Thursday, Nov 27, 2008
What do the Mumbai terror attacks mean globally?
First of all, the standard caveat. It is extremely early days. India saw 2,700 killed in terrorist attacks last year by a wide range of groups and individuals making it one of the worst hit countries in the world, if clearly its size plays a role in the statistics. The point is that the range of possible culprits is large.
Equally, the style of the attack – more a mass guerrilla assault on a series of soft-targets in a major city than the standard spectacular blasts that we have come to associate with those strikes linked closely to the al-Qaida hardcore – makes it that much more difficult to decipher.
Using boats to attack is certainly original and rare – though al-Qaida used boat bombs against the USS Cole in 2000. Hostage taking is also not a usual feature of core al-Qaida attacks. There was the instance of the Chechen group holding a cinema and audience captive in Moscow of course but they were not an “al-Qaida” group whatever the Kremlin may have said at the time. The mass irregular infantry assault has been seen before – in Saudi Arabia in Khobar in 2004 but again by a group acting semi-autonomously from the al-Qaida hardcore. Indeed, the guns and grenade style is more reminiscent of the operations of militant groups in Kashmir (and elsewhere in India), Afghanistan or even in the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Tourist industry has also been targeted elsewhere, notably in Indonesia and in Egypt during the late 80s.
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Putting together this jumble of tactics and the targeting of an Orthodox Jewish centre and the apparent singling out of UK and US and Israeli citizens would certainly seem to indicate a homegrown local Indian outfit. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is already talking about the involvement of “external links” which could mean al-Qaida or Pakistan, but analysts recently have down-played foreign involvement in the series of attacks in the last 18 months. The homegrown explanation fits, insofar as anything based on an unknown name of an unknown group, with the claim of responsibility from the Deccan Mujahideen who appear likely to be close to the fragmented but effective Indian Mujahideen movement. The claims of responsibility the Indian Mujahideen have made in recent months have been treated as credible.
The homegrown explanation too would follow global trends in militancy. Though the hardcore of al-Qaida has unquestionably reconstituted a base and some of its commissioning and logistics capability in recent years in the tribal belt of western Pakistan, most global Islamic militancy remains a local business. In Morocco, Algeria, Iraq, Europe and across into Asia and the Far East, most militant organisations are characterised by a mass of horizontal links not vertical hierarchies or lines of command. They are fragmented and based on a chaos of personal relationships and shifting dynamic mini-structures. Bringing them all together for one operation is ambitious but clearly possible – experts talk of “swarming” – and is likely to result in the kind of varied but effective attack that we saw today. It also makes the culprits – if they survive – much harder to catch and any overarching organiser of whatever nature much harder to trace.
This article was posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 11:35 am