Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Terrorism in Mumbai

There is no Thanksgiving holiday in India. The "Indians" that the Puritans encountered in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century were neither Hindu nor Muslim, but indigenous tribes of Native Americans. But on Wednesday November 26, 2008, on the eve of Thanksgiving, while Americans were getting ready to join their families and celebrate their annual turkey day, twenty six terrorists arrived by sea in the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, first on a fishing trawler hijacked somewhere on the Arabian Sea, and then via small inflatable motorboats.

They were armed to the teeth with guns, hand grenades and explosives, and carried several days provisions of dried fruit. They landed at night near the Gateway to India along the busy south Mumbai waterfront, and fanned out to various planned locations: two luxury hotels, a touristy cafe/restaurant, a hospital, cinema, busy train depot, a Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish center, even a local police station. They sprayed bullets into crowds of people, set fires, blew up cars and other facilities, and took hostages. Americans and Brits were particularly targeted, but locations frequented by Westerners were obviously selected for maximum impact.

This was not just an attack against one country. The body count is now posted as 125 dead and well over 300 wounded. It is already being called the worst terror attack on Indian soil, 26.11 for short, to rhyme with New York's infamous 9.11.

Not considered an Al Qaeda offshoot, the suspected cell is identified (as of this writing) as part of LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), another Islamic terrorist organization that makes its home either in Pakistan or in the lawless tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan, and whose primary objective is to end Indian rule in Kashmir. LeT has previously struck inside India and Mumbai. But this particular attack was the most vicious yet in its execution, the most audacious in its planning, and stretched over a longer time frame. More than 24 hours passed while the gunmen held hostages and barricaded themselves in hotel rooms, as Indian security forces undertook the long process of "sanitizing" their city.

The recent violence is also more symbolically loaded, and would be the equivalent in New York of seeing terrorists land at the Statue of Liberty and shoot up the Waldorf Astoria, the Plaza Hotel and Times Square. Witnessing a national landmark like the Taj Mahal Hotel engulfed in flames might well resonate in the Indian consciousness with the same intensity that the nightmare of the World Trade Center's twin towers is burned into the American psyche.

The FBI recently announced that an Al Qaeda communication had been intercepted which suggested a "plausible but unsubstantiated" threat of attack on the NYC subway system during the holiday season. But are we now witnessing the new face of terrorism? Amphibious suicide assaults right in the center of a city? One commentator on today's CNN IBN live feed noted that it was more difficult for terrorists to strike directly at the US and UK. Our security is too formidable, and they cannot blend into the population. But striking at Western tourists in India, where conditions are more "porous", is a possible fallback strategy.

Mumbai: 48 hour update

November 28, 2008. The siege of Mumbai continues to its sad, bloody conclusion. Terrorists retreated yesterday to three locations: the Taj Hotel, the Trident Oberoi Hotel, and Nariman House, which houses a Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center. The terrorists are barricaded with guns and explosives, surrounded by the dead bodies of their victims and using their live hostages as human shields.

A spokesman for the NSG (National Security Guards), the Indian anti-terrorist commando unit, announced yesterday that the Taj Hotel had been fully cleared. This claim was premature, and in fact at least one terrorist, with an unknown number of hostages, is still alive, holed up in a back room. There was a recent explosion in a first floor rear public room, and a sporadic exchange of gunfire still maintains.

All actions at the Oberoi are now declared concluded. Four terrorists were killed. Thirty bodies of slain hostages have been removed, bringing the death toll to 155.

The terrorist's last stand is concentrated at Nariman House, where a rabbi from New York and his wife were reported among the hostages and feared dead. Nariman is located in a densely populated area of Mumbai, with narrow streets and alleys, making a frontal commando assault difficult. The only approach for NSG forces was to rappel down from a helicopter to the rooftop. The most recent report indicates two terrorists killed and five hostage bodies discovered. There have been new explosions. An excited and occasionally inebriated crowd of onlookers had to be cordoned off by the police.


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