Fra Middle East Times, hat tip TH
Mumbai, India’s financial capital is now only barely waking up from its worst nightmare. Last week in simultaneous attacks, Islamist terrorists killed at least 195 people and injured another 300 during a 60-hour killing spree. The tactics used by the terrorists were different from the classical jihadist playbook. Does it mean that Mumbai-style attacks are the new jihadist modus operandi?
First, regarding the perpetrators, all the signs point to the involvement of the Pakistani terror group and al-Qaida affiliate Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). LeT is in fact a group propped up by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and mostly focusing until now on the “liberation” of the Kashmir province.
As early as Thursday, Russian intelligence stated that LeT, a group that underwent special training in al-Qaida camps at the India-Pakistan border, were behind the attacks.
On Friday U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials confirmed that assessment. And just on Sunday, the only terrorist captured by Indian police said that indeed LeT was behind the bloody attacks.
Even if the operation had been prepared for a long time, the timing might not be coincidental. A week ago Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari went on a limb to advance peace with India. He declared that Pakistan would never be the first to use the atomic bomb against India and more importantly talking about Kashmir, he called the rebels “terrorists:” a first for a Pakistani president.
Reportedly some inside the ISI were very upset by this statement and by the possible rapprochement with India. What better way to kill these efforts than by pulling off a large terror operation in Mumbai? Also incidentally on Nov. 26, an important alleged LeT operative was arrested in Britain.
One of the main reasons for the terrorists switching tactics was to grab the world’s attention. In fact as of last week before Mumbai, how many people knew that after Iraq India was the second country in the world most afflicted by terrorism? I would suspect not many. Nonetheless from January 2004 to today, over 4,100 people have died as a result of terrorist attacks in India.
Now after the atrocious events of the past few days, the world knows about terrorism in India.
The new modus operandi was to attack soft targets, including major landmarks and also kill foreign nationals. While some al-Qaida affiliates – in particular al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – have recently switched to focusing on soft targets because the hard targets are becoming so well protected, the tactics used in Mumbai are new.
Unmasked assailers walking into public places indiscriminately shooting with machine guns, throwing grenades and also taking hostages – and this for 60 hours, all while it is being documented on world TV.
Compared to a classical car bomb or suicide attack, this tactic has the advantage for the terrorists of remaining in the news for a much longer time. It has also a much higher psychological value on the population: it kills the feeling of security since terrorists can hit anywhere. Also, by attacking foreigners, the terrorists want to create panic in the Western community and project a negative image of India. Thus by shaking confidence, they want to cripple the Indian economy and dry up foreign investment.
What is most worrisome about this new modus operandi is that 10 terrorists were able to inflict so much damage, kill so many people and hold hostage an 18-million-people megalopolis for 60 hours. Imagine how much more horrible it could have been if they were 50, 100 or 500.
The fact that the operation was so successful from the terrorists’ point of view could give ideas to others to do the same in Europe, Africa or even the United States. In fact, Peter Clarke, the former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch, warned that there was a real risk of a Mumbai-style massacre occurring in Britain.
And who knows next time the terrorists might use a mix of tactics: simultaneous suicide bombings, car bombs and Mumbai style attacks. Unfortunately Islamist terrorists seem to always find a way to reinvent themselves.
Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (www.thecroissant.com).