Mumbai terror aimed at India-Pakistan peace moves

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Nov. 28, 2008 at 1:07 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- The wave of Islamist terrorist attacks in Mumbai has claimed at least 143 dead so far, and it augurs a grim new chapter in international terrorism.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee warned Friday, "Preliminary evidence indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved."

The attacks occurred as Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was visiting India, seeking to improve bilateral relations between the two nuclear-armed historic enemies that between them account for one-fifth of the human race.

Qureshi was outspoken in condemning the attacks. "Whoever has done this is neither your friend nor our friend. We are not responsible for this, nor is it in our interest to get involved in something like this," he said. "We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy."

The casualty figures are still only a fraction of the nearly 3,000 Americans who were killed when hijacked airliners were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, or compared with the hundreds of innocent schoolchildren slaughtered in Beslan by Chechen terrorists in September 2004. But in many respects, the Mumbai attacks are unprecedented.

First, they involved a far more ambitious and wide-ranging series of coordinated attacks against multiple targets in the same city than even al-Qaida has attempted or achieved in the past. Second, coming so soon after Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential election, they indicate that the election result has certainly not produced any "era of good feelings" that will lead Islamist terror groups around the world to stay their hand. On the contrary, the groups appear to have been emboldened to strike more outrageously than ever. The killers who struck at two five-star hotels in Mumbai were trying to identify American and British nationals to kill.

The immediate motivation and timing of the attacks, however, appears to be linked to the efforts of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and new, pro-American Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to try and improve relations between their countries.

Indian leaders have suggested "elements in Pakistan may be connected to these events." A group calling itself Deccan Mujahedin has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The name appears to have been assumed to draw attention to, and even to radicalize, elements of India's hitherto peaceful Muslim communities in the southern part of the subcontinent.

Some Indian security officials believe, however, that some of the gunmen who carried out the atrocities may have been smuggled in by freighter from the port of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. They also suspect that Islamist extremist elements in the Pakistan military, especially the secretive and powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, long protected by former President Pervez Musharraf and fiercely opposed to the moderate policies of President Zardari, may have been deeply involved.

Certainly the scale, origination and success of the attacks far exceed anything Islamist terror groups have previously been capable of carrying out in India.

Mumbai has been the subject of repeated terror bombings for the past 15 years. However, the scale and number of this week's attacks confirm that the Indian security services have been swamped by the problem. Indian domestic security seems to have been completely taken by surprise by this week's attacks, even though the upcoming Indian-Pakistan talks provided an obvious motive for hard-line Islamists to try and carry out attacks.

The response of the Mumbai police and the Indian Union armed forces -- especially their special units -- was slow, indecisive and even chaotic.

Aspects of the attacks appear to have been exceptionally and deliberately barbaric. The wife and two children of the general manager of the Taj Mahal Hotel were murdered in their suite. A similar fate appears to have befallen the Jewish Lubavitch rabbi in Mumbai and his wife and children. There are less than 15,000 Jews in all of India, out of a population of more than 1 billion, and yet the Chabad Jewish center in Mumbai was singled out by the attackers.

The scale of the attacks and the multiple failures of the Indian security forces in dealing with them will also deal a serious blow to the safety, attractiveness and credibility of Mumbai as a rapidly rising global financial center. The immediate beneficiaries of this development are likely to be the far more secure financial centers of Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore.

It was probably also deliberate that the attacks occurred on the eve of the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. The terrorists were clearly frustrated in their failure to find more than a handful of American victims to kill.

It would be foolish in the extreme to assume that the Mumbai attacks will remain unique, or that other and similar ones could not occur within Western Europe and the United States over the next few months. As reports of the horrors in Mumbai circulated around the world, U.S. officials warned of the dangers of an attack on the New York subway system.

The Mumbai attacks serve notice that a different era is beginning -- not of a Brave New World, but of a fearful one.

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