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Mumbai

Like most of you, I'm glued to the news from Mumbai right now. Not a huge amount to say, except this: it has all the hallmarks of a huge operation with lots of planning and resources behind it. Just looking at the men and material involved is daunting: twenty-plus organized gunmen with bombs and weapons, apparently delivered from a passing freighter by Zodiac, attacking very specific targets and taking prisoners: that's not a routine terrorist incident, that's a full-dress commando raid. Organizationally it's on a wholly different level from anything we've seen in the west, with the possible exception of 9/11. Who are these people? And where have they been building up the capability to organize attacks on this scale?

50 Comments

1:

I agree with you, which is why I found it astonishing that I heard Miliband (I think it was him) say that this was not an effective attack and poorly organised.

Do politicians think we are idiots?

I can't decide if that is retorical or not; you decide.

2:

Such violence and bloodshed is a cause of concern for us all. I wonder what the motives of these people are - what are their idiologies to justify such barbarism, and what do they hope to achieve? Time, I'm sure, will tell...

3:

I dunno but let's speculate. . . The cui bono is pretty obvious: the ISI and the BJP, both of whom are easily evil enough to set this off.

Or better than speculation, let's bring Kashmir up the agenda. Does the Indian government want to hang on to it more than it wants a nice fat juicy UNSC veto? Let's ask them.

This is one of those issues (like banning khat) that's more than just abstract to me. Any UK spillover from another India/Pakistan War is likely to have some impact directly outside my front door.

4:

It doesn't necessarily have to involve a lot of planning, beyond spreading the word amongst a bunch of jihadi groups to all attack on the same day.

5:

If you had to hazard a guess, you'd have to say they're probably Pakistani, and probably from the tribal border regions (thought they were actually Indian, but see what you say about arrival by freighter).

And while I think this obviously took some planning and coordination, I don't think it was that complicated, or required that much knowledge or experience on the part of the attackers.

And realistically, I always wonder why things like this don't actually happen more often. If there is enough people in the world that want to perpetrate acts like this, then really, it should happen more often, because there isn't that much stopping them.

So really, it doesn't happen as often because either law enforcement/military shuts them down before action often enough, or there simply aren't that many people that really want to do it.

That said, an awful attack to be sure -- though not as deadly (so far) as past bombings in Mumbai. And I can't help but think it has received more western coverage because of the attack pattern (even though 90% of those killed are most likely local Indians anyway). We always report in our self interest.

6:

Chris @3: and never mind our local ethnic communities, there's always the fallout plume to worry about.

7:

While getting 20 people together and keeping them quiet is difficult, what makes you think this has to be some action of a mastermind organisation?

Could you organise and put on a play in church hall? If so you've probably got enough skills to organise something like this - if you were motivated enough. Access to small arms is easy enough in that part of the world, a zodiac isn't difficult to acquire, and shooting up a target building requires no skill at all (as shown by instances such as Columbine).

Governments and media love to imply that a big threatening organisation has to be behind such attacks because the alternative is more disturbing - anyone could do this, with no connection to larger groups and no special funding/training/control. As such, there is no way of finding them ahead of their action.

8:

Ian Smith: the 20 people in question were sent on a suicide raid.

Which tends to suggest there's a support organization behind them that can provide recruiting, training, and logistic supports to teams of 20 raiders. One point we tend to miss is that suicide bombers are seldom self-starters: rather, they tend to be recruited and used as weapons by an organization that is not, itself, suicidal.

Put it another way: it's the difference between organizing a play in a church hall, and setting up an organization that can regularly set up and run a touring repertory company.

9:

Organizing, on the purely materials side, is far simpler than the actual execution.
The ability to put 20+ people together with the absolute willingness to die for the act is a bit more complex.
Arms are of course helpful, and simpler to obtain. However, one or more zodiacs, yes.
But where did the RDX come from? While it's fairly standard military demolitions gear, its use in civilian life is pretty rigorously curtailed especially when incidents like these become more and more common.

Motivation definitely plays a large part. Guerilla warfare techniques have show that even poorly trained, highly motivated populations can be deadly when they are fighting on their own ground or with knowledge of the territory.

A 'big' organization is doubtful, but not impossible. That, or there's some serious (ab)use of social networking going on for people with the urge to bomb and kill.

10:

This does take some organization. You can't just hand out AIDS tests until you get twenty positives. You need people that are sick enough to know they are going to die, but not sick enough to be useless in an attack.
So, how many people in Pakistan and India had AIDS ten years ago? That is not a large pool of potential terrorists compared to the total population.
Not nearly as large as it's going to be in another ten years.

Do not ask for whom the band plays, it plays for us.

Do you think Obama will give more funding for antivirals as part of the Defense budget? Sounds good to me!

11:

Unfortunately there are plenty of madrassas mass-producing jihadis willing to take part in these sorts of operations.

Weapons, again, not a problem.

The only question remains who and what is their objective which is speculative at this point.

To my mind the most effective way of stopping this sort of thing would be to close the madrassas - which is unlikely to happen soon.

And with this sort of crap going on every day people wonder why secularism is growing more popular in Europe!

12:

Oh, and one more indicator I heard on the radio (but haven't seen elsewhere) which may (or may not) mean something.

On 2 occasions victims had "lucky" escapes when the attackers weapons jammed, which would tend to indicate inferior equipment or troops (since the equipment was being used indoors).

Still pure speculation though.

13:

My feeling is that the Pakistanis are too obvious a fall guy, especially as relations between the two nations is supposed to be quite good at the moment. It bothers me that no-one seems to have claimed responsibility yet. It also bothers me that, despite the suicidal nature of the mission, that the Indian police are reported to have eight or so of the attackers in custody, and that they took hostages, neither of which sounds like AQ. I keep thinking this is, in fact, a... I'm blanking on the word or phrase... like when you dress up a few soldiers in a neighbouring nation's uniforms then have them fire on your own troops to justify starting a war. Maybe a faction on some side or other dislikes the idea that India and Pakistan are on relatively peaceful terms.

Or maybe I'm being paranoid (as well as absent-minded).

14:

"agent provocateur" would (I think) be the word -- or phrase -- you were looking for, NelC.

15:

After seeing it on the news, and hearing about how the militants have slaughtered the hotel kitchen staff, it makes me wonder if they can appreciate that anyone not devoted to their cause is going to hate them. And I mean HATE them.

Not a way to win popularity or support.

Fingers crossed we see this concluded quickly with no more loss of life.

The shot I saw of the little child all injured and being cared for pretty much broke my heart. The child is the same age as my daughter...

16:

The intention of this is UNDOUBTABLY to make people hate them its not to win support its to provoke massive and untargeted retaliation against (presumably pakisatan) leading to a war - this is the OBJECTIVE of the poeple who set this up.
Remember to keep this in mind at all times and you wont be helping these bastards

17:

NelC @ 13: The phrase you are looking for is "False Flag".

18:

as always, the War Nerd (at The Exiled) has a few interesting thoughts about this. He seems to think it's not that difficult .. dunno.

Another guy I often read, though in german, thinks the death-toll is a bit high for false flag and it rather sounds like quiet approval ..

19:

Gary Brecher (the War Nerd), has, as usual, a cold-blooded and plausible instant analysis.

Whoever's behind it, this is a new tactic - a mashup of Columbine and Tet. (Not to draw any political or moral equivalences, yadda yadda.)

Another new tactic, one that I expect to be emulated in years to come, is the mass airport occupation as pioneered by the Thai anti-democracy color revolution.

20:

@16 One possible objective at any rate.

Rather than a specific country the action is more likely to be aimed at stirring up hatred against Islam in general. The jihadis are still in a recruiting phase - they want Islam to be oppressed thus radicalising the population which works in their favour (that's the theory at least).

That's why we get atrocities like this and what happened in Breslan a few years back. Terror in it's purist form designed to spark oppression of their own support base to get more support.

It is, of course, indefensibly sick and for people like myself has utterly extinguished any lingering sympathy I might have had for groups like the Chechens, etc.

21:

They seem to have some sort of animus against masterpieces of Victorian architecture; the Taj Mahal Hotel and the CST (ex-Victoria Terminus) both. Perhaps they trained in Le Corbusier's Chandigarh for the attack?

Mr 10% has been making nice with the Indians recently; this is either a good reason that it's not the ISI/Kashmiri jihadis, or else that it is and they're trying to destabilise him.

The Maoists? They surely have the capability, but most of their beef is with the Indian government, and machine gunning a packed railway station isn't really their style (Serve the People!). But then, it's Maoism and if you're capable of believing in that in 2008 you're probably capable of anything...

Apparently one of the gunmen was carrying a Mauritian travel document, which is surely interesting in the light of the idea they arrived by sea.

22:

I don't get it. How many guns are out there, just look at America and how easy it is to get some guns together there. How difficult would it be to equip 20 people with guns and then send them to some popular places and shoot some people?

You for sure have alot of smart friends. If you were living in the right place and you people wanted to do something like that, do you think you couldn't? Only with help of some intelligence? Do you really need that much planning and resources?

I haven't followed the incident in such a detail, so you may be right. But from what I've heard, to me it's the usual "Al Qaida" event.

23:

XiXiDu@22 - as others have said, it's not just a case of getting 20 people together with guns, that's nothing more than a duck hunt. It's getting together 20 people who know there is a good chance they'll die for their cause; 20 people who are capable of killing many innocents, who can follow a plan in the heat of urban combat.

Probably more difficult than any of that, though, is ensuring you don't have a weak link in that group of 20 people who will alert the authorities, while at the same time not flagging up warning lights in half a dozen TLA agencies operating in the area during the planning/logistics stage of the operation. Information managament in such a large group shouldn't be underestimated, it only takes one guy with a conscience (or even a rational fear for his own safety) to take down the whole team.

As to who is behind this or the motives, well I doubt it's Al Quaeda (though I'm also fairly sure they will be the ones taking the fall for this, since it serves the western governments' agenda of fear campaigns) - it doesn't fit their MO and they're never shy to claim responsibility for their attacks. The usual rationale is to follow the money, and there are any number of groups in that part of the world who would support the weakening of India's financial capital, but then there are also ties to the west which many would be happy to see weakened too, as well as fanatical groups within India itself who would love nothing more than to trigger a war against Pakistan... speculation in this instance is pretty pointless.

24:

My take is that they are almost certainly religious nutters, and not a false-flag.
They don't mind being captured, because the object of the exercise is to start a major India-Pakistan war, prefereably with nukes used.
Why?
Because they are batshit-insane religious fruitcakes who believe that such will advance the cause of increasing the Ummah to make the whole world the caliphate.
The survivors, and more importantly their bosses want control of what's left of Pakistan, and, of course of all of India - after all, look at the size of the Mughal Empire at its' height ....

25:

If you want to run a false flag, then religious/nationalistic nutters are the guys you want to undertake the operation. But that doesn't mean that the guys organising the op are religious or nationalistic or even of the same sympathies.

26:

Where have they been building up this capacity? If you want my first reaction, it would be "Pakistan." Not the official government of Pakistan, I don't think, but still - whoever the people are who carried this out (some of al-Qaeda's many free-lancers) the brains are out of India's greatest rival. Just my guess, mind you.

27:

wkwillis @ 10,
Huh? Suicide squad > people with potentially deadly disease. It just requires folks willing to accept near certain death and capture.

And I'll bet on this - it will be a bad time to be a muslim in India for the next few years.

28:

Chances are it isn't a false-flag operation: that kind of thinking always seems to me to have a trace of the von Daniken-style 'the Egyptians couldn't possibly have built the Pyramids' argument.

Thing is, if the only part of the operation that is actually difficult is the assembly of that many people willing to die, then it really doesn't matter in the slightest whether or not it is in some sense a false flag operation. The critical resource is not the guy who can run a whelk-stall, but the footsoldiers, and the people immediately in contact with them. People who can't expect to escape uncaptured, or die with bodies unidentified. Any false-flag connection would have to be so far back it is hard so see what it is bringing to the party.

It would be different for a plot involving building proper explosives from household chemicals, unpiloted detonators, or whatever other unique and irreplaceable skill some bunch of spooks might be thought to have a competitive advantage in doing.

29:

Apropos @10, I wasn't going to comment, but: (a) HIV isn't an automatic death sentence these days, (b) people with fatal diseases are generally either asymptomatic or in the throes of terminal illness (which generally precludes going on commando raids), and (c) the whole idea is too silly for words.

soru @28: false flag operations do happen from time to time -- see, for example, the Gleiwitz incident -- but I agree, they're much rarer than popular mythology suggests.

30:

There are reports, without any confirmation at this point, that there are British citizens among the attackers.

31:

@9 and in general: With regard to acquiring materiel . . . twenty years ago, if you had asked me to acquire an unregistered fully automatic machine weapon I could have done so within 24 hours of the request. This may just be part of the gun culture of the U.S., but I suspect that there will always be markets for this sort of thing, and suppliers ready to give their all for a suitable remuneration. RDX and Zodiacs? Given the corruption at all levels and in all areas of government that supposedly exist in that region of the world, it's not difficult to imagine someone only moderately competent getting their hands on the stuff. Iow, I don't think those particular details are in themselves enough of a reason to suspect a conspiracy at anything approaching a high government level.

32:

And one more thing - this is a sad validation of the views my father and I have on the tools and technology of terrorism. All you really need is guys with automatic rifles, grenades, maybe body armor and explosives. Those things plus a lightly secured target and you're off to spread terror.

No need for nukes, liquid explosives, poison gas or other WMD's.

33:

This is very good news, especially if you like your Ganges with no plutonium in it: Grauniad - Navy spokesman Captain Manohar Nambiar said that the ship, the MV Alpha, had recently come to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan. For a while, it seemed as though a new dimension was entering the equation but, after the ship had been boarded and searched, it was cleared and allowed to sail on. No weapons on traces of them were found on board and the naval statement confirming the all-clear came as Pakistani authorities warned that India should not accuse them of playing a part in the plot.

34:

Coming ashore in Zodiacs from a freighter reminds me a little of "The Dogs of War". Certainly solves most of the security issues mentioned above - no problems with safe houses, couriers etc; you have your team nicely isolated and safe in international waters until a few hours before the attack.

Might be AQ: they don't really have an MO, except for "simultaneous attacks" which works here. Remember, their first few attacks (WTC 93, the African embassies) weren't suicide attacks, just straightforward truck bombs.

35:

Maybe somewhere in the Comoros. Where they have eight coups a day. Lie up and prepare; buy a ship from the pirates?

36:

I think the whole Mumbai thing is part of a continuing effort to sabotage any attempt at rapprochement between Pakistan and India. From what I've been reading, the two countries have been working at at least putting the axe into the dirt. These efforts at sabotage come from both extremes of the political spectrum. If it isn't Islamic militants, it's Hindus.

A similar situation exists between Israel and the Palestinians.

The tragedy in both situations is that instead of soldiering on with the peace process, both sides pander to the worst popular sentiments, and stop negotiations.

As the song says "When will they ever learn?".

Rick York

38:

They hit India's financial center and the hotels and restaurants that foreigners frequent. This is an attack on other countries, and India's ability to keep their citizens safe. So far, we know of two Virginians dead. They belonged to a meditative religious society and were touring Indian religious sites.

39:

NBC News is saying at least 150 dead, including five Americans. No list of other foreigners dead.

40:

This is stuck in the moderation queue (woo, got angle brackets in!), but the Indian Navy has stopped and searched the Pakistani ship and let her go, having found no evidence of their involvement.

41:

This is closer to true guerilla war than terrorism. Armies still travel on their stomach, so I wonder who paid for this one? I suppose there's a lot of candidates. I'd say rich Saudi princes are the most likely, or perhaps Iranian radicals. But China, some US factions, or even Russia I suppose is possible.

42:

The Tamil Tigers have used suicide bombers as weapons for a long time. One of their suicide bombers assassinated Rajiv Ghandi (see section 4.2 in the link).

From IISS:
"In particular, they have pioneered the use of suicide bombers, a tactic used by the LTTE hundreds of times. Since the conflict began in 1983, about two-thirds of its 65,000 fatalities have been civilians."

They have the means, but I don't see the motive.

43:

Simon @1: Yes, the politicians think we're all idiots.

On a note related to that point, how many people here (including Charlie, who I'd have expected to blog if he spotted it) noticed that the UK government quietly sold out Tibet a few weeks ago? It completely passed me by until a friend pointed me at the IHT's article on the subject. There is also a well-hidden BBC posting about it, but it never made it to the front page, so no-one seems to have spotted it at the time.

Randolph @21: Armies travelling on their stomach only really applies once you're dealing with thousands of men. Provisioning a few dozen people is actually a pretty trivial exercise; the military training and co-ordination of the attack are much more worrying.

44:

The thing is - our militaries focus on large scale threats. Things like the attack on Mumbai quite literally 'fly under the radar'.

There is organisation involved - but all it takes, IMHO, is for the charismatic fanatic involved in pulling all these people together to have some cold intelligence(which most fanatics don't have).

45:

@31: Regarding getting your hands on assault weapons: in the otherwise forgettable 2005 Nicholas Cage arms-dealer movie Lord of War, director Andrew Nichol stated that the weapons offered for sale in the movie were real, not props. It was cheaper getting a stockpile of 3,000 AK-47s than it would have been making that many prop rifles.

46:

Marilee@38: This is an attack on other countries, and India's ability to keep their citizens safe. So why did the gunmen also shoot up a charity hospital and a major railway terminal crowded with Indian commuters? Why, in the Leopold Cafe, did they (seemingly) concentrate on killing the non-Western kitchen and wait staff? Why are the vast majority of the dead non-Westerners?
This was pretty obviously a terror attack against India. Americans should get rid of the idea that they're the most important people in the world.

47:

Val @46; I'm inclined to see it -- from three days on -- as an attack on India's economic/business heart, intended to damage India directly as a primary objective, and indirectly as a secondary objective by deterring foreigners from doing business there. So foreigners in high-end hotels got targeted, but so did any of the locals who came to hand.

Who's behind it ...? That's still non-obvious, but fingers pointing at Pakistan should be no surprise.

48:

@22 - agree completely. there's no need to hype this up into a huge multinational conspiracy.

@24 - Sorry, that doesn't wash. People do things because they see a benefit in doing them, not because they are insane. It's very popular to lump all of this into the "religious nuts" bucket, but real religious nuts don't kill people - they spend all their time praying and contemplating.

Plenty of people who claim to be religious nuts commit acts like this, but the reason they're committing the act is not because God told them to. God is just a convenient smokescreen. The reason they're committing the acts is because they *want* something. In buying into the smokescreen, you are actually aiding and abetting them. Figure out what they *really* want, and you might have a shot at actually doing something to stop them.

49:

Comments section won't accept the URL, so I'll just have to advise a visit to outlookindia.com for an article re the attackers. Many authoritative-seeming details re the participants, the methods, the groups behind the attack. I suspect someone at Outlook has sources inside the government security agencies. Outlook is generally reliable, in my experience.

Summary: Pakistani Punjabi youths trained by Lashkar-e-toiba, support from exiled Muslim gangster, Indian fishing vessel hijacked to transport the LeT commandos.

50:

Val @46, did I say Americans? Mumbai is where most foreigners are in India. If the terrorists had wanted to kill only Hindu, they had plenty of other places to do it.

Zora @49, when you get told the comment is being held, it's just so Charlie can look at it and make sure it's not spam.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 27, 2008 9:36 PM.

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