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Terror Analysis - Article Archive (November 2008)
Terror Analysis: Who is responsible for the Mumbai attacks?


While the terror attacks in Mumbai have yet to come to an end, international terror experts have already started to debate on which entity should be held responsible for these attacks. The spectrum of notion that was spread in the media includes local Indian Islamic organization (“Dekhan Al Mujahidin “ - a terror group that allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack), Pakistani terrorist organizations operating in the area of Kashmir and of course Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization.

The media is full of reports describing the specific characteristics of the Mumbai attacks which are not completed, lack important details and in many cases contradict each other. In the coming analysis we will try to focus on the more solid characteristics based on different reports, while disregarding others that are yet to be confirmed. Among the more solid characteristics of the attacks are:

  • It was a multiple attack targeting multiple targets.
  • It was aiming Indian and western targets specifically American, British and Jewish/Israeli targets.
  • The targets selected were “soft targets” which are not guarded (compared to “hard targets” which tend to include large scale security measures such as embassies, diplomatic mission and delegations etc).
  • The modus operandi of the attacks includes sacrifice attacks (in which the attacker is probably to die while conducting it) as well as barricading with hostages.
  • The attackers seemed to have used the naval route in order to reach Mumbai.


Analyzing these characteristics with previous attacks, one can come up with two possible entities to be held responsible for the Mumbai attacks:

  1. Al-Qaeda - there is no doubt that some of the characteristics performed in the Mumbai attacks can be attribute directly to Al-Qaeda and were conducted in most of the spectacular attacks (the September 11 attacks , the 2002 Mombassa attacks, the 2003 attacks in Istanbul and the 2005 London transportation system attacks) the organization initiated in recent years. Using a large number of attackers, hitting multiple targets in order to cause as much casualties as possible was a dominant factor in these past Al-Qaeda attacks. More than that, the vast majority of Al-Qaeda's attacks in the past were aiming at “soft targets” and the organization refrained almost completely from attacking “hard targets”.

In addition to that, from the targets' selection of the Mumbai attacks one can conclude it was aiming at western targets along with Indian ones. From the different testimonies collected from those who survived the attack it is clear they were aiming specifically at American, British and Jewish (The “Habad” house) targets in Mumbai. All of Al-Qaeda's attacks (Those conducted directly by hard core Al-Qaeda using its “Special Operations Unit“ as the operational arm) in the past were aiming specifically at those targets. Among these attacks one can include the September 11 attacks; the attacks in Mombassa, Kenya aiming at Israeli targets ; the dual simultaneous attacks aiming at Jewish (two synagogues) and British (HSBC bank and the British consulate) in Istanbul ; the attack on Jewish synagogue in Djerba Tunisia (April 2002); and the attack on the London transportation system.

However, at the same time the Mumbai attacks bare several characteristics that are less typical to the modus operandi of Al-Qaeda throughout its international activity period (since 1998). The vast majority of Al-Qaeda's attacks were suicide attacks (The attackers are due to die while conducting it). In addition Al-Qaeda never use the tactic of barricading with hostages in its attacks.


2. Lashkar- E- Toyba (LET) - LET is the most dominant organization operating in the last decade and a half in the Kashmir Arena. The LET is the most active terror organization in Kashmir and has conducted numerous terror and guerilla attacks in the region targeting Indian civilians and troops. In rare cases the organization diverges from the Kashmir war zone and conducts some attacks inside India. With this regard, the most famous attack the organization conducted was the attack (November 2001 together with another Kashmiri organization “Jaish Mohammed”) at the Indian parliament in New Delhi. This attack was regarded as a sacrifice attack and includes storming the building (“Hard target”, using machine guns and hand grenades) and attempting to barricade with hostages. No doubt that the operational characteristics of the parliament attacks resemble almost completely the Modus operandi performed in the latest Mumbai attacks.

On the other hand, other characteristics of the Mumbai attacks are not the type of LET operations. LET never targeted non-Indian targets and of course never conducted such a direct attack at American, British and Jewish targets. It should be mentioned also that the organization tends to attack one target at a time and refrains from conducting multiple attacks.

With regards to the fact that the Mumbai attackers used the naval route in order to reach their destination, one must recall that LET's operational region is a continental one, and we have no evidence of any naval capabilities or a specific designated marine unit within its structure.

Unlike LET, Al-Qaeda’s special operations unit (responsible for all the Major Al-Qaeda attacks in the international arena in the last decade) operated a designated marine unit that conducted an attempt to attack (spring 2002) American and British warships in Gibraltar straits and in the more famous cases conducted a suicide attack (October 2000) at the USS COLE in the gulf of Aden and the French oil tanker LIMBURG in the red sea 18 month later. In the last few years this unit suffered from major setbacks in its operational capabilities, peaking with the arrests of its commander Abd Al Rahim Nashiri, but it is possible his knowledge and experience were kept within the unit.


Taking all these into an account, one could not rule out the possibility that the Mumbai attacks were the result of an operational cooperation between the two terrorist organizations. While Al-Qaeda provides the directions (the selection of the targets and their amount) and the necessary logistical backup (the naval unit, designated training) the Kashmiri organization provides the Modus operandi and the attacking squads.

It should be mentioned with this regard that the two organizations have a history of cooperation in recent years. When Al-Qaeda troops had to flee Afghanistan as a result of the American led coalition offensive that followed the September 11 attack they were hosted and sheltered in safe houses throughout Pakistan by LET activists. More than that, members of the political wing of LET (known as “Jamat Al Dawa Wal Arshad”) operating outside of Pakistan were convicted by French courts for providing logistical assistance to Al-Qaeda's special operations unit’s Richard Reid (The “shoe bomber”) in boarding an American Airlines flight to Miami on December 2001 which he tried to crash using explosives hidden in his shoes.

In case our assumption of an LET-Al-Qaeda cooperation in the Mumbai attacks turns out to be true, it means LET has joined other Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic organizations (The South East Asian “Jamaa Islamia” and the Uzbek “Islamic Jihad Union”) which embraced a larger targeting policy focusing not only on local targets but western targets as well.

The immediate meaning of this development is a sharp rise of the threat posed by LET for western targets (specifically American, British and Jewish/Israeli targets) in its “classic” zones of operations (Kashmir and northern India). More than that, taking into account the global deployment of LET using its political branch (“Jamaat Al Dawa Wal Arshad”) among the Pakistani communities in the Diaspora, one can not rule out the possibility that the organization will aspire to conduct lethal attacks against western or Jewish/Israeli targets, with or without Al-Qaeda's involvement, on western soil (specifically in Australia, France ,Spain, Canada, South Africa and above all the United Kingdom).

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