Experts not certain al-Qaeda to blame
Paisley Dodds London
November 29, 2008
Commandoes get down from a chopper to the roof of a house owned by Israelis in Colaba, Mumbai. Photo: Saurabh Das
SPY agencies around the world had little warning of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, which bore some al-Qaeda hallmarks but appears unlikely to be linked to the group's core leadership.
Westerners in India's financial centre were targeted in the spectacular attack comprised of multiple simultaneous assaults — a signature of past al-Qaeda actions, including the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But the Indian attack was carried out by gunmen, not the suicide bombers frequently employed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
"We have been actively monitoring plots in Britain and abroad and there was nothing to indicate something like this was about to happen," a British security official said.
Western security experts believe attacks organised, directed and funded specifically by al-Qaeda's core leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border are not frequent.
More common are incidents in which terrorists have either some limited contact with al-Qaeda leaders or are inspired to carry out attacks by the ideology of Islamic extremism.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters it was "premature to talk about links to al-Qaeda" and that the intended targets still had not been identified.
"This is only the latest in a series of attacks in India over the last year or two," he said, adding: "Terrorism is not just a war against the West."
A US counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lashkar-i-Taiba (Army of the Pure) and Jaish-i-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed) are what "people are starting to look at. But I can't caution enough to treat it as a theory, a working assumption.
"What the Indians have in their favour is that they've got some of these guys. It seems logical that they can expect to work their way back reasonably quickly."
Indian officials said several gunmen were captured.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed "external forces" and the Indian navy said its forces were boarding a cargo vessel suspected of ties to the attacks. Navy spokesman Captain Manohar Nambiar said on Thursday that the ship, the MV Alpha, had recently come to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan.
Pakistan's Port and Shipping Minister, Nabil Gabol, said Indian authorities had not asked him for information about what he called a "false allegation".
"They should not drag Pakistan into this just to overcome their own political problems," he said.
Major-General R. K. Hooda, the leader of the operation to flush out the militants, said that they had pretended to come from Hyderabad, in central India, but they had captured one man who spoke with a Punjabi accent and appeared to be from Pakistan.
Lashkar-i-Taiba is based in Lahore, in Pakistan's Punjab province, and was supported by the Pakistan Government's Inter-Services Intelligence agency during the 1990s.
It nearly sparked a war between India and Pakistan when it attacked the Indian parliament in 2001, along with Jaish-i-Mohammed.
Few terrorism experts have heard of the Deccan Mujahideen, who have claimed responsibility for the attacks.
"Initially, we saw violence in India imported from outside — with allegations of Pakistani Government support — but now we are seeing new, home-grown groups," said Nigel Inkster, director of Transnational Threats at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
"There is a possible link to al-Qaeda," he said. "Logically, it would be easier for al-Qaeda to get things done in India than in the US and Europe. Everyone's been expecting some type of pre-US election or post-US election spectacular, and there is some speculation that this is it."
Whoever was responsible, their demands have been vague.
A militant inside the Oberoi Hotel told Indian television by telephone: "Release all mujahideen, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled."
Another, inside the Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch centre, who called himself Imran, phoned an Indian television station to say: "Ask the Government to talk to us and we will release the hostages. Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims?" he said.
Who could have done it?
Six hours after the attack, Indian media received an email from this unknown group, claiming responsibility. Experts are sceptical. An Indian news channel reported that the email's sender was traced to Russia.
In May, the organisation, headed by Abdul Subhan Qureshi, known as "India's bin Laden" threatened to attack tourist sites unless the Indian Government withdrew its support for America. It has claimed responsibility for bombings in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi since July. But analysts believe it does not have the resources to have conducted the Mumbai operation alone.
Mumbai's most notorious crime boss, Dawood Ibrahim, was accused of masterminding the March 1993 blasts in Mumbai. At that time he lived in Dubai but later moved to Karachi. Indian intelligence alleges he is holed up in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
PAKISTANI TERROR GROUPS
Al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba has been active in fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1993. In the past, the group was alleged to have close links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. But from what is known, few believe Pakistan played a role in the Mumbai attacks.