Was Mumbai “TV attack” in some way special?

Is it a new trend in the tactics of terrorist?

Questions:

1. From your point of view how important are last events in Mumbai in the more global framework of the battle against the terrorism?

2. Terrorists did not use the tactics of suicide attacks. It looks like attackers were people with good combat training. What could we learn from it? Do you think it could be a new trend? Or is better to say renewed trend?

Answers:

Thomas Sanderson, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Transnational Threats Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies

1. Firstly, it is too early to provide definitive answers to your question. If the attackers are purely local (from India only), then that is a much different situation than if there are LeT members involved, or if the Pakistani ISI had a hand in this.

If these were local people, the answer to your first question is that this could provide an example and inspiration to other “home-grown” extremists who may not thought it was possible to conduct such a successful attack. If these were trained, financed, supported by LeT, al Qaeda, or Pak ISI, then we have a different (although not new, problem). That problem would simply be greater tension between Pak/India, and thus less attention being paid by the Paks toward the tribal areas and Afghanistan, and more attention paid to the response by India (precisely the opposite of what the US is hoping to accomplish by encouraging improved Pak/Indian relations…we want the Paks to focus on Taliban and al Qaeda, not on India).

2. There is nothing new about this type attack, it is just a very successful, multi-target, synchronized attack. It was very confrontational, very bold, and intended first and foremost to attract attention with high-visibility targets, US/UK deaths, and a high body count. Nothing new, just very impressive.

Mark Burgess, International Security & Defense Analyst

1. The nature of these attacks give them added global salience obviously. So too do the fact that they targeted Westerners to such an extent. Shameful though it may be, a few dozen dead and wounded Westerners in Mumbai may prove more efficient for the terrorists than a few hundred locals. In short, the nature and targets of the attacks globalizes them. There is also the question of the damage that the attacks – or any violent backlash from them – could do to relations between Pakistan and India at a time when the former had just extended an olive branch of sorts. These relations are in turn of global significance not only because of the potential for conflict between Pakistan and India that has always existed, but because they keep Pakistan focused on a second front at a time when it is seriously threatened from within and from the spill over from the war in Afghanistan.

2. Frighteningly, we have seen nothing new  – terrorist groups in Kashmir have pioneered tactics just like these. They also bring to mind other terrorist operations by Egyptian and Chechen groups. Such tactics would be more difficult to enact in Western cities – but this is only to a degree of course. What may be worrying about the tactics is the target they were used against. Hitherto such tactics when used in the region were mainly confined to the Kashmir area of operations. This mix of tactics, targets, and sheer political theatre unfolding live on international television over an extended period is a potent mix that others may develop a taste for. Of course, the authorities will be just as keen to do as much as they can to make sure this does not happen.

James Kirkhope, Executive Director, Council for Emerging National Security Affairs

1. I believe that the recent attacks in Mumbai mark a significant turn for radical groups following the Al-Qaeda model for at least 4 reasons:

a) I made particular emphasis at my briefings in Poland last week of the threat posed by “hostage-barricade” in which attackers take over a facility, keep authorities away, and maximize the effects on the media.  The Mumbai attacks signify a return to this tactic of “hostage-barricade” attacks which were most prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s by Palestinian and Lebanese groups such as the Munich Olympics attacks in 1972, the airline hijackings of the 1970s-80s including TWA-847 in 1985, the Achille Laura ship hijacking in 1985, etc.  The most recent significant “hostage-barricade” attacks were conducted by Chechen rebels when they stormed a Moscow theater in 2002 and the Beslan school attack in 2004.

b) In the past, terrorists used such attacks to read statements to the media and negotiate with the government and security officials.  In the Mumbai attack, the terrorists are not identifying themselves and are not making demands.  It is the attack itself which is the statement.  In this way, the Mumbai attacks are similar to other Al-Qaeda or radical Islamic attacks of 9/11, Bali, Madrid, Kenya, etc.  Western media is emphasizing that British, American, and in at least one case, Jewish civilians have been specially targeted in the attack, although obviously hundreds more Hindu (and even some Muslim) Indians have been killed and injured in these attacks.

c) If the Mumbai attacks are linked to Al-Qaeda, they indicate that Al-Qaeda’s global reach has been limited by increased security and disruption of known militant cells in the west which has prompted planners to attack closer to the headquarters in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The attackers no longer possess the logistical capability to conduct sophisticated operations far away on different continents and now choose to attack representatives of enemy governments which travel closer to their area of operations.

d) These attacks also highlight the Al-Qaeda related terrorist trend towards attacking softer targets – meaning that the targets chosen with less security. Military bases, diplomatic facilities, and government offices are much more fortified, so terrorists are seeking targets with weak security and a high concentration of international visitors such as travel hubs, hotels, tourist attractions.

2. I believe it is a mistake to say that the Mumbai attacks are NOT suicide attacks.  Especially in light of the fact that the attackers have not identified themselves and have not established demands or asked to negotiate, it is clear that the attacks have no exit strategy – no plan to get out of the attack alive.  As such, in many ways I believe it is more difficult to convince attackers to keep themselves alive in an operation that continues for several hours or even many days knowing they will die rather than a short operation which delivers attackers to a site and the bombs and bombers are quickly detonated.  Therefore, my first point is that the Mumbai attacks were definitely suicide attacks.

Second, the actual attack teams did not seem to be extremely well trained.  They knew where to attack, but they only used basic firearms.  They did not use very sophisticated explosives, did not attack well-guarded facilities, and were not required to communicate messages to authorities.  As such, I believe the sophistication lies in the planning of the operation.  The planners who developed the attack identified weak targets and deployed numerous small commando teams only to attack, take hostages, set fires, and ultimately get killed.  The planners apparently secured at least a few boats or rafts for attacks from the water and perhaps even a ship to transport the 7 or more attack teams.  In summary, the planners were sophisticated, but they utilized unsophisticated attack teams which were expendable – suicide attack teams.

What we learn from these attacks is that Pakistan remains perhaps the biggest source of radical militant Islamic terrorists despite the fact that it is now a civilian government.  The Pakistani government is weak, unable to control most of its territory and therefore allows terrorists to live and train, and elements of the Pakistan military and intelligence services actually support such operations.  Another lesson from this attack is that Asia, especially South Asia, most especially India is increasingly the most likely target for jihadist terrorists due to the following factors:

a) India has long historical ties to the West

b) India has long historical struggle against Islam/Pakistan

c) India has close proximity to the training and logistical bases of Al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Regarding whether this is a new tactic or renewed tactic, I suggest that this attack is a qualitatively NEW tactic – and probably will be will be utilized again several more times.  This suicide “hostage-barricade” attack differs from the hostage-barricade attacks of decades past is that there is no formal interaction with the media – rather the extended media coverage of the bloodshed is enough.  In effect, the Mumbai attack is a slow motion suicide bombing which draws out the carnage, magnifies the intensity and prolongs the media coverage.  This modus operandi (tactic) ensures that sophisticated planners stay protected and that the groups only utilize attackers who require minimal training.

Peter Probst, Counter-Terrorism Consultant and Professional

There appear to be two trains of thought emerging with regard to the Mumbai attacks.  The first and the one that resonates with Indian audiences is that the attackers themselves may have been drawn from Kashmeri terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba which is known to have a maritime capability and is generally assessed as being able to have infiltrated the Mumbai attackers by sea.  Lashkar-e-Toiba is also believed to have been used by the Pakistan intelligence service, ISI, as a surrogate in its campaign seeking to harass India its arch rival.  The organization is also believed to have links with Al Qaeda.

For those who subscribe to this line of thought, the issue is largely whether the operation was ordered by Pakistan’s leadership or more likely carried out by rogue elements within Pakistan’s intelligence service pursuing its own agenda by striking at the Indian financial center, damaging the lucrative tourist trade,  and derailing efforts to defuse tensions between these two nuclear powers.  In other words, the attack that had both significant economic and political objectives.

A second hypothesis is that the attacks were carried out by a group such as Lashkar-e-Toiba under the tutelage of Al Qaeda or at least with some degree of Al Qaeda involvement but operating independently of any state support.

The planning for this operation included an incredibly detailed knowledge of the target sites, and suggests that intensive pre-operational probes of security measures and meticulous surveillance were likely part of the pre-operational activity.  This was no seat of your pants operation.  The precision timing and the means of infiltration have all the earmarks of a military operation, and suggests the involvement at minimum of rogue elements within ISI who are suspected of providing support to organizations such the Taliban and to maintain informal contacts with Al Qaeda.

Suspicion of official Pakistani involvement can only be allayed by the Government of Pakistan providing fullest cooperation and support to those carrying out the investigation and aggressively pursuing all leads and sharing information as it develops.

The attack no doubt is being studied in detail not only by governments, but by terrorist groups worldwide, particularly those promoting Global Jihad.  The attack on Mumbai, the Indian economic centre, fits with the strategies articulated by Al Qaeda which has consistently promoted attacking the American Economy and has made the American economy the organization’s prime target.  It seems reasonable that they and other jihadist groups would apply the same calculus to other countries whether operating in concert with a state entity or independently and on their own.

In my estimation, the most ominous development would be if the investigations were to determine that the attack was carried out by a single organization without any significant state support.  If this turns out to be the case, the operation will serve as a template and inspiration for Jihadist and other elements targeting London, Moscow, Paris or New York.  With financial systems in a state of crisis, a successful attack could inflict significant damage and further exacerbate the crisis of confidence that currently infects world financial markets.  The Mumbai attack, in some sense, may be regarded as a trial run.

Terrorism and terror attacks are essentially a violent form of psychological warfare.  Because the health of economic systems remain primarily a function of public confidence, attacks that undermine the perception of a government’s ability to preserve and protect can destabilize the economic health of a nation.  It is psychological warfare writ large and represents what I would label as a “Weapon of Mass Disruption.”

Whoever is ultimately determined to have been the intellectual authors of the plot, the tactical success realized by the terrorists almost assuredly has paved the way for their strategic defeat.  I think they will find that by attacking Mumbai, they have roused a sleeping giant and the attacks will not only unify the Indian people but create an increased sense of regional solidarity, urgency, cooperation and generate a sense of common purpose within the region to crush organizations and forces that seek to advance their objectives through the use terror.

Xenia Dormandy, Former Senior Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

1. It is still early days but the events in Mumbai could mark a change in strategy or perhaps a return to an earlier strategy of the terrorists.  We don’t yet know who really led the attack nor what the goal of the group was.  However, what is clear is that westerners were targeted.  It is possible that the terrorists were needing to find softer targets and trying to impact India’s economic status, an ally.  If this is the start of a trend then that could significantly affect the battle against terrorism.

2. Offense and defense work together.  Typically the offense implements a new strategy and the defense reacts.  So, the offense recreates another new strategy.  As IED’s and suicide bombs are becoming less successful and having less of a psychological impact, the terrorists are finding new strategies (or returning to older ones) that the defense must respond to.  It is too early to see whether this is a trend or not.

Martha Crenshaw, Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

I think these attacks show the continuation of a long trend of attacking tourist/business sites (e.g., Bali bombing, Marriotts around the world).  I do note that the hotel chains were Indian, not foreign to India, leading one to think that this is more local than Al Qaeda.  However, we should also note the anti-Jewish attack, which is not always characteristic of the trend since 2001 especially in India.  The sophistication of the attacks also stands out.  The big question is where the group got its training.  Although not technically suicide attacks, the attackers could not have expected to survive.

Randall  Larsen, Director, The Institute for Homeland Security

At this point in time, it is too early to tell how important these attacks will be regarding trends and tactics of global terrorism.  However, if their goal was to grab the attention of the global press, they have succeeded beyond their dreams.  These terrorists, armed with simple, tactical weapons–rifles and hand grenades–discovered that they were able to magnify their power exponentially through the strategic exploitation of the press.  This attack, killing far fewer people than America will kill on its highways during this four-day holiday, has been witnessed by billions.

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