The war of civilization between the Muslims and the infidels has begun in Indian territory.
So said the first statement issued in the name of the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) in November, 2007, after three orchestrated explosions in three towns of Uttar Pradesh outside local courts.
Intelligence agencies of India as well as the US had reportedly detected chatter in the jihadi circles in Pakistan about the plans of the LeT to attempt a sea-borne terrorist strike in Mumbai.
We saw the latest round of this war in Mumbai from the night of November 26 to 29, 2008.
A group of 10 terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) of Pakistan clandestinely sailed into Mumbai from Karachi in a hijacked Indian fishing trawler, landed in an inflated rubber dinghy in the darkness of early night, launched commando-style attacks in some sea front areas of the city and targeted with frightening precision two five-star hotels preferred by the rich of the country, foreign tourists and businessmen, a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre, a railway station, a hospital and other places scattered across or near the sea front of this business capital of India.
It was not just 9/11. It was not just Madrid, March, 2004. It was not just London, July, 2005.
It was an act of terrorism the like of which the world had not seen before. It was a mix of a commando-style raid, typical of military special forces and terrorist attacks typical of the LeT. It was an operation conceived, planned and executed by a mix of military and terrorist brains.
The mind boggled as one tried to think and figure out how the terrorists could have planned and carried out terrorist strikes of such magnitude, territorial spread and ferocity without our intelligence and police having been able to get scent of it. Like what the Vietcong did during the Tet offensive in Vietnam.
Everyone connected with counter-terrorism in the Governments of India and Maharashtra was taken by surprise despite many indicators since November, 2007, that an iceberg of jihadi terrorism was on the move.
The iceberg moved from UP to Jaipur.
From Jaipur to Bangalore.
From Bangalore to Ahmedabad and Surat.
From there to Delhi.
It ultimately turned out that it was not this iceberg which hit Mumbai on November 26, 2008. It was a different iceberg, which moved directly from Karachi. Yet, in view of the repeated terrorist strikes in different parts of the country since the suburban train blasts in Mumbai in July, 2006, one would have expected the entire counter-terrorism machinery all over the country to have been in a heightened state of alert.
Particularly in Mumbai — which had seen two acts of mass casual terrorism originating from Pakistan in March, 1993 and in July, 2006. Some of the Information Technology (IT) experts of the Indian Mujahideen had also been arrested in Mumbai. Despite this, every one responsible for counter-terrorism was caught napping once again.
It was not as if no intelligence was available. Intelligence agencies of India as well as the US had reportedly detected chatter in the jihadi circles in Pakistan about the plans of the LeT to attempt a sea-borne terrorist strike in Mumbai. The Taj Mahal Hotel, which was one of the two hotels attacked, had actually figured in the list of likely targets of the LeT.
Despite this, physical security, which is the basis of effective counter-terrorism, was found wanting.
Coastal surveillance and security against likely terrorist intrusions by sea was found wanting.
Alertness in the hotels attacked was found wanting.
The 10 terrorists, who sailed from Karachi to Mumbai to spread death and destruction, maintained communications with their controlling officers in Pakistan… They were not worried over the dangers of their communications being intercepted.
The available intelligence might not have been complete in all respects, but it did provide a wake-up call, which was not heeded.
The Government of India had reacted to the repeated warning signals in the same way the Bush Administration had reacted to reports about the plans of Al Qaeda for an act of aviation terrorism in the US.
In the same way Megawati Sukarnoputri, former President of Indonesia, had reacted to reports about the activities of the Jemmah Islamiyah.
In the same way Khalida Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, had reacted to reports about the plans of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen to organize terrorist strikes in Bangladesh.
It just did nothing.
It was more interested in making peace with Pakistan than in protecting the lives and property of the people of India.
It was more interested in cultivating the so-called Muslim vote bank than in ensuring effective security for the citizens of India.
The country paid a heavy price for its inaction and ambivalence on the issue of terrorism.
One hundred and sixty-six persons — Indian civilians, brave officers and foreign nationals — paid with their lives for its inaction.
There was a big question mark over India’s counter-terrorism capability. For the first time, questions were raised abroad about the ability of the Indian State to protect the lives and property of foreign nationals.
Hundreds of Indian civilians — men, women and children — had been killed by Pakistan-sponsored and aided terrorists since 1981, when terrorism made its appearance in India in a big way with the launching of the so-called Khalistan movement by a group of terrorists in Punjab.
But hardly less than 10 foreigners had been killed by terrorists of various hues during the long history of terrorism in Indian territory — if one excludes the foreigners who died when the Babbar Khalsa blew up an aircraft of Air India (named Kanishka) off the Irish coast in June, 1985.
But more foreigners — 25 — were killed by the terrorists of the LeT in Mumbai between November 26 and 29, 2008, than the number killed by different terrorist organizations between 1981 and 2008.
It was a pre-planned and precisely executed attack on India.
It was an attack on India’s business and financial capital.
It was an attack on foreign businessmen and investors who come to India to do business.
It was an attack on Israelis and other Jewish people who feel an instinctive sympathy for India because like India, Israel too has been a major victim of a jihadi terrorism of a brutal kind.
It was their ideology emanating from mosques such as Binori in Karachi, which started motivating the post-9/11 global jihad.
It was an attack on nationals of Western countries, which were involved in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pakistan–Afghanistan region.
According to the final investigation report submitted by the Mumbai Police to the trial court, the terrorists killed six from Israel, three each from the US and Germany, two each from Canada and Australia and one each from the UK, France, Belgium, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and Mauritius.
It was a brazen attack carried out without any regard for communications security. The 10 terrorists, who sailed from Karachi to Mumbai to spread death and destruction, maintained communications with their controlling officers in Pakistan with their own telephones as well as with cellular phones, which they had seized from those held hostage by them. They were not worried over the dangers of their communications being intercepted.
They were not interested in ensuring the deniability of the Pakistani hand in the strike or of the identity of the LeT, which masterminded the attack. It was as if they wanted the entire world to know that a jihadi terrorist superstar has arrived.
As competent as Al Qaeda.
As well-motivated as Al Qaeda
As resourceful and innovative as Al Qaeda.
The world woke up with a shudder to the reality of the emergence of a new global terrorist organization, which could threaten international peace and security in the years to come.
Those who had been following the terrorist scene in Pakistan since 2002 would not have been surprised. There were enough indicators to warn that Al Qaeda was grooming the LeT to exercise the command and control of the global jihad since Al Qaeda found its movements and operational maneuverability restricted by the post 9/11 surveillance and security measures against it.
To share the leadership of the global jihad, Al Qaeda needed another organization about which the West knew little so that it could operate globally without major difficulties. The LeT footed the bill.
Till 2001, the West had looked upon the LeT as a purely Kashmir-centric organization, which threatened Indian lives and property, but not Western lives and property.
Our warnings regarding the pernicious nature of the LeT and the dangers it posed to the world were dismissed derisively as motivated by our dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.
As a result, Western intelligence agencies paid very little attention to the LeT. Even the fact that Abu Zubaidah, the then No. 3 of Al Qaeda, was arrested from a safe-house of the LeT in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab in March, 2002, did not sound a wake-up call in the West. “The LeT is India’s headache, not ours.” So they thought.
From 2003, sleeper cells of the LeT were discovered in the US, the UK, France, Australia and other countries. In subsequent months, there were traces of the LeT in Singapore. The LeT set up overseas bases in Saudi Arabia and Dubai to co-ordinate fund collection and its operations in India.
Still, the monitoring of the LeT received very low priority from the Western intelligence agencies.
But attitudes started changing after the London blasts of July, 2005. There was no evidence of any LeT involvement in the London blasts. But, the Pakistani suicide bombers, who carried out the blasts, had been trained in secret training camps in Pakistan.
Who trained them? Al Qaeda? The LeT? The Jaish-e-Mohammad? Nobody was certain. But almost all experts were convinced that a new brand of terrorists of Pakistani origin had started replacing the old brand of Arab terrorists, who spearheaded the pre-2005 global jihad.
It was no longer only the Salafis of the Arab world, who had to be feared. It was also the Wahabised Deobandis and Ahle Hadiths of Pakistan. It was their ideology emanating from mosques such as Binori in Karachi, which started motivating the post-9/11 global jihad.
We in India had known this for quite some time, but not the experts and policy-makers of the West. Our warnings regarding the pernicious nature of the LeT and the dangers it posed to the world were dismissed derisively as motivated by our dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir. The LeT was seen merely through the Kashmir prism.
The world was surprised and shocked. So were we despite our extensive knowledge of the LeT.
But some started taking the LeT more seriously. They began seeing it as a global threat and not a threat directed merely at India.
The first evidence of this change in the attitude to the LeT was noticed at a special session on the London blasts organized during the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism of Herzliya, Israel, in September, 2005. I was invited to be one of the speakers in the session. I could hardly believe my ears as I heard some of the speakers drawing attention to the dangers posed by the LeT.
On my return from Herzliya, I wrote as follows: “India is no longer alone in the fight against the LeT… Other countries of the world have been paying increasing attention to the activities of the pro-Al Qaeda Pakistani jihadi terrorist organizations such as the LeT, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Indian territory and their implications for their national security. This became evident during the fifth International Conference on the Global Impact of Terrorism organized by the world-famous Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of Herzliya, Israel, from September 11 to 14, 2005. In his introductory remarks at the Panel on September 14, 2005, Mr. Shabtai Shavit, former Director-General of the MOSSAD, the Israeli external intelligence agency, made a reference to the activities of the LeT in the context of the international fight against Al Qaeda and Dr. Bruce Hoffman, who is considered the world’s leading authority on Al Qaeda, inter alia, highlighted the role and the activities of the LeT during his presentation.”
After 2005, the world was no longer unaware of the potential and threat of the LeT as a global terrorist organization following in the footsteps of Al Qaeda. But even this growing awareness had not prepared India and the rest of the world for the kind of complex, multi-target, multi-modus operandi commando style attack that the LeT carried out in Mumbai in November, 2008.
The world was surprised and shocked. So were we despite our extensive knowledge of the LeT.
The LeT’s evolution from a sub-continental to a global jihadi terrorist organization was there for all the world to see as people saw with shock and disbelief live transmissions of the terrorist strikes on their TV screens with live commentaries by TV reporters.