed to the train station as well. Fighting is ongoing at the Cama hospital, as police and soldiers have surrounded the hospital and are battling with gunmen.

A police van has also been hijacked by gunmen, who are driving around the city, firing wildly. The chief of the Mumbai counterterrorism police and two other senior police officials have been killed during heavy fighting.

The Deccan Mujahideen, or Indian Mujahideen, has claimed credit for the attacks. The constellation of Kashmiri and Pakistani-based terror groups are the likely culprits, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

"This looks like LeT and the groups it spawned," the official said, referring to the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliated groups such as Harkat ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI), the Indian Mujahideen, and the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The official cautioned that it is too soon to know who exactly was behind the strikes, but the attacks have similar characteristics of past attacks by these groups.

Indian intelligence claims HuJI-B created a front group called the Indian Mujahideen to confuse investigators and cover the tracks of the Students' Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, a radical Islamist movement. The group receives support from Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence and is an al Qaeda affiliate. SIMI provides logistical support for attacks in India.

These terror groups have been implicated in numerous mass-casualty attacks in New Delhi, Mumbai, Samjhauta, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Assam, and Uttar Pradesh over the past several years. Thousands of Indians were killed or wounded in the attacks.

Nick Grace contributed to this report.



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READER COMMENTS: "India's financial capital under terror siege"

Posted by KW64 at November 26, 2008 5:48 PM ET:

What a great idea by the ISI! Supprt a bunch of destructive fanatics and make a mortal enemy out of a billion-person nuclear power right next door on your eastern border while you deal with an insurrection on your western border and your economy is declining because few want to invest in a region of instability. Brilliant

I hope the new ISI chief has a better idea.

Posted by Charles at November 26, 2008 6:40 PM ET:

The Oberoi and Trident Hotel are actually the same.

Posted by crosspatch at November 26, 2008 7:48 PM ET:

My heart goes out to those impacted by this tragedy.

When will the world tire of this horror and carnage exported from Pakistan?

Posted by KnightHawk at November 26, 2008 9:41 PM ET:

Just horrible events.

Shouldn't be a shock to anyone that they were/are in search of those with US/GB passports. I have a sick feeling this is child's play though in comparison to what may be in the works for the future.

Something tells me this is not exactly going to help the ISI argument for us to stop UAV attacks into the NWF areas (aka terrorstan).

Posted by KW64 at November 26, 2008 9:59 PM ET:

Clearly, this took a long time to plan, but I wonder if they stepped it forward in order to try to get hostages to bargain for the release of Raheel Sheikh, arrested Tuesday. He may be able to rat out of lot of these guys if he breaks. That would be another explaination for wanting Britons as hostages.

Posted by Marlin at November 26, 2008 11:12 PM ET:

Updated casualty figures are now being provided.

"At least six foreigners have been killed and the death figure has gone up to 101 now," Ramesh Tayde, a senior police officer told Reuters from Mumbai's control room.

"We have a figure of 287 people injured."

Reuters: Six foreigners among 101 dead in Mumbai - police

Posted by JMS at November 27, 2008 2:41 AM ET:

India's intelligence and domestic security agencies, sadly, are third world organisations dealing with first world security problems which will only get worse as India develops. Unlike America, India is not protected by oceans, it has massive land borders with its worst enemies, it has a large domestic muslim population amongst whom terrorists can hide, and it's a free, open country with no stomach for the kind of tactics, say, a police state like China can use.

Furthermore, the terrorists are now losing in Iraq, so that 'flypaper strategy' is now ending. Afghanistan is the new flypaper, and terrorists get into Afghanistan through Pakistan. And right next to Pakistan, and much more high profile (and without any US marines guarding it) is India.

India needs to get its domestic intelligence and security act together, and fast, or this will get out of control. Time to put those new ties with Israel into effect, and call in Mossad to guide them through a restructuring. They can do it if they try, they just need the will.

Posted by Charles at November 27, 2008 4:09 AM ET:

Indian media now quoting intelligence agencies, claiming that considering its complexity, this attack had to be the result of an "international conspiracy" way beyond the means of local terror groups. Any further information on that? Maybe hints about a direct Al-Qaeda involvement?

Posted by NS at November 27, 2008 8:50 AM ET:

What is more important than figuring out whether these guys are from AQ or not is realizing that they are all driven by the same Islamic fundamentalist idealogy.

There has been a massive failure of intelligence across all levels - military, police, state and central government. Some of the terrorists came to Bombay from Karachi via boats - the amount and nature of ammunition that has been smuggled into the city for this operation shows that the Indian Coast Guard and Navy have been caught napping. I am also willing to wager that there are moles in Indian Intelligence who knew of this operation and offered help to the terrorists.

I will concur with JMS that Indian anti-terrorism efforts lack modern power and technology. But worse, there is no political will to confront terrorism in India. There is quite a lot of domestic politics involved here which i dont want to get into.

Bombay is going to take a long time to recover from this attack if ever.

Posted by kuffur at November 27, 2008 9:37 AM ET:

I think Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Indian Mujahideen are the same group, LET changed their name to the Indian Mujahideen, I may be wrong though.

Posted by kuffur at November 27, 2008 9:53 AM ET:

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani-based Islamic terrorist organization, seeks to drive out Indian security forces from the disputed Jammu and Kashmir regions of South Asia and establish an Islamic caliphate. Various intelligence services consider LET to be one of the most dangerous Islamic militant groups operating in Kashmir. Known for its expertise in suicide bombing and conventional assault tactics, LET has carried out many deadly attacks, including a raid on the Indian Parliament in 2002, which killed 14. Although the organization stopped claiming responsibility for attacks after it was ostensibly banned by Pakistan in 2002, Indian authorities have arrested many LET operatives in connection with attacks in the region.

The group was founded in the late 1980's with the help of the Pakistani government (which also opposes the Indian presence in Kashmir) as the armed wing of the Markaz al-Dawa wa al-Irshad, an Islamic social welfare group. LET, which was also inspired by Osama bin Laden, continues to maintain close ties with Al Qaeda. Intelligence services have discovered that, before its camps were destroyed by the United States in 2001, Al Qaeda frequently hosted and trained LET operatives. Conversely, since the destruction of those camps, LET has hosted Al Qaeda trainees and other Islamic militants, including Shahzad Tanweer, one of the suicide bombers in the July 7, 2005 London Underground attack, according to British authorities. Additionally, senior Al Qaeda leaders, such as Abu Zubeida have been arrested at LET compounds.

I would think there are ties with Al- Qaeda on this one.

Posted by GME at November 27, 2008 3:10 PM ET:

The U.S. should sieze this moment to attack the terrorists anywhere in Pakistan they have congregated. Before massive destruction of their compounds in the tribal regions or other parts of the world--conveniently situated in ordinary neighborhoods--drop leaflets and make a reasonable effor to allow the innocent to leave target areas. Oh, and by the way, duh, block all exits before sending out these notifications so that only innocents can leave. Then send in eveything we've got, manned and unmanned, from MOABs, cluster bombs, to incendiary devices to kill as many of these monsters as possible. Leave the message that President Bush promised in 2001, "If you harbor a terrorist, then you will be treated as a terrorist." Remember that speech?

But guess what? None of this will happen. We'll probably send in nice, urbane, Mike Mullen to talk with the Paks. He'll do what he does best, express "concern," and then we'll leave it to the Indian army to slug it out with the Paks along the LOC. The terrorists will attain their strategic objective, which is to shock their enemies into fighting each other.

Here's the strange part. The terrorists believe it is "Gods will" that the world will be lit on fire by chaos, after which, of course, the Jihadists can take control of all people.

But there is another sick twist in their faith: that everything that happens on earth is "God's will." If their cause is thwarted, they reason, that too is "God's will." Why are we holding back? They are asking for God's will. Give it to them.

Posted by NS at November 27, 2008 4:20 PM ET:

GME,
Some times i wish the exact same things that you do. But after watching the Iraq war and how the support for it fluctuated according to the tides of war, I understood why Bush stayed away from the course that you and I prefer.

Lets face it - most democracies including the US do not have the stomach to fight a long drawn out no holds barred war. I have seen only Israel come close to fighting the way a war on terror needs to be fought - and even they seem to be running out of the will to do so.

US supply lines run right through Pakistan - how does the US plan any operation when this fundamental fact is not going to change. This is also a country that has nuclear weapons and is known to have proliferated nuclear technology with the direct support of the military (even though the Paki military laughably deny it).

There was a reason Gandhi fought long and hard to keep India from getting partitioned -and went so far as to offer control of India to Jinnah. He knew that an artificial nation state based on religion with a neighbor that did not share its vision of Islam was going to be a nightmare.

The one good thing that may happen - the people in this country will wake up to the fact that the GWOT is only heating up - the question is , do civilized people have the will to fight the barbarians.?

I am going to find that out in my lifetime.

Posted by crosspatch at November 27, 2008 4:26 PM ET:

"drop leaflets"

The vast majority of the people in that region can not read. That is why the more militant mullahs use radio stations. You have to use voice communications with those people, they can't read for the most part.

Posted by NS at November 27, 2008 4:38 PM ET:

crosspatch,
Great point. Besides even if they some how got the message that there were going to be strikes, they would only end up supporting the Taliban and AQ - blood runs thicker than water - and when threatened the Pashtun eventually backs the other Pashtun.

The US is in a terrible position vis-a -vis Pakistan. What I think they could consider is taking out the known jihadist supporters in the ISI - but this is easier said than done.

Besides the average Pakistani has no problem with the ISI and their methodologies - change in Pakistan has to start from within - the US can only help them along the way - just like change in Iraq started from within Iraqis.

Posted by Neo at November 27, 2008 5:33 PM ET:

"Indian media now quoting intelligence agencies, claiming that considering its complexity, this attack had to be the result of an "international conspiracy" way beyond the means of local terror groups."

This "international conspiracy" happens to be a large scale political movement with many players and supporting organizations. This attack in Mumbai is just the latest move in a larger game. The local terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba are not really clearly delineated local organizations. As organized, they are more like armed political cells that are only localized to a degree. They are usually organized around a political purpose and mode of operation. They try to keep a local network on the ground that intimate with the local surroundings and conditions. Money, arms, training, specialists and mission planning come from the outside. If a cell does get knocked down the parent organizations will often reconstitute and reinsert the organization from the outside. Al Qaeda isn't really an overarching organization but one amongst a few of the larger organizations and state players that serve as focal points providing direction and support.

It is no secret that this "conspiracy" is a long standing political movement. That is well documented. I am just shouting out what should be blatantly obvious here. Unfortunately, there seems to be an industry of denial out there that prefers pointing to other causes. The Indians won't be blamed for their own losses this week, but just wait a bit.

Posted by NS at November 27, 2008 6:17 PM ET:

Neo,
The words international conspiracy were used here by Indian agencies to hint at Pakistan's ISI - but your larger point was right on the money.

Denial exists because people are afraid to confront the facts - political correctness demands that you refuse to see what is right in front of you. Besides even if people recognize these facts, they will still find a way to blame every one but the jihadists.

It's really depressing and dangerous.

Posted by Neo at November 27, 2008 7:56 PM ET:

NS: "The words international conspiracy were used here by Indian agencies to hint at Pakistan's ISI"

I have no doubt about the involvement of the Pakistani ISI at least on some level. One can start by pointing to Pakistan's long historical involvement in the set up and operation of these organizations. What is exactly afoot this time is harder to discern. The emphasis on westerners and western targets is something new for Muslim extremist groups within India. These extremist groups have done large scale attacks within India on many occasions before. The spectacular nature and westernized targets seem to be more in line with Al Qaeda's mode of operation. It isn't an isolated incident either, but comes on the heals of this summers attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Are we seeing a melding of Al Qaeda, Taliban, and LET? How does all this mesh with what is going on inside the Pakistani ISI, military, and political institutions?

Posted by NS at November 27, 2008 9:04 PM ET:

Neo,
"How does all this mesh with what is going on inside the Pakistani ISI, military, and political institutions?

I may not be the best person to answer this question - I am Indian and I have an in-built sense of distrust towards the ISI - a distrust which has only gotten stronger over the events of the last 20 years.

How ever i will try to give you my perspective - the Pakistani civilian government is slowly starting to realize that Islamic terrorism goes both ways - and there are consequences to creating the Frankenstein called the Taliban. There have been several attacks by these terrorists on Pakistan itself ( the Lal Masjid episode was the biggest example of that last year until the Mariott bombings this year).

Pakistan's economy is in bad shape as well. So the civilian government in addition to the economic and internal jihadist problems now has to deal with increased US pressure to act in Afghanistan. The problem however is that the ISI has been double faced as ever and refuses to co-operate with the civilian Govt.

The military/ISI are two faces of the same terrorist coin for all practical purposes. They have been trying their best to keep themselves relevant and be the final authority on what constitutes Pakistan's interests in the region. They are seeking to undermine the civilian Government in every possible way and do not like the prospects of a stabilization of the India-Pakistan border on the East and a more stable Afghanistan to the West - it would effectively mean the end of military control over civilian life in Pakistan.

Morever the ISI is betting that the US will give up on the Afghan war - and if they dont, the ISI will try to hinder its efforts in every possible way. They want to go back to the time they had Afghanistan as a client state with the Taliban at the helm - this is their vision of "strategic depth" against India.

This attack was meant to destabilize India - plain and simple - and consequently Indo-Pakistan relations which have been quietly improving over the last 10 months - co inciding with civilian power taking over.

In fact Zardari went so far as to say that Pakistan would consider a no first use of nuclear weapon policy - this is VERY significant as Pakistan has consistently refused to consider a no first use option - their argument always was that India is a threat to it and its conventional military strength has to be supplemented by a nuclear deterrent.

AQ is trying its best to destabilize Pakistan and there are lots of elements in the ISI who are actively promoting this strategy. They want to get back official control of Government ultimately - they dont think Zardari or for that matter any other civilian is good enough to take care of Pakistan's interests in the region - as i said they are self appointed saviours of the nation state.

So the ISI helps AQ/Taliban in Afghanistan directly and itself indirectly by making life tough for the US. It is helping itself directly by attacking India and destabilizing its relations with the civilian Government.

Its bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul was meant to be a clear message - Afghanistan is their near abroad and they dont like a large Indian presence or Indian help to the Afghan Government.

I must hasten to add that Pakistani terrorism goes beyond just Kashmir/Afghanistan - it generally believes in destabilizing India as an instrument of state policy. Pakistan's military Governments have always believed that a weaker and a divided India best serves Pakistan's interests.

The sad story is that the Pakistan military/ISI march to their own beat and no one else's. The civilian Govt is pretty toothless and does not exercise any real authority.

I also believe that India is going to face similar attacks in the near future - this is not going to be the last terror strike - not by any stretch of imagination. India's security apparatus to deal with terror is non existent and is at the mercy of ISI/ terror groups for quite some time to come.

Posted by Solomon2 at November 27, 2008 10:51 PM ET:

Odd that the method of attack, 25-30 men in groups of threes, aimed at causing maximum terror and economic disruption, is the same as the terror attack pattern that the Russians trained their Spetnaz terror-troops and their foreign affiliates to do.

Posted by Buff52 at November 27, 2008 10:51 PM ET:

Major hotel businesses and their managers need to develop an attitude of being responsible for their own security in a world of 100 man terrorist assaults. They can not rely on governement police and soldiers except for them to come by after the fact with body bags and damage assesment units. Rely on yourself and your family/work associeates.

Remember what the wagon trains did to protect themselves in the old American West?

Posted by mjr007 at November 28, 2008 9:08 AM ET:

Thank you for your perspective NS. ISI has been double-dealing for decades and has finally crossed the tipping point against which Indian civilian leadership must account.

It may not be the final terrorist attack but in my mind's eye, represents a beginning of the end. Galvanizing anti-terrorism support in the region becomes the operational and diplomatic focus of the US in the region.

Best wishes.

Posted by Albert at November 28, 2008 1:37 PM ET:

Looks like the anti-Pakistani alarmists have come out in full force again on the Long War Journal. Blame the ISI for all the miserable job the NATO alliance has done in Afghanistan! It is not Pakistan's fault that American satrap Hamid Karzai is a miserable failure. Some posters here seem really keen on engaged hundreds of millions of Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. If the US government were to heed such idiotic advice, America would be in even greater trouble than it is now.

Posted by KW64 at November 28, 2008 6:14 PM ET:

NS -- While I readily believe that the leadership of the ISI and the Pakistani military do not want India to have a significant presence in Afghanistan and may have had involvement in the embassy bombing there, I seriously doubt, for reasons in comment 1 above, that the new ISI chief or Kayani would think they can bring down the Indian Government via terrorism without serious consequences for Pakistan. While groups that received aid from ISI in the past, or from unauthorized elements of ISI currently, may be responsible for this attack, I doubt the current ISI or Pakistani army heads knew what was coming let alone ordered it.

Al Queda, the Taliban and Indian domestic radicals all have reason to see India and Pakistan at sword's point. I would expect those to be the perpetrators of this crime not authorized Pakistani authorities.

Posted by NS at November 28, 2008 8:27 PM ET:

mjr007,
Thank you for your kind note.

Posted by Neo at November 28, 2008 9:13 PM ET:

NS - Thanks for your comments. Sorry, I couldn't get back to you earlier.

Posted by NS at November 28, 2008 10:09 PM ET:

You are welcome, Neo.

Posted by Neo at November 28, 2008 10:09 PM ET:

KW64,

I would like to agree that the leadership in the Pakistani Army and ISI would understand the consequences of supporting terrorists, but I'm inclined to think your assessment is understated. I have come to think that the situation within the Pakistani ISI is politically muddled to the point where it is not only a danger to Pakistan's civilian government but is becoming more dangerous to people within the Pakistani military.

The unauthorized elements within the ISI that support extremist organizations seems to be a long standing feature that is entrenched. The Army staff also seems to their own supporters gathered at the top and in certain priority areas. I am not sure to what extent open confrontation has broken out within Pakistan's security institutions, but there seems a good deal of bullying, political leveraging, and a certain amount of sniping by both sides.

This is a very fluid situation and the number of people who have taken sides is probably still a minority with the majority wanting to do their jobs and stay out of the line of fire. The extent to which extremists can eventually leverage those in the middle will determine which direction this fight takes.

Posted by Neo at November 28, 2008 10:18 PM ET:

Perhaps I should clarify. The Army staff and their high level supporters within the ISI seem to be those more inclined to support the civilian government and moderate policies. It is the other side that support extremists. There is an evolving struggle between those two sides.

Posted by KW64 at November 29, 2008 12:05 AM ET:

NEO: I am sure you are right that there are a number of extremist supporters and many fence sitters in the Pakistani Army and the ISI but change usually comes from the top rather than the bottom in organizations and I feel the top is moderate. Also from a human emotion standpoint, it is the extremists who are killing Pakistani Army personnel right now, not the moderates. If you are an army officer sitting on the fence, seeing your colleages get killed can fill you with anger as well as fear.

I am somewhat optimistic that the extremists are overplaying their hand in Pakistan. There is not much room for an awakening to take hold there right now, but I have to suspect that the number of supporters for the Taliban and their fellow travelers in the Army Officer Corps is shrinking rather than growing. That is positive for the long term.

If the newly elected Democratic government becomes popular with the general public, attacks on it by extremists will further move the Army and ISI into aligning against the violent radicals.