Did a Criminal Mastermind Stage the Mumbai Nightmare?

News & Politics

Don't miss Sandip Roy's article at the bottom of this report, arguing that the gun-toting, Versacet-shirt-wearing assailant whose image was beamed across the world at the start of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai who could as easily have been one of the victims as one of the terrorists.

The coordinated nighttime assault against seven major targets in Mumbai is reminiscent of the 1993 bombings that devastated the Bombay Stock Exchange. The recent attack bears the fingerprints of the same criminal mastermind – meticulous preparation, ruthless execution and the absence of claims or demands.

The eerie silence that accompanied the blasts are the very signature of Ibrahim Dawood, now a multi-millionaire owner of a construction company in Karachi, Pakistan. His is hardly a household name around the world like Osama bin Laden. Across South Asia, however, Dawood is held in awe and, in a twist on morals, admired for his belated conversion from crime boss to self-styled avenger.

His rise to the highest rungs of India's underworld began from the most unlikely position as the diligent son of a police constable in the populous commercial capital then known as Bombay.

His childhood familiarity with police routine and inner workings of the justice system gave the ambitious teenager an unmatched ability to outwit the authorities with evermore clever criminal designs. Among the unschooled ranks of Bombay gangland, Ibrahim emerged as the coherent leader of a multi-religious mafia, not just due to his ability to organize extortion campaigns and meet payrolls, but also because of his merciless extermination of rivals.

Dawood, always the professional problem-solver, gained the friendship of aspiring officers in India's intelligence service known as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He soon attracted the attention of American secret agents, then supporting the Islamic mujahideen in their battle against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Dawood personally assisted many a U.S. deep-cover operation funneling money to Afghan rebels via American-operated casinos in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Eager to please all comers, Dawood occasionally got his wires crossed, providing travel documents and other amenities to Islamist airplane hijackers. In response, Washington spymasters tried to unofficially "impound" his investment in the Nepalese casinos. Dawood's fury is legendary among locals. An honorable businessman, he held to the strict belief that a deal is a deal and there can be no reneging for any reason.

As Bombay moved into the league of Asia's premier cities – hotel rates and apartment rentals are the highest in the region – Dawood could have led a comfortable life as top dog. Instead he suffered a spasm of conscience, a newfound moral outrage, when rightwing Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in northern India in 1992, slaying 2000 Muslim worshippers, mostly women and children.

One a day in the following May, his henchmen set off bombs across Bombay, killing more than 300 people. His personal convictions had – uncharacteristically - overcome his dispassionate business ethics. Reeling in shock, his top lieutenant, a Hindu, attempted to assassinate Dawood. A bloody intra-gang war followed, but as always Dawood triumphed, even while away in exile in Dubai and Karachi.

In the ensuing decade, at the height of violence in Kashmir, Dawood sent his heavily armed young trainees by boat from Karachi on covert landings onto Indian beaches. This same method was used in the Mumbai assault with more boats, seven craft according to initial navy reports.

Why the timing of this raid, on the dawn of Thanksgiving in America? The leader of India's opposition and former deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani had long sought Dawood's extradition from Pakistan, a move opposed by the then military government in Islamabad. With the restoration of civilian rule, the new Pakistani prime minister (Gillani) consented to New Delhi's deportation request.

Washington and London both agreed with the India's legal claim and removed the longstanding "official protection" accorded for his past services to Western intelligence agencies. U.S. diplomats, however, could never allow Dawood's return. He simply knows too much about America's darker secrets in South Asia and the Gulf, disclosure of which could scuttle U.S.-India relations. Dawood was whisked away in late June to a safe house in Quetta, near the tribal area of Waziristan, and then he disappeared, probably back to the Middle East.

As in the case of America's Afghan war protégé Osama bin Laden, the blowback to U.S. covert policy came suddenly, this time with spectacular effects in Mumbai. The assault on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel will probably go down as the first lethal blow to the incoming Obama administration. The assailants, who spoke Punjabi and not the Deccan dialect, went to a lot of trouble to torch the prestigious hotel, which is owned by the Tata Group. This industrial giant is the largest business supporter of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement, and Tata is now planning to become a nuclear power supplier. The Clintons, as emissaries of Enron, were the first to suggest the nuclear deal with New Delhi, so Obama inherits the Mumbai catastrophe even before he takes office.

Dawood, ranks fourth on Forbes' list of the world's 10 most wanted fugitives from the law. After the new round of attacks that killed more than 100 people and laid waste top five-star hotels, Dawood can now contend for the No.1 spot in the coming months and years. In contrast to the fanatic and often ineffective bin Laden, Dawood is professional on all counts and therefore a far more formidable adversary. Yet some in Pakistan's military intelligence agency say that Dawood is dead, killed in July. This version of events is much the same as a variation of the bin Laden story. If true, then his underlings are carrying on the mission of an outlaw transfigured into a legend.

Yoichi Shimatsu. Former editor of The Japan Times in Tokyo and journalism lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing,, Shimatsu has covered the Kashmir crisis and Afghan War.


Mumbai Terrorists Wear Uniform of Young India

by Sandip Roy

SAN FRANCISCO -- His was one of the first faces to emerge out of the scenes of burning hotels, shattered glass and uniformed police in Mumbai.

"Is he one of the victims?" asked my roommate as I looked at the fuzzy image of a young man in a dark t-shirt, the word VERSACE written across it in white. My roommate obviously hadn't noticed the AK-47 he was holding. But in a way he was right.

That man whose image was beamed across the world could have easily been one of the victims. "They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts," a British tourist told The Times.

In short they were wearing the uniform of a young India. A uniform that allowed them access into the sanctum santorum of Indian high society which they then proceeded to blow up.

Little is known about the Deccan Mujaheddin who claimed responsibility for the attacks. The media are looking for the geo-political cracks that might emerge.

Does it have the finger prints of al Qaeda?

Is it a signal to the conciliatory noises towards India that Pakistan's new President Zardari has been making?

But the face of that gun-toting, VERSACE t-shirt-wearing assailant is haunting in its ordinariness.

Who is he?

Is he Indian?

Is he part of India's 9 percent growing GDP?

Was it ideology or was it promise of cash that sent him into the Taj hotel where Bombay's elite gather for cocktails and coffee?

"If you ever need to pee in South Bombay just go to the Taj" a Bombayite friend told me. "They won't stop you. You look like you are English-speaking."

The assailants, even as they demanded American and British passports, apparently were not English-speaking. They spoke in Urdu and Hindi.

In a country where every car entering one of the grand new shopping malls has its trunk inspected by uniformed security, how did they know they could walk into the five star hotel with AK-47s and grenades?

In the hushed glamor of the Taj with its 24-hour coffee shops and golden luggage carts, did they walk in through the front door, past the liveried doorman like they belonged? Did they stride into the dining room of the five-star Oberoi where diamond merchants make deals and Bollywood starlets wait to be spotted by gossip columnists like they wanted a table – dinner for three, we have no reservations.

"These are the places where what Indians call 'the creamy layer' hang out," says Mira Kamdar, author of Planet India on a recent webcast organized by the South Asian Journalists Association. She says these are the places where Bombay's elite feel safe and cocooned. It's their "islands of security" amidst the chaos of South Bombay. "It's the elite of Bombay who are really going to be shaken," says Kamdar.

Shaken, because the young-man-in-Versa tshirt didn't want to become the elite. He didn't want a place at the table. He wanted to upturn the table. He wanted to take the "creamy layer" hostage.

In India this is new.

Riots have raged through slums and housing estates. Bombs have gone off in local trains and underground markets. Even the Stock Exchange. But the five star hotel was off the menu. Until now.

When journalist Aravind Adiga wrote a novel about a chauffeur who kills his master, he called it The White Tiger because he said that was still the anomaly in India. He wondered why more servants didn't kill their masters. But he worried that "there is a new, very primordial, class divide between people who feel they have and people who feel they have not." In the glitzy breathless prose about India's skyrocketing GDP and its swelling middle class you miss the fact that many poorer Indians don't have the basic foundations of education and English that will allow them to succeed. Instead Adiga feared as the rich and even-the-not-so-rich shut themselves off in gated communities with names like Belvedere and Laburnum, the servants, the poor, become Ralph Ellison's invisible men.

Invisible, until they burst into every television set across India, indeed across the world, guns blazing.

Mira Kamdar worries that the "blunt instrument" way the Indian police round up young Muslim men will leave them even more alienated. The fears over security might lead to an electoral resurgence of an "anti-terrorist" Hindu nationalist party. Heads will roll about yet another intelligence failure and a city unprepared.

Those are the lessons to be drawn from the post-mortem of this attack. But the larger point has already been made. The world was shocked because this was the first time Mumbai, the tourist destination, was attacked.

Bali came to Bombay this November. The Leopold café is where my friends who visit the city hang out with a coffee and a cigarette.

When I was in Mumbai earlier this year my friend and I whiled away an afternoon at the Taj bookstore. And though bombs also went off near a hospital and a busy railway station, it's these landmarks that resonated around the world.

"When I was in Mumbai in February I stayed at the Taj and ate the best fish curry I have ever tasted at Leopold's." writes Matthew D'Ancona in The Spectator. The terrorists chose their targets well for their explosive debut into Mumbai high society. High society is usually Page 3 in Indian newspapers. The young men and their AK-47s turned Page 3 into Page 1 in one angry stroke.

I don't know who the young man in the VERSACE t-shirt was.

He might be an Islamic militant. He might be a frustrated small city boy shut out of the IT economy. He might be a village boy who trained in a camp somewhere.

But his message was loud and clear.

Pay attention to me, he said to booming India.

And then he pulled the trigger.


Sandip Roy is an editor at NAM.

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