Mumbai Terrorist Attack – 10th Anniversary

November 26, 2018, will mark the 10th anniversary of an incredible terrorist attack on Mumbai that shocked the world and captured the attention of the media around the world. The following is a repost of an article I wrote a few years ago about the attack.

On November 26, 2008, ten Pakistani terrorists launched a dramatic terrorist attack aimed at Mumbai, India. The terrorists used a mixture of methods, including automatic weapons fire, lighting fires, throwing grenades and conducting sieges on two hotels. Over a period of three days, the terrorists killed 172 people [1]. A jihadist group from Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), carried out the deadly assault on India’s largest city. Lashkar-e-Taiba means Army of the Pure.

The Mumbai attack, especially the dramatic saga of the hotel sieges, captured the attention of the world media. The world watched for three days as the Indian government struggled to take control of the situation [2]. Indian police killed nine of the gunmen in the assault. The Indian government executed the remaining gunman in 2012 [3]. However, seven years later, several of the masterminds behind the attack remain free in Pakistan [4].

Motivation

India and Pakistan split the Kashmir region. Pakistani terrorists use Kashmir territorial disputes as justification for attacks against India. India Kashmir contains a majority Muslim population [5]. Pakistani militants, including LeT, seek to liberate India Kashmir from Indian control. Lashkar-e-Taiba views the Kashmir issue as part of the larger struggle against the perceived Crusader-Zionist-Hindu alliance. The declared objective of LeT is the liberation of Kashmir and the destruction of India [2].

Lashkar-e-Taiba targeted India on several prior occasions [6]. In 2003, LeT detonated two car bombs in Mumbai, killing 54 people. Three explosions set off by LeT in New Delhi in 2005 killed 62 people. There is a possible linkage of LeT to a 2007 Indian train bombing. The train bombing, which killed 66 people, sought to disrupt a peace accord between India and Pakistan.

The LeT choice of the primary targets in Mumbai ensured international media coverage. The LeT specifically included targets frequented by American, British, and Jewish people [7]. The targets included the historic Taj Mahal Palace (Taj) Hotel, the Trident-Oberoi Hotel, the Leopold Café, and a Jewish cultural center. American and British tourists frequent the Taj Hotel and the Trident-Oberoi Hotel.

The Attack

Planning for the Mumbai attack began in 2007. Two LeT leaders, Sajid Mir and Zaki-urRehman Lakhvi, led the development of the attack plan [8]. Zarrar Shah, the technology chief of LeT, provided technical assistance. An American, David Headley, performed reconnaissance within Mumbai. Headley traveled freely to Mumbai on several occasions and collected valuable information on the targets. Shah used the information provided by Headley to train the ten attackers at a remote camp in Pakistan.

The attackers traveled by sea from Karachi, Pakistan, aboard a cargo vessel [2]. Along the route, the attackers hijacked an Indian fishing boat and proceeded to Mumbai. The terrorists used an Indian vessel to avoid the attention of the Indian coast guard. Each of the terrorists carried an AK-56 assault rifle, a pistol, extra ammunition, and several grenades. Also, the terrorists brought at least five improvised explosive devices. The ten heavily-armed attackers landed in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

The terrorist divided into four teams, three with two terrorists each and one with four [2]. The first two-man team traveled by taxi to Mumbai’s main train station. The two terrorists roamed through the busy terminal shooting commuters for 90 minutes. The gunmen left when police units arrived. The first team then headed to the Cama & Albless Hospital and continued their killing spree. The gunmen stole a police car and continued shooting random victims in the streets of Mumbai. The police finally stopped this team, killing one of the terrorists and capturing the other.

The second two-man team walked to Nariman House, a Jewish cultural center [2]. The attackers threw grenades at a nearby gas station before entering Nariman House. Inside Nariman House, the attackers took 13 hostages. The attackers killed five of the hostages as the Indian police assault began. The police killed both of the gunmen.

A third two-man team went to the Trident-Oberoi Hotel and began killing people [2]. The attackers contacted news media and claimed that there were seven terrorists in the hotel. The terrorists demanded that India release Pakistani Muslim extremist prisoners in exchange for the hostages. The Trident-Oberoi Hotel siege continued for 17 hours during which time the terrorists killed 30 people. Indian police killed both members of this team.

The final team consisted of four terrorists [2]. This team targeted the historic Taj Hotel. On the way to the Taj Hotel, the terrorists opened fire at the Leopold Café, killing ten people. The team entered the Taj Hotel and killed indiscriminately as they moved from floor to floor. The attackers set fires and continued moving, which confused the responding Indian government commandos. The Taj Hotel siege ended after 60 hours when the Indian commandos took control of the Taj Hotel. The commandos killed the four terrorists.

Indian Response

The Mumbai attack uncovered many issues with the Indian response. The local police responded quickly but failed to contain the terrorists. The division of the attackers into four teams complicated police efforts to contain the attacks. The local police also lacked training and equipment to deal with the terrorists. With the terrorists outgunning them, many police officers remained passive [2].

The army responded slowly, with the first unit arriving five hours after the attack started [2]. The elite National Security Guard (NSG) took nearly 10 hours to respond. The NSG is India’s premier rapid-reaction force. The only NSG base was more than 700 miles from Mumbai. The only plane available to transport the NSG to Mumbai was located 165 miles north of the NSG base, further delaying response. The plane did not arrive at the NSG base to pick up the commandos until five hours into the assault.

Pakistani Complicity

Pakistan denies any involvement in the Mumbai terrorist attack. However, many questions remain concerning Pakistan’s possible direct or indirect involvement. Headley, the American who conducted reconnaissance for the mission, reached a plea agreement with the U.S. District Court in Chicago [9]. The plea agreement allowed Headley to avoid the death penalty. Headley implicated members of Pakistan’s premier intelligence service, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), in the planning of the Mumbai attack. Headley claimed he met with both ISI and LeT officials in Pakistan during the planning stages. The U.S. attorney’s office indicted Major Iqbal, an ISI officer, and LeT leader Sajid Mir based on Headley’s testimony. The U.S. charged Iqbal and Mir with murder for their part in the Mumbai attack.

Though the U.S. indicted both Iqbal and Mir, the Pakistani government has not pursued them. American investigators believe Mir is, or was, an ISI officer [4]. In addition to planning the attack, Mir conducted operations during the three days of terror by phone from a command post in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistani officials questioned and released Mir in 2008, shortly after the attack. Iqbal, the first active Pakistani intelligence officer charged with murdering Americans, remains free [9]. The Iqbal case put additional strain on relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Pakistani officials did arrest one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attack. Pakistan arrested LeT Military chief Lakhvi, along with six accomplices in 2009 [3]. Pakistan continued to delay Lakhvi’s trial for the next six years. In 2015, the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan ordered the release of Lakhvi, calling his detention illegal. India’s Interior Minister strongly criticized the Pakistani government for releasing Lakhvi [10].

Conclusion

The unique nature and drama of the 2008 Mumbai attack captured the world’s attention. The world watched as just ten attackers killed 172 people and held a historic hotel under siege for three days [1]. The orchestration of the attack into four small assault teams helped ensure that even if one team failed its mission, the other teams could continue. The Mumbai attack exposed India’s lack of preparedness to respond effectively to coordinated terrorist attacks.

Pakistani terrorists have frequently targeted India. Pakistani Islamic extremists see India as an ally of the U.S. and Great Britain. Also, Pakistani terrorist groups often use the dispute over the Kashmir region to justify their attacks on India [6]. The Indian government accuses Pakistan officials of refusing to pursue the masterminds of the Mumbai attack. Evidence of possible involvement by Pakistan’s ISI in the planning and coordination of the attack further exacerbate the strained relationship between Pakistan and India.

About the author: Donnie Wendt is an information security professional focused on designing and engineering security controls and monitoring solutions. Also, Donnie is an adjunct professor of cybersecurity at Utica College. Donnie is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Science in Computer Science with a research focus on security automation and orchestration.

References

[1] Public Broadcasting Service. (2015). Mumbai massacre: Background information. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/mumbai-massacre-background-information/502/

[2] Rabasa, A., Blackwill, R., Chalk, P., Cragin, K., Fair, C., Jackson, B., . . . Tellis, A. (2009). The lessons of Mumbai. Retrieved from: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/occasional_papers/2009/RAND_OP249.pdf

[3] Cable News Network. (2015). Mumbai terror attacks fast facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/world/asia/mumbai-terror-attacks/

[4] Rotella, S. (2013). Four disturbing questions about the Mumbai terror attack. Retrieved from: http://www.propublica.org/article/four-disturbing-questions-about-the-mumbai-terrorattack

[5] British Broadcasting Corporation, (2012). Q&A: Kashmir dispute. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/10537286

[6] Bora, K. (2014). Major terrorist attacks in India over the last 20 years: A timeline. Retrieved from: http://www.ibtimes.com/major-terrorist-attacks-india-over-last-20-years-timeline- 1752731

[7] Kronstadt, K. (2008). Terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and implications on U.S. interests. Retrieved from: http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=ADA49290 2

[8] Glanz, J., Rotella, S., & Sanger, D. (2014). In 2008 Mumbai attacks, piles of spy data, but an uncompleted puzzle. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/22/world/asia/in- 2008-mumbai-attacks-piles-of-spy-data-but-an-uncompleted-puzzle.html?_r=0

[9] Guttenfelder, D. (2011). The American behind the 2008 attack on Mumbai. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/21/142589280/the-american-behind-the-2008-attack-onmumbai

[10] Boone, J. & Burke, J. (2015). Suspected mastermind of Mumbai terror attack released from Pakistan jail. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/10/mumbaiattacks-suspected-mastermind-freed-bail-pakistan

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