HONG KONG: The men came wearing black hoods, firing automatic weapons and throwing grenades, taking hostages, attacking two hotels, a cinema, a café, a train station and other popular and undefended “soft targets.”
An e-mail message to Indian media outlets that claimed responsibility for the bloody attacks in Mumbai on Wednesday night said the militants were from the Deccan Mujahideen.
Global terrorism experts said Thursday they had never heard of the group. And based on its tactics, they said, it was probably not a cell or group linked to Al Qaeda.
“It’s even unclear whether it’s a real group or not,” said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the author of the book “Inside Terrorism.” “It could be a cover name for another group, or a name adopted just for this particular incident.”
Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested that the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims – and not linked to Al Qaeda or the violent South Asian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it,” she said of the attack. “Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage taking, and they don’t do grenades.”
Hoffman agreed that the assault was “not exactly Al Qaeda’s modus operandi, which is suicide attacks.”
But he said the timed attacks, which he called “tactical, sophisticated and coordinated,” perhaps pointed to a broader organization behind the perpetrators. Fair also noted that the fact the group had not proclaimed its ideology in a manifesto was “not at all unusual.”
“You don’t see these types of terrorist operations very often, if at all,” Hoffman said. “These aren’t just a bunch of radical guys coming together to cause mayhem.
“This takes a different skill set. It doesn’t take much skill to make a bomb. This is not just pressing a button as a suicide bomber and dying. You don’t learn this over the Internet.”
The word Deccan describes the middle and south of India, which is dominated by the Deccan Plateau. Mujahideen, of course, is the commonly used Arabic word for holy fighters. The very name – if it is a real group – suggests a domestic islamist agenda.
“It’s maybe not so much a group as a cell that will take on a name for a specific operation,” said Fair. “In India you hear these unusual names.”
Fair did not agree that the attacks on Wednesday necessarily required deep planning and training.
“This wasn’t something that required a logistical mastermind,” she said. “These were not hardened targets. A huge train station with zero security. Two hotels with no security, both owned by Indians. Leopold’s Café. How hard is it, really? It’s not rocket science.”
Fair believes the attacks could be “yet another manifestation of domestic terrorism” that has its genesis in a longstanding institutional discrimination against Muslims.
“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India,” she said, “The economic disparities are startling, and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India.”
The CIA puts the population of India at 1.15 billion, with Hindus making up about 80 percent of the total and Muslims 13.4 percent.
Fair said one incident – “a watershed event” – that continues to anger Muslims were the riots that swept nearby Gujarat State in 2002. The violence killed between 1,000 and 2,000 people, most of them Muslims.
“The public political face of India says, ‘Our Muslims have not been radicalized.’ But the Indian intelligence apparatus knows that’s not true. India’s Muslim communities are being sucked into the global landscape of Islamist jihad.
“Indians will have a strong incentive to link this to Al Qaeda. ‘Al Qaeda’s in your toilet!’ But this is a domestic issue. This is not India’s 9/11.”
For Hoffman, who has studied terrorism for more than 30 years, the Mumbai attacks are “alarming on a number of levels.”
“It’s not often that things in terrorism alarm me. So much is a repeat of what we see almost every day, like suicide bombings. There’s no real innovation in terrorism, which is why 9/11 was so terrifying, because it was so innovative and heinously clever.
“But these attacks show how a handful of men, basically using weapons off the shelf, can paralyze a city and frustrate highly trained security forces. These attacks were calculated to spread alarm and anxiety – to put it quite frankly, to unhinge things – and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”
International Herald Tribune | Mark McDonald | Thursday, November 27, 2008