Mumbai Attacks: Piecing Together the Story

News & Politics

There is a torrent of information and analysis on the recent attacks in Mumbai, but much of the story is nowhere to be seen in the American mainstream media. Here's a guide to what you might have missed:

What happened? 

Saikat Datta of Outlook Indiawrites that by mid-September, Indian agencies knew that the attack would come from the sea, and by mid-November they knew that the Taj hotel would be targeted. And yet the attacks still happened. A blow-by-blow account of how the plan to attack Mumbai by sea was hatched and executed.

"Armed police would not fire back -- I wish I'd had a gun, not a camera." Jerome Taylor talked to the photographer whose picture of one of the attackers went around the world for the Independent. "Sebastian D'Souza, a picture editor at the Mumbai Mirror, whose offices are just opposite the city's Chhatrapati Shivaji station, heard the gunfire erupt and ran towards the terminus. 'I ran into the first carriage of one of the trains on the platform to try and get a shot but couldn't get a good angle, so I moved to the second carriage and waited for the gunmen to walk by,' he said. 'They were shooting from waist height and fired at anything that moved. I briefly had time to take a couple of frames using a telephoto lens. I think they saw me taking photographs but they didn't seem to care.' "

There is a first-person account by KG Prasad, a technical worker who was among the survivors in the Taj Mahal Hotel attacks -- He writes in the Indian Weekly, Tehelka, "I haven't slept in the last four days, and I haven't been able to enjoy a good meal either. Nothing has been possible. I was stuck there for just eight hours. Imagine those who were in there for 48 hours. I'm trying to think of this as an incident that has made me braver." Rachel Williams from the The Guardian also collected a series of short first-person accounts of the attacks.

Who Was Behind the Attacks?

-- In the U.K. Comment Is Free, William Dalrymple argues that "the links between the Mumbai attacks and the separatist struggle in Kashmir have become ever more explicit. There now seems to be a growing consensus that the operation is linked to the Pakistan-based jihadi outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose leader, Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, operates openly from his base at Muridhke outside Lahore. This probable Pakistani origin of the Mumbai attacks, and the links to Kashmir-focused jihadi groups, means that the horrific events have to be seen in the context of the wider disaster of Western policy in the region since 9/11. The abject failure of the Bush administration to woo the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan away from the Islamists and, instead, managing to convince many of them of the hostility of the West towards all Muslim aspirations, has now led to a gathering catastrophe in Afghanistan, where the once-hated Taliban are now again at the gates of Kabul."

Saurabh Shukla of India Today offers an alternative scenario to Dalrymple, reporting that while the actual attack may have been carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba, sources say the planning and financing could have been done by a lethal cocktail of terror group led by al-Qaida.

Yoichi Shimatsu of New America Media suggests that the Mumbai attacks carry the signature of Dawood Ibrahim, a multimillionaire owner of a construction company in Karachi, Pakistan. Although well known in South Asia, his is hardly a household name around the world like Osama bin Laden. Shobhita Naithani of Tehelka interviewed a former joint director of the India Intelligence Bureau, Maloy Krishna Dhar, who echoes Shimatsu: "I'm definite that without the help of Dawood Ibrahim, this would not have been possible. [The attackers] couldn't have known such details about the hotels."

Sandip Roy of New America Media argues that the gun-toting, Versace T-shirt-wearing assailant whose image was beamed across the world at the start of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai could as easily have been one of the victims as one of the terrorists.

Veteran Mideast reporter Patrick Cockburn writes, "The origins and motives of the men who slaughtered so many people in Mumbai will emerge in the coming days. But already the butchery should be underlining one of the greatest of the many failings of the Bush administration post-9/11. Pakistan was always the real base for al-Qaida. It was the Pakistani ISI military intelligence which fostered and partly directed the Taliban before 2001 and revived it afterwards. It is Pakistan which has sustained the Islamic jihadi fighters in Kashmir, where half the Indian army is tied down. Yet the Bush administration in its folly allied itself to then-president Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani army post-9/11, ensuring that jihadi groups always had a base.

"It is self-defeating hypocrisy for the West to lecture the Indian government now about not overreacting and not automatically blaming the Pakistani government or some part of its security apparatus for Mumbai. The way in which the Pakistani military has allowed Kashmiri and Pakistani militants free range in Pakistan created the milieu from which the attacks this week came. It may be that the monster the ISI created is no long under its control, but it is ultimately responsible for what has happened."

Ingredients for a Fundamentalist Attack:

Gary Brecher of eXiledonline writes:

"Terrorism is usually a matter of spending as few of your people as you can, but somebody connected with al-Qaida or its Pakistani fan club decided to spend a lot of lives here. That's what's interesting, looking at these attacks cold-bloodedly. Suppose you're an al-Qaida honcho deciding how to get maximum bang for your resources. Until now the solution has been bombs, most of the time. Because bombs can be planted by a few men, and if they set the timers right and keep a low profile, there's a good chance those men will get away to plant more bombs another day. And since good men are hard to find, especially good men willing to risk having their fingernails pulled out in a police basement, that's the way most terrorist movements decide to go.

"Not this time. If these guys sent men to 10 different locations in Mumbai, they spent a lot of lives. They'd have to assume that none of these men will come back alive. Suppose they sent 10 men to each location. You need numbers for this sort of frontal assault in a heavily policed city, so that seems like a good number. Even if the real number turns out to be lower, say seven men to each location, that's 70 supporters' lives spent in one raid. Not the sort of thing that makes your human resources manager happy.

"But it comes down to what you might as well call market forces, and in those terms it makes perfect sense. Supply and demand. Supply: it looks like the gunmen came from Pakistan by ship. Supplies of dumb, trigger-happy young Pakistanis in a hurry to find martyrdom are basically infinite. Thanks to the CIA, ISI and Saudi funding, there are now more than 4000 madrassas, martyrdom academies, in Pakistan.

"Now quality, that's a different issue. How much is the life of one of these cannon-fodder kids worth, to the movement? That depends on a lot of factors. If you're that al-Qaida HR manager and you had to construct your dream recruit, he'd speak unaccented American or British English; he'd be white, or East Asian looking; he'd be comfortable in urban/yuppie life anywhere in the West; he'd have a cool head, know how to smile like a car salesman all the time and talk sports; and underneath he'd have total Terminator dedication to the cause and be immune to the attractions of the evil world you'd be sending him to infiltrate. [The attackers weren't] smooth enough to get through normal hotel security to plant a bomb, but they didn't have to be. They just stormed in through the front door, firing at full automatic.

"That's why this talk about whether security at the hotels was adequate is ridiculous. Hotel security is aimed at stopping sneak attacks, bomb-planters. To stop the sort of heavily armed suicide squads that hit these hotels, you'd need a full platoon of infantry. So what you see here is something economists would understand as well or better than traditional military analysts. I hate to sound cold-blooded, putting it this way, but what happened is that Pakistan's Islamists had a surplus of raw labor and thought of a way to get it to a place where it maximized its global value in terms of pure blood and destruction."

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