TERROR ATTACK IN MUMBAI: WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE?

On 13 July 2011, Mumbai was once again subject to a series of coordinated terror attacks, as three bombs were detonated within ten minutes of each other in the heart of India’s financial capital. At 1854hrs local time a blast occurred at the Zaveri Bazar in the south of the city; at 1855hrs a bomb was detonated at the Prasad Chambers in the Opera House area, and at 1904hrs there was an explosion in the Dadar West area in the centre of Mumbai. Thus far eighteen people have been confirmed dead, with more than eighty reported wounded. In the aftermath of the attacks, major cities have been put on alert, with a police presence being stepped up at public places including malls, cinemas, parks and transport terminals.

There was reportedly no prior warning of the attacks, and thus far there has been no claim of responsibility. For their part, the Indian authorities have been very restrained in the aftermath of these latest attacks, where in previous instances they were quick to place the blame Islamist groups, particularly those based in neighbouring Pakistan, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HuJI). Despite the moderation of the Indian authorities however, there has naturally been speculation as to which group is responsible, with immediate suspicion falling on LeT, the group responsible for the deadly attacks on 26 November 2008, which claimed the lives of 164 people in ten coordinated attacks across the city. However, at this stage it appears more likely that a domestic terror group was responsible. This hypothesis reflects the fact that the bombs used in the attacks appear to have been relatively unsophisticated ammonium nitrate based devices linked to a timer. Unconfirmed reports that four devices located elsewhere in the city failed to detonate would appear to support the conclusion that these were not the work of a highly skilled bomb maker. The type of target selected also point to the attacks being the work of a domestic rather than an international terror organisation.

In terms of both the type of device used and the targets selected, the attacks bear a resemblance to previous attacks attributed to the Indian Mujahedeen. Indian Mujahedeen is an indigenous terrorist organisation which was originally motivated by the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in the state of Gujarat. The group first emerged in 2007, before rising to prominence with an attack in Ahmedabad in July 2008. The group has further been held responsible for attacks in Jaipur, Bangalore and Delhi among others. Whilst little is known about the group, it is widely considered to be the product of the Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which previously called for the ‘liberation’ of India’s Muslims. It should be noted that the group is believed to have had some links to the LeT and HuJI.  It may be a coincidence, but the attack on 13 July 2011 coincides with the fifth anniversary of the arrest of 200 SIMI activists from different parts of Mumbai. The choice of location of the attacks on 13 July 2011, i.e. south and central Mumbai, appear to be consistent with attempts to terrorise the city’s business community, in particular from its Gujarati community.

In Mumbai itself, the attacks have been met with anger, with many questioning how, in the two and a half years since the city was subject to such devastating attacks, it can be possible that security measures have not been upgraded to a level at which such attacks cannot be prevented. Whilst in the wake of the 26/11 attacks vast sums were promised to upgrade Mumbai’s police and intelligence capabilities, many of the proposed measures were then postponed. Those projects on “indefinite hold” most notably include a plan to set up a city-wide 5,000 CCTV network.

If IM is responsible for these attacks, this is a something of a “least worst option” in terms of the implications for foreign travellers in country, as attacks carried out by this group are less likely to specifically target areas frequented by foreigners. As such, the threat to travellers is equivalent, possibly even lower, than that for the Indian population. Despite this, the threat from terrorism in India continues to be assessed as high. Even if the group responsible for this latest attack was more intent on targeting the Indian population rather than foreign travellers, there remains the risk of foreigners being caught in the carnage. Furthermore, groups which have the express aim of targeting foreigners, particularly westerners, are known to be active in India and continue to pose a significant threat. Where practicable, travellers are advised to avoid areas which attract large crowds, as well as areas popular with foreign tourists. Due to heightened security in Indian cities at the present time, particularly in Mumbai, those in country are advised to prepare to allow extra time for their journeys, particularly at transport hubs such as airports and train stations.