The Mumbai attacks of 26 -29 November demonstrated the vulnerability of any metropolis to a siege and hostage scenario with devastating effects. The coordinated attacks on multiple locations with mass casualties was on a scale unseen before. In the initial stages, events seem to suggest a siege and hostage situation. However, as crisis progressed it was evident that there was no credible ransom demand and this was a suicide mission to cause maximum destruction to Mumbai and the siege and hostage situation was a mere tactic to prolong attack period.
The Chechen rebels have in the past used the siege and hostage tactic as seen in the Moscow Theatre attack in October 2002 and Beslan School attack in September 2004. However, there is a distinct difference between the attacks in Mumbai and the attacks in Russia. The Chechen rebels expected to exchange hostages for the imprisoned comrades even though chances were remote. In the Mumbai attacks the suicide team had no intention of negotiating an exchange, rather they were determined cause maximum damage and most importantly prolong state of confusion and chaos. The Mumbai siege and hostage situation draws close comparison with the attack on the World Trade Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 15 October 1997 and the ensuing siege and hostage situation at the “Lake House” building in downtown Colombo (Frontline, 1-14 Nov 1997). The intention of the LTTE suicide team was to cause maximum damage by exploding a truck bomb at the WTC and then prolonging the siege situation until early hours of the next morning. It is likely that future terrorist siege and hostage attacks will be a terror tactic not only to cause destruction but to extend the longevity of attack period. The attacks on Mumbai were professionally planned and executed with a high level of precision. It is evident that the attackers had received training in the use of firearms and explosives and had meticulously planned to prolong the attack period for over two days. In fact due to the incompetence of the Indian Police to meet the challenge of an urban hostage situation the attack extended for almost 60 hours. The capture of one attacker Ajmal Amir Kamal, a resident of Faridkot near Multan in Pakistan has established direct links to Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The LeT is headquartered in Muridke near Lahore and operates an elaborate network of training camps and bases in Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. It is very likely that the suicide team underwent extensive planning and training in Pakistan. The Indian intelligence monitored a satellite phone conversation between the suicide team while at mid sea and their handler in Lahore describing readiness for the attack. The Indian authorities are awaiting cooperation from Pakistan to identify the phone number. In addition the email sent identifying the group as Deccan Mujahedeen used a Russian webmail service with a translating software. The IP address relating to that email access point has been identified as a cyber café in Lahore. The planning of such an attack would require not only training but also significant assistance from local support networks. In the past the most active Muslim crime syndicate in Mumbai known as “D-Company” headed by Dawood Ibrahim provided the logistical local support for Islamist groups. It is believed that Dawood Ibrahim is currently living in exile in Karachi under the protection of the ISI. The extensive network of D Company is actively engaged in the illegal arms trade supplying terrorist groups and criminal organizations with weapons originating out of Pakistan. The LTTE has an active weapons procurement cell in Mumbai that is closely associated with the Muslim crime syndicates. In January 2007, the Maharashtra Police disrupted a LTTE procurement cell in Mumbai arresting five LTTE operatives, Sivakiran, Selvachandran, Karan, Nithin and Bharathidasan (Deccan Herald, 31 Jan 2007). The LTTE cell in Mumbai used the Muslim crime syndicates to source weapons and dual use components. Following the arrest of the LTTE cell, key members of a Muslim crime syndicate Miraj Saheb Ismail and Asgar Ali from Null Bazar were arrested with a six metric tonne consignment of dual use components for the LTTE (Rediff.Com– 27 Jan 2007). The close links the LTTE maintains with the Muslim crime syndicates in Mumbai encourage and support the informal networks that remain active for use by Islamist groups. In a recent investigation by the Enforcement Division of the Indian Tax Department it was revealed that Hassan Ali Khan, a Muslim businessman in Mumbai had received US$300 million from a suspected Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. In fact the Indian authorities prevented the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) from purchasing Standard Chartered Bank (India), as UBS did not corporate in the investigation of Hassan Ali Khan (Hindustan Times – 01 Feb 2008). Hassan Ali Khan’s business partner Adnan Khashoggi was identified by the 1991 Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Inquiry as a key weapons supplier to the LTTE. It is believed the LTTE worked with this network to procure large consignments of weapons and provided shipping facilities. The active involvement of the LTTE with Muslim crime syndicates in Mumbai provide such networks with illegal business opportunities, money laundering opportunities and encouragement to remain active in the proliferation of weapons and explosives in Mumbai. The networks that support LTTE procurement activity have experience and capacity to offer similar services to Islamist groups looking for local support operations. As seen with Dawood Ibrahim’s “D-Company” in Mumbai these syndicates do not hesitate to undertake operations for Pakistan based Islamist groups.