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Mumbai Terrorist Attack – Some Aspects

(This is an elaboration of some points made extempore by me in continuation of my paper on terrorism at the Regional Outlook 2009 Forum of the Institute of South-East Asian Studies, Singapore, on January 7,2009. The paper is available at )

“Terrorists are increasingly technology-savvy, but not technology-slavish. They do not hesitate to revert to old technologies and old instruments of destruction if they find that security agencies, in their preoccupation with countering the use of new technologies and new instruments by the terrorists, relax their vigilance against the possible re-use of old technologies and old instruments by them.”

——–Extract from my article dated 17-2-2000 titled TERRORISM: THE TECHNOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE available at


In the terrorist attack by 10 Pakistani terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) at Mumbai from November 26 to 29, 2008, there were 163 fatalities. Five of these fatalities were caused by explosives and the remaining 158 by hand-held weapons (assault rifles and hand-grenades).

2. There had been commando-style attacks with hand-held weapons by terrorists in the Indian territory even in the past—in Punjab by the Khalistani terrorists in the 1980s and the early 1990s, in Jammu & Kashmir by the Kashmiri and Pakistani terrorists since 1989 and in other parts of the country by the jihadi terrorists from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as by the Maoists from Central India. However, attacks with hand-held weapons by the jihadi terrorists in the Indian territory outside J&K were mainly against armed static guards of the security forces outside imporant establishments. Examples: The attack on the Indian Parliament House at New Delhi in December,2001, the attack on the police guards outside the US Consulate in Kolkata in January,2002, the attack on the guards outside an important Hindu temple at Ahmedabad in September 2002, the attack on a training centre of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)at Rampur in Uttar Pradesh in the early morning hours of January 1,2008 etc.

3. For attacks on unguarded soft targets in public places, the jihadi terrorists had mostly preferred timed or remotly-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs). After the Rampur attack, jihadi terrorists from a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen (IM) had carried out attacks on soft targets in Jaipur (May), Bangalore (July), Ahmedabad (July) and Delhi ( September). All these involved timed IEDs. There was one minor attack with a rifle by a terrorist of the LET on the participants in a conference of scientists at Bangalore in December,2005, killing one participant. The terrorist managed to escape to Pakistan.

4. The Mumbai attack of November 26 to 29,2008, was the first act of mass casualty terrorism by the jihadi terrorists against innocent civilians using hand-held weapons. The previous two acts of mass casualty terrorism with fatalities of more than 150 were carried out with timed IEDs —– in March 1993 and in July 2006, both in Mumbai.

5. The increasing use of IEDs by the terrorists since 9/11 had led to strict anti-explosive checks even by private establishments such as hotels, company offices etc. The killing with IEDs tends to be indiscriminate with no way of pre-determining who should be killed.Moreover, the publicity earned from IED attacks tends to be of short duration— hardly of one or two hours. As was seen during the attack on the Parliament House, the visual impact of TV-transmitted images of attacks with hand-held weapons as they are taking place tends to be more dramatic. In an attack with hand-held weapons, the terrorists can pre-determine whom they want to die and kill with precision.

6. In Mumbai, 72 people were killed in the terrorist attacks in two hotels and in the Nariman House where a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre is located and 86 innocent civilians in public places such as the main railway terminus through which an estimated 2.8 million passengers pass daily, a hospital, a cafe etc. The attacks in the public places by two terrorists on the move lasted less than an hour, but caused more fatalities. The static armed confrontation in the hotels and the Nariman House lasted about 60 hours, but caused less fatalities. In terms of publicity, the static armed confrontation got the terrorists more publicity than the attacks by the two terrorists on the move in public places. By the time TV , radio and other media crew came to know what was happenuing in the public places and rushed there, the attacks were already over. There was hardly any live coverage. The only live visuals were from the closed circuit TV cameras installed at the railway station. In the hotels and the Nariman House, the media crew were able to provide a live coverage of almost the entire confrontation.

7. Within a few hours of the start of the confrontation, the security staff of the hotels reportedly switched off the cable transmissions to the rooms. The terrorists were, therefore, not in a position to watch on the TV what was happening outside, but their mobile communications enabled them to get updates on the deployments of the security forces outside from their controllers in Pakistan who, like the rest of the world, were able to watch on their TV what was happening outside. This could have been prevented only by jamming all mobile telephones. Such jamming could have proved to be counter-productive. It would have prevented the terrorists from getting guidance and updates from their controllers in Pakistan. At the same time, it might have prevented the security agencies from assessing the mood and intentions of the terrorists and could have come in the way of any communications with the terrorists if the security agencies wanted to keep them engaged in a conversation till they were ready to raid.

8. The Mumbai attack poses the following questions for examination by all the security agencies of the world:

Presently, the security set-ups of private establishments have security gadgets such as door-frame metal detectors, anti-explosive devices, closed-circuit TV etc, but they do not have armed guards. It would not be possible for the police to provide armed guards to all private establishments. How to strengthen the physical security of vulnerable private establishments and protect them from forced intrusions by terrorists wielding hand-held weapons? What kind of media control will be necessary and feasible in situations of the type witnessed in Mumbai? This question had also figured after the Black September terrorist attack on Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics of 1972. Since then, the position has become more complex and difficult due to the mushrooming of private TV channels and private FM radio stations. How to ensure that mobile telephones do not unwittingly become a facilitator of on-going terrorist strikes without creating operational handicaps for the security agencies? The Israelis, who have taken military action against the Hamas in Gaza, have severely curtailed media access to Gaza. The Hamas has sought to overcome this by having visuals of the fighting transmitted to foreign TV channels through mobiles. Copy-cats of this are likely in future.

9. The LET terrorists, who attacked Mumbai, had a three-point agenda:

An anti-Indian agenda to create fears in the minds of foreign businessmen about the security of life and property in India and in the minds of the Indian public about the competence of the Indian security agencies to protect them. An anti-Israeli and an anti-Jewish agenda whose objectives coincided with those of Al Qaeda. An anti-US agenda and an anti-NATO agenda, whose objectives coincided with those of Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Of the 25 foreigners killed, nine were either Israelis or Jewish persons, 12 were from countries which have contributed troops to the NATO force in Afghanistan and four were from other countries. Nationals of European countries, which are not participating in the war against terrorism in Afghasnistan, were not targeted.

10. All these agendas coincide with the agenda of the global jihad as waged by the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by Al Qaeda in 1998. From 1998 till April 2006, Osama bin Laden projected the global jihad as directed against the Crusaders (Christians) and the Jewish people. In an audio message disseminated by him in April,2006, after the visit of President George Bush to India, he expanded the objectives of the global jihad and projected it as directed against the Crusaders, the Jewish People and the Hindus. The Mumbai attack targeted these three proclaimed adversaries of the IIF, of which the LET is a member.

11. Since 2003, there have been indications that following a weakening of the command and control of Al Qaeda because of the US military operations in Afghanistan, the LET had started playing the role of a standby co-ordinator of the IIF on behalf of Al Qaeda. The Mumbai attack brought out the increased capabilities of the LET for the planning and execution of simultaneous commando-style attacks against multiple targets. The LET now poses a serious threat not only to India as it was doing in the past, but to other countries as well. It is a new and major threat to international peace and security which has to be fought by the united efforts of the international community.

12. The last point I want to highlight is about the role of Pakistan. Since the terrorist attack lasted 60 hours and the lives of the nationals of many countries were in danger, the intelligence agencies of India, Israel, the US and the UK —-and possibly of other countries too—- were monitoring through technical means the conversations of the terrorists holed up in the two hotels and in the Jewish centre with each other and with their controllers in Pakistan. Thus, a substantial volume of independent technical intelligence exists— collected by the intelligence agencies of these countries independently of each other.

13. All this independent evidence clearly shows that the terrorist attack was mounted by the LET from the Pakistani territory with the help of 10 Pakistanis specially recruited and trained for this operation in training camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and then in Karachi. On the basis of the evidence gathered by the Indian investigators and shared by the intelligence agencies of other countries with India, the Government of India has demanded three things from Pakistan: firstly, the arrest and handing over to India for interrogation and prosecution of the Pakistan-based ring leaders of the conspiracy as named by Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only surviving perpetrator, who was caught by the Mumbai police; secondly, the arrest and handing over to India of 20 other accused in terrorism related cases pending before Indian courts who have been given shelter in Pakistan; and thirdly, the dismantling of the Pakistan-based terrorist infrastructure of the LET.

14. As other Pakistani Governments had done in the past, the present Government headed by President Asif Ali Zardari too has refused to extend mutual legal assistance to India as required by the conventions followed by the Interpol and by the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. It first even denied that the terrorist captured by the Mumbai Police is a Pakistani national despite Kasab’s father identifying him as his son in an interview to the “Dawn”, the prestigious daily of Karachi. Under mounting pressure from the US, it has now reluctantly admitted that he is a Pakistani national, but continues to question the credibility of the evidence collected by India. It has made clear that there is no question of handing over any Pakistani national to India for trial . 15. Since Pakistan became independent in 1947, it has never handed over to India any Muslim—-Pakistani or Indian— who had committed an offence in Indian territory—-whether the offence is terrorism or theft or robbery or rape or child sex or narcotics smuggling or any other offence. The attitude of non-cooperation adopted by the present Government should not, therefore, be a matter of surprise.

16. The international community should not allow Pakistan to get away with its brazen defiance of all international conventions relating to action against terrorists. If it manages to do so due to the reluctance of the international community to act against Pakistan, this won’t bode well for the success of the war against terrorism.

(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with Chennai Centre for China Studies.E-mail: )

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