Author: Richard Curzon
The Mumbai terror attacks were a carefully planned paramilitary-intelligence operation where ten armed men paralysed India’s financial capital for 60 hours. Over 160 people – Indian nationals as well as 22 foreign nationals – were killed. This event has been widely described as “India’s 9/11”. The Mumbai attack differs from previous terror attacks by Al Qaeda and other groups in that multiple assault teams attacking multiple targets simultaneously in a major city outside of a war zone, had not been used. It announced Lashkar-e-Taiba’s emergence as a major terrorist organisation on the world stage.
(Image courtesy Global Research Centre for Research on Globalization November 2008)
In October 2008, Mr Ratan Tata Chairman of India’s TATA Group and owner of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, was warned by United States intelligence agencies that a terrorist attack on the hotel, was likely.
On 18 November 2008, Indian intelligence agencies intercepted a satellite phone call to a leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organisation. It revealed plans for a sea borne attack on Mumbai.
Preparation for this terrorist event commenced at least two years prior to its execution. Initially planned to take place in late September of 2008 but postponed due to incomplete arrangements, planning was underway in 2006.
A number of targets were not included until a month before the attack.
Those who carried out the Mumbai event trained for over 18 months at four different locations in Pakistan prior to the attack.
The following is an event timeline summary of the terrorist group departure from Karachi, Pakistan, their entry into India and the first attacks on Mumbai.
On the evening of 21 November 2008 ten terrorists boarded a fishing trawler Kuber in Karachi, Pakistan. They would travel for thirty-eight hours towards the coast of Maharashtra India and remain undetected by both the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. The Kuber, an Indian fishing trawler, was boarded and is suspected of being involved in the attacks. The Kuber had been hijacked on 13 November 2008 and its captain later murdered. Indian officials suspect that the Pakistan Marine Agency helped the terrorists hijack the trawler.
22 November 2008 the ten men were each given
- 7 magazines of thirty rounds of ammunition
- 400 rounds (additional) not loaded in magazines,
- 8 hand grenades
- 1 AK-47 assault rifle
- 1 automatic loading revolver
- Credit cards
- Supply of dried fruit.
Wednesday 26 November 2008 at dusk, the terrorist group reached within four nautical miles (7 kilometres) of Mumbai. After executing the captain of the Kuber, they boarded three inflatable speedboats and proceeded towards the Colaba Jetty on the shore of Mumbai.
2010 – the first boat carrying ten of the group docked at Macchinar Nagar in Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade neighbourhood. Carrying several large bags, six of the men disembark. The remainder continue in the inflatable boat along the shore.
2030 – at Colaba the remaining men come ashore at Badhwar Park, Cuffe Parade. The group split up and headed in separate directions. The terrorists moved north and attacked the Colaba police station, possibly as a single unit. From the Colaba police station, the assault
force broke into smaller teams for secondary targets throughout Mumbai. At least one police van was hijacked. The terrorists then drove throughout Mumbai firing automatic weapons at random targets.
2100 – two terrorists attack the Leopold Café. Ten people were killed and many injured. The terrorists then plant bombs in two taxis, killing five people and wounding fifteen.
2115 – four men enter the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, two enter Nariman House and another two, Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail, take taxis to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal. The Terminal handles thousands of passengers each day.
2120 – Ajmal and Ismail enter the passenger hall of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal railway station. Shooting from their AK-47 assault rifles and throwing hand grenades they kill 52 people and injure 109.
2230 – Ajmal and Ismail proceed to the Cama Hospital. Medical staff notice their approach and lock all of the patient’s rooms. The two men reach the Hospital and again open fire. Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) Chief Hemant Karkare attempts to chase them in a jeep but is gunned down with three of his men. The terrorists then hijack the jeep but are intercepted by a Gamdevi police team near the pedestrian bridge at Girgaum Chowpatty. Ismail is killed. Kasab is arrested.
Thursday 27 November soon after midnight, armed men attack Vidhan Sabha, the Legislative Assembly and lower house of state legislature in India.
The following is an event timeline of the terrorist group’s attack on the Taj Mahal Palace and the Tower Hotel.
Wednesday 26 November 2008 at 2300 four terrorists enter and begin shooting in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. 450 people are staying here.
Thursday 27 November 2008 at 0010 Mumbai Police surround the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Soon after a massive blast takes place in the central dome of the hotel.
0230 Indian Army soldiers arrive in two trucks and enter the front lobby of the hotel. Fire spreads across the top floor of the hotel.
0300 fire engines arrive as shooting is heard inside the lobby and the heritage building.
0400 firemen with ladders, rescue more than 200 people.
0430 the terrorists move from the central dome to the new tower.
0500 commandos and police increase the intensity of their counter effort.
0530 the fire is brought under control. However, 150 hostages have been taken in the new tower. Security forces report that they are ready to commence counter terrorism action as the Government provides approval to storm the hotel.
0800 hotel guests and staff are moved from the hotel. 50 people are evacuated from the Chambers Club.
0900 more rounds of firing are heard. More people remain inside the hotel. A gun battle between the terrorists and security forces ensues inside the hotel. Soon after, 50 people are evacuated.
1630 terrorists set fire to a room on the 4th floor of the hotel.
1920 National Security Guards (NSG) and Commandos enter the hotel.
Friday 28 November 2008 between 1453 and 1559, six bodies are recovered. A series of explosions are heard.
1500 Marine Commandos recover fifteen bodies.
1930 new explosions and gun shots are heard.
2030 there is a report that one terrorist remains inside.
Saturday 29 November 2008 between 0340 and 0410 five explosions are heard inside.
0420 the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is reported to be completely under Government control.
0505, a revised report confirms one terrorist remains inside the hotel.
0730 fire is visible on the first floor and smoke on the second floor. The remaining terrorist and Indian security forces exchange gun fire.
0800 Indian Commandos report that the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is now under control of security forces. Room to room searches continue. Hotel guests and employees still be hidden, are rescued.
At the Oberoi Trident Hotel, the following events took place.
Thursday 27 November 2008 at 0600 the National Security Guards storm the hotel.
0840 amidst gunfire, Indian Army and Navy officers arrive.
1330 additional security reinforcements enter the building.
1525 a number of foreign national hostages are rescued.
1735 the Indian Army’s Sikh Regiments arrives.
1800 – 27 hostages exit the Air India building. Four foreign national citizens are taken to hospital.
1845 an explosion is heard. Two National Security Guard’s and twenty-five army personnel are reported injured. An additional 31 people are rescued.
1925 fire breaks out on the 4th floor.
1000 more hostages are evacuated from the Oberoi Trident Hotel.
Friday 28 November 2008 at 1500 Commando operations at the Oberoi rescue 143 hostages however, 24 bodies are recovered. Among these are two terrorists who were shot dead during the gun battle at 1735 the previous day.
At Nariman House, the Jewish Chabad Lubavitch Outreach Centre, the following events took place.
Thursday 27 November 2008 at 0700 police begin evacuating adjacent buildings.
1100 cross firing between terrorists and police commences. One terrorist is injured.
1445 terrorists throw hand grenades into a nearby lane. No casualties are reported following the explosion.
1730 NSG personnel arrive as a Navy helicopter undertakes aerial surveillance.
Friday 28 November 2008 at 0730 NSG Commandos are rapelled from helicopters to the roof of Nariman House. Nine hostages are rescued from the first floor.
1930 NSG Commandos find dead all six Nariman House hostages.
2030 in a fierce gun battle, NSG Commandos find and kill the remaining two terrorists. The operation is then declared over.
The seaborne attack on the City of Mumbai was carried out by ten armed members of the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure). Involved were Ismael Khan (the group leader) Hafiz Arshad, Javed, Abu Shoaib, Abu Umer, Abdul Rehman, Fahadullah, Baba Imran, Nasir and Ajmal Amir Kasab.
In Pakistan an additional three men – Abu Kaahfa, Wassi and Zarar – provided handling prior to the departure of the ten key attackers. Wassi was identified as the key handler.
On Wednesday 26 November 2008, early claims that the Deccan Mujahideen and the Indian Mujahideen had been the perpetrators proved to be unfounded.
Mumbai Police later reported that Ajmal Amir Kasab who was captured alive and arrested by Mumbai Police had confessed to belonging to LeT. The remaining nine members of the group that attacked Mumbai were killed during the 60 hours encounter.
LeT is one the oldest and most powerful jihadi groups in Pakistan. It is classified as a nationalist, separatist and a religious group.
Appearing in 1990 in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, it was intended as the militant wing of Markaz Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI). In 1986, MDI was created by Hafiz Saeed, Zafaq Iqbal, Abdul Rehman Makki and Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. It was established as an Islamic fundamentalist organisation fighting the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
MDI´s ideology is guided by the Ahl Al-Hadith School of Saudi Wahhabism.
Following the withdrawal of Russia from Afghanistan, LeT focused on the India Pakistan conflict in Kashmir with the objective of uniting the whole of Kashmir with Pakistan and create an environment where India becomes a Pan Islamic Caliphate.
India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) determined that LeT has liaison and networking activities in about twenty-one countries worldwide.
These activities include
- Facilitation of terrorist acts by third parties
- Procurement of weapons and explosives
- Recruitment of volunteers for suicide missions
- Creation of sleeper cells
- Initiation of armed conflict
Evidence gathered by India suggests that LeT did not act alone citing evidence that Pakistan’s ISI assisted with the planning and financing of the Mumbai assault.
Although denied by the Government of Pakistan, statements in 2010 supporting this theory were made by Pakistan/American David Headley, who admitted to participating in the planning of the attacks.
Targeting, Tactics and Rationale
As a symbol of financial success in South Asia and of developing India, Mumbai presented an ideal target. It provided perfect venues for killing as many Westerners, Jews and Indian citizens as possible. The psychological effect of an attack on foreigners, guaranteed international media coverage.
Some targets were part of the initial operating plan. Others were added as the attack unfolded.
The attack consisted of armed assaults on civillians, car-jackings, drive-by shootings, prefabricated IEDs, targeted killings, occupation of buildings and a number of hostage situations.
By dividing into small groups, the terrorists created an impression that there were a greater number of attackers. Individuals in the terrorist group used cellular and satellite telephones to communicate with handlers in Pakistan. This provided them with real time warnings, tactical advice and information broadcast by electronic media in Mumbai and throughout the world.
The primary rationale of the attack may have been to increase tension between India and Pakistan and a halting of the peace-process. A peace with India would be contrary to LeT ideology. More importantly, it would render LeT irrelevant for Pakistan authorities.
As American and Israeli Jews were targeted at Nariman House, a secondary rationale may have been to elevate the Kashmir conflict to a platform of global jihad and the group’s credentials among jihadists.
LeT has a history of deploying small numbers of attackers who storms a target or targets with the aim of causing as much destruction and death as possible until they attain martyrdom.
The Resultant Impact
The impact of the attack has multiple dimensions. Over a period of 60 hours, 166 people were killed and many hundreds more were injured (Azad and Gupta 2011, Tankel 2011). The death toll included 30 non-Indians – 6 Americans and 6 Jews.
The attacks provided continuous print and electronic media coverage and as a result have had a profound and enduring effect on the population in Indian and its Government.
While there is no certainty that LeT intended the siege to continue for as long as it did, there is no question that the extended worldwide exposure delivered international attention to LeT and its objectives.
This exposure may have resulted in an increasing number of followers and sympathisers. Certainly it will have invited scrutiny of international intelligence communities. Of note is the impact on the relationship between Pakistan and India. Pakistan authorities
have allowed LeT to operate in Pakistan, and in so doing had provided an environment to prepare for the attacks.
The event succeeded in increasing tensions between India and Pakistan, even though it did not lead to direct armed conflict.
The event has caused a rejuvenation of India´s counter-terrorism preparedness with the addition of 7,000 new police officers, increased investment in technology and a review of anti-terrorism legislation.
Although LeT has never claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attack, the judge’s verdict confirms there is sufficient evidence it had planned and carried out the attack.
LeT’s objective is to have India withdraw from Kashmir and create a Pan-Islamic Caliphate in India. The pre attack surveillance of location targets, the comprehensive intelligence preparation and the enduring paramilitary like execution clearly indicates that a well organised and structured terrorist organisation had carried out the attack. These are traits of the LeT terrorist modus operandi.
Since 2004 LeT has been responsible for over 100 terrorist events and the killing of more than 700 people worldwide. It is now recognized amongst the world´s deadliest terrorist groups.
Conclusively, it remains futile to think that provocation which results in active conflict or war between Pakistan and India – by attacking India and Indian interests – will compel India to withdraw from Kashmir and create an environment where there is Islamic rule over India. That both nations have nuclear weapons reduces the likelihood of an Indian military reaction.