The Terrorist Attack on Mumbai in November 2008 and Its Broader Lessons

NADKARNI PICMajor-General Ranjit Nadkarni …. an essay drafted in 2009 but since re-worked

TAJMAHAL -Reuters- Arko Dattxa The Tajmahal Hotel in the limelight — Reuters- Arko Dattxa


  1. The Mumbai Massacre is a distinct watershed in the history of terrorist incidents and is indeed a unique happening. Never before in recent times, was there a direct execution like multiple killing of innocent civilians by gun toting ruthless terrorists. The method utilised by the dastardly terrorists was chilling in the extreme and the selection of locations/targets discriminatory in conception. Gunning down people from nominated countries, religions and ethnic groups has sent a sobering and daunting message to the civilised world, especially to democratic nations. Are we to see more of such incidents? How does a country orchestrate its defence against such attacks? It is, therefore, absolutely essential for every professional in the Counter Terrorism Field to dispassionately examine and analyse this very sad attack to draw correct lessons in order to be well prepared to protect our population.
  2. Mumbai is unique in its location and in the fact that it is an island located very close to the Indian Mainland. It is a thriving major international port and also home to a large fishery business. This, coupled with the fact that there are a large number of tourist ferry boats makes the number of boats, fishing trawlers, ferries and country craft almost impossible to check and monitor. Mumbai also has a large number of places where boats can land with impunity, especially by night. The geography of this city is such that it is very narrow at its Southern End and stretches Northwards in a linear manner. The Southern End is also what we in Australia would term as the CBD. It also houses the area where the rich and famous live as well as it contains the Army/ Navy Cantonment. These were the reasons for selecting this area as the target.
  3. The terrorists selected targets which had a concentration of population in a confined space and which were very soft in their make up. The prime aim was to cause maximum casualties in the minimum time. The targets were also to have a proportion of people from the Western World. There is no doubt that the terrorist group was highly motivated, very well trained and had detailed knowledge of the targets. It cannot be called a suicide attack-indeed it was a classic commando raid. In the aftermath, the whole world is trying to study the incident-consider that there are teams from Interpol, FBI, Mossad, AFP/ASIS/ASIO, Scotland Yard and some more unnamed ones in Mumbai from the day of the incident onwards. There is no doubt that reports and papers will be written by the dozen but most of them will not be circulated. There is, therefore, a need for academicians and professionals, who can only rely on media reports to draw lessons and promulgate these for posterity. These can also be utilised, at the macro level to derive benefit for homeland security.



  1. The chronology was:-
  • 21:20 on 26 Nov- gunfire at the Hotel Oberoi.
  • 21:20 -Terrorists run into Nariman House and control of the Chabad Lubavich Centre.
  • 21:30- gunfire outside the Leopold Café at Colaba.
  • 21:40- gunfire near the Bade Miyan Café (behind the Taj Mahal Hotel).
  • 21:45 -Terrorists enter Taj Hotel lobby and fire indiscriminately.
  • 21:45 -gunfire inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).
  • 22:35- gunfire at Gokuldas Hospital, near the CST.
  • 22:40-gunfire at the Cama & Albless Hospital, near the CST.
  • 22:50-gunfire at the Metro Theatre (Metro Cinema Junction).
  • 23:00- explosion in a taxi in Vile Parle in north Mumbai. (This was one of the IEDs left behind in the taxi.)
  • 23:00 -explosion in a taxi in Mazgaon (probably the second IED left behind).
  • 00:30 on 27 Nov- gunfire after a police van was hijacked at Dhobi Talao.
  • 01:00- immense blast in the Taj Hotel, possibly caused by two grenades.
  • 02:00- Security Forces arrive at the Taj Hotel.
  • 03:00- large fire breaks out at the Taj Hotel.
  • 09:15- Security Forces arrive at Oberoi Hotel, storm hotel.
  • 09:15 -Security Forces start attempt to retake the Taj Hotel.
  • 10:30 -Security Forces start room-to-room searches at the Taj Hotel.
  • 17:30-National Security Guard (NSG) arrives at Nariman House.
  • 07:30 on 28 Nov- NSG storms Nariman House.
  • 11:00- hostage siege ends at the Hotel Oberoi, hostages released.
  • 11:00- NSG reports that they have cleared the new section of the Taj Hotel.
  • 13:00- Security Forces report 30 people dead in one Taj Hotel hall.
  • 18:00 -operations reported to have ceased at Nariman House.
  • 19:45- NSG emerges from Nariman House, stating that no one was found alive.
  • 04:30 on 29 Nov -gunfire and explosions heard at the Taj Hotel.
  • 07:30 -fire breaks out on the lower floors of the Taj Hotel.
  • 08:50 -Taj Hotel hostage siege declared over, according to police.
  1. The 2008 Mumbai attacks were a series of ten coordinated terrorist attacks across Mumbai, India‘s financial capital and its largest city. The attacks, carried out by a Pakistan-based terrorist group using automatic weapons and grenades, began on 26 November 2008 and ended on 29 November 2008. At least 173 people were killed and at least 308 were injured in the attacks. Eight of the attacks occurred in South Mumbai: at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, the Orthodox Jewish-owned Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and a lane behind the Times of India building behind St. Xavier’s College. There was also an explosion at the Mazagaon docks in Mumbai’s port area, and a taxi blast at Vile Parle.

map of mumbai


  1. The attackers traveled by sea from Karachi, Pakistan, across the Arabian Sea to Mumbai. They entered via speed boats that were on board trawlers. The trawlers left Pakistan and stopped at Porbandar, India, before landing in Mumbai. The first events were detailed around 20:00 IST on 26 November, when 10 Urdu-speaking men ininflatable speedboats came ashore at two locations in Colaba. They reportedly told local Marathi-speaking fishermen to “mind their business” before they split up and headed two different ways; the fishermen’s subsequent report to police received little response. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was attacked by two terrorists, one of whom, Ajmal Amir Kasab was later caught alive by the police. The attacks began here around 21:20, when two terrorists armed with AK-47 rifles entered the passenger hall, opened fire and threw grenades, killing at least ten people.
  2. Two hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Oberoi Trident, were amongst the four locations targeted. Two terrorists held fifteen hostages, including seven foreigners, in the Taj Mahal hotel. CNN reported at 23:00 that the hostage situation at the Taj had been resolved and quoted the police chief of Maharashtra state as saying that all hostages were freed; however, it was later learned that there were still hostages in the hotel. Forty people were being held as hostages in the Oberoi Trident hotel. Six blasts were reported to have taken place at the Taj hotel and one at the Oberoi Trident.


 Nariman House, a Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center in Colaba known as the Mumbai Chabad House, was taken over by two terrorists and several residents were held hostage. The house was stormed by NSG commandos and, after a long battle, the two terrorists were killed. However, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah Holtzberg (who was six months pregnant) were murdered with other hostages inside the house by the terrorists. According to one report, Nariman House, not the Taj Mahal Hotel, was the prime target on November 26 and The Mumbai crime branch, which is investigating the terror attacks, has found that the terrorists’ handlers in Pakistan were clear this operation should not fail under any circumstances. The rest of the operations – at the Taj, Oberoi and Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus – were intended to amplify the effect.

Nariman house Nariman House

  1. By the morning of the 27th of November, the army had secured the Jewish outreach center at Nariman House as well as the Oberoi Trident hotel and incorrectly believed that the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers had also been cleared of terrorists. The fires were out and soldiers were leading hostages and holed-up guests to safety, and removing bodies of those killed in the attacks. However, later news reports indicated that there were still two or three terrorists in the Taj, with explosions heard and gunfire exchanged. Fires were also reported as having been caused at the ground floor of the Taj with plumes of smoke arising from the first floor. The final operation at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel was completed by the National Security Guards at 08:00 on 29 November, killing three terrorists and resulting in the conclusion of the attacks. The security forces rescued 250 people from the Oberoi, 300 from the Taj and 60 people (members of 12 different families) from Nariman House.

Commandoes at nariman - Reuters-Stringer Commandoes in process of assault on Pakistani Terrorist who had seized Narriman House — Reutere via a stringer

Salient Features

  1. Ten terrorists took part in the attacks, nine of whom were subsequently shot dead by security forces. They looked young, in their early twenties, and wore T-shirts, black shirts, and jeans. Some witnesses have even said that they smiled and looked happy as they shot their victims. Initially, some reports claimed that there were British among the terrorists. However, Indian police have stated that there was no evidence to confirm this. On 9th December, the ten attackers and their home towns in Pakistan were identified by Mumbai police: Ajmal Amir from Faridkot, Abu Ismail Dera Ismail Khan from Dera Ismail Khan, Hafiz Arshad and Babr Imran from Multan, Javed from Okara, Shoaib from Narowal, Nazih and Nasr from Faisalabad, Abdul Rahman from Arifwalla, and Fahad Ullah from Dipalpur Taluka. Dera Ismail Khan is in the North-West Frontier Province, the rest of the towns are in Pakistani Punjab.The terrorists had planned the attack several months ahead of time and knew some areas well enough to “vanish” and reappear after security forces had left. Several sources have quoted Kasab telling the police that the group received help from local Mumbai residents. The terrorists used at least three SIM cards purchased on the Indian side of the border with Bangladesh, pointing to some local collusion.There are also reports of one SIM card purchased in New Jersey, USA]. Police have also mentioned that Faheem Ansari, an Indian Lashkar operative who has been arrested in February 2008, has scouted the Mumbai targets for the November attacks. Later, the police arrested two Indian suspects, Mikhtar Ahmad, who is from Srinagar in Kashmir and Tausif Rehman, a resident of Kolkata. They supplied the SIM cards, one in Calcutta, and the other in New Delhi. Blood tests on the terrorists indicate that they consumed cocaine and LSD during the attacks, to sustain their energy and stay awake for 50 hours. Police says that they found syringes on the scenes of the attacks. There were also indications that they had been consuming steroids. Each man carried a weapons pack: a Kalashnikov, a 9-millimeter pistol, ammunition, hand grenades and a bomb containing a military-grade explosive, steel ball bearings and a timer with instructions inscribed in Urdu.

by Sebatain d'souza = AP Mumbai mirror Mohammed_Ajmal_Kasab at the railway station —  Pix by Sebastian D’Souza for Mumbai Mirror

taj -Lorenzo Tugnolief--AFPbomb ba;st --Reuters Bomb blast impact on street- Reuters

taj -Lorenzo Tugnolief--AFP People seek escape from Tajmahal –Pix by Lorenzo Tugnolief- AFP

10. Ten IEDs were given to the terrorists, each weighing 19 kilograms and having 4-5 kilograms of RDX. Seven were used by the terrorists and three were later diffused. The 9 mm pistols bore the markings of a company from Peshawar, Pakistan. The hand grenades were said to have been manufactured in Pakistan by Army Ordnance Factories having a license from an Austrian Firm. A satellite phone and a GPS were also recovered. It is learnt, that, initially 32 persons were selected for training and were imparted training in handling AK rifles, firing, grenades and IEDs. The group was reduced to 13 persons of whom 6 were sent to Kashmir. Later, 3 persons joined the group making a total of 10 who came to Mumbai.

11 . The major aspect of note is the sheer level of organisation that went into the whole operation, including detailed reconnaissance and planning, sophisticated logistics and excellent training. Moreover, the attackers were prepared to die, not in the manner of suicide-bombers but in sustained operations that could be expected to last for at least several days. It was a complicated, multipart operation. By dispersing into separate teams and moving from target to target, the terrorists were able to sow confusion and create the impression of a greater number of attackers. The explosive devices that would go off after the terrorists departed heightened the confusion. The multiple attacks at different locations prevented the authorities from developing an overall assessment of the situation. Media reports consistently overestimated what we now know to be the actual size of the attacking force. The security forces probably had similar difficulties, complicated further by the inevitable erroneous reports that accompany the response to any terrorist event. The small size of the individual attack teams—two to four men—limited their capability in any firefight with security forces. Upon confronting any serious return fire, as they eventually did at the train station, for example, they broke off contact and moved on to another target.

Overall Assessment

  1. The masterminds of the Mumbai terrorist attack displayed innovative thinking in their choice of targets and tactics and the attack seems to have been designed to cause shock, paralysis and horror. The Mumbai tragedy shows that a bunch of people can terrorise a country using Ak-47 and grenades. No nuclear weapons or high-tech weapons can defeat that. We have to rethink the way we fight terrorism. The entire gamut of counter terrorism will have to shift towards combating an army type of culture rather than a police type of operation where in levels of violence will be more and widespread. This incident should also sound a wake up call to countries who perceive that terrorist threat to them is minimal because the terrorist reach has increased considerably.



  1. Indicators of an Intelligence Failure.      There is no doubt that there was an intelligence failure, highlighted by the following indicators:-
  • Indian intelligence officials received prior warning both from the United States that a major attack was probable, but lack of specific information seems to have caused an intelligence inertia.
  • A letter from the Secretary of the Mumbai Fisherman’s Association to the police about the presence of a trawler carrying unusual cargo, was ignored.
  • Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) are known to have intercepted “chatter” about a possible LET seaborne attack on Mumbai through their Signal Intercepts. This does not seem to have been shared with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Coast Guard and the local police.
  • In February 2008, a suspected terrorist, arrested in northern

India was found to possess drawings of various sites in Mumbai, some of which were targets in the November 2008 attack. The targets included the Taj Hotel and the Bombay Stock Exchange (which had been a terrorist target in 1993). The apprehended suspect indicated that he had begun his reconnaissance in late 2007.

  1. Multiciplity of Intelligence Agencies.          The muddle created by the lack of coordination and fragmented responsibility of various intelligence agencies involved is clearly responsible for the intelligence fiasco which unfolded. Consider how the following can ever work:-
  • R&AW is responsible for external intelligence only.
  • IB is responsible for internal intelligence and counter intelligence only.
  • Military Intelligence is responsible for all operational intelligence.
  • Navy intelligence and Coast Guard is responsible for seaborne and littoral intelligence.
  • Mumbai CID and Counter Terrorist Squad is responsible for local intelligence.
  1. Lack of Coordination.          The government in New Delhi steadfastly maintains a wall of separation between various intelligence agencies like the one that used to separate the FBI and CIA before the Patriot Act, The result is a lack of coordination among the intelligence agencies and a culture of one-upmanship which inhibits sharing of intelligence horizontally and in time. The author of this paper can personally vouch for this, having seen it at close quarters in the Kashmir Valley.
  2. Onus of Responsibility.         The ultimate result of having multifarious agencies and fragmented intelligence tasking is that at the time of the Mumbai Massacre, the onus of responsibility of an intelligence failure or inaction fell on no single agency and such a catastrophic drawback went unpunished. Some heads should have rolled in the intelligence community- alas; the National Security Advisor tendered his resignation!

Special Forces (NSG)

  1. Location.        NSG is located only at New Delhi and this hampers its deployment, as was the case during this incident. In the past, there have been many terrorist situations such as the second clearance of the Golden Temple (OP BLACK THUNDER), the terror attack on Akshadham Temple in Ahmedabad and at least half a dozen instances in Kashmir when the location of NSG proved to be faulty and yet no action was taken to pre position the force at numerous locations. The NSG comprises the Special Protection Group (SPG) and the Special Action Group (SAG) – of which the SPG, meant for VIP security could have remained in New Delhi but the SAG which is the specialist counter terror and anti hijacking component should have been deployed at six/seven locations. This is tactically feasible as the SAG is organised on army lines and a team (company) can independently operate. Following criticism of the time it took the NSG to arrive in Mumbai, the government of India has announced that additional base units will be set up in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad.
  2. Response Timings.           It was not until 08:50 hours on 27 November that the NSG, reached Mumbai and initial search-and-rescue operations were mounted some 30 minutes later, and it is only at that point that the terrorists could seriously be considered engaged. The slow response of the NSG is especially noteworthy given its mandate to act as the country’s premier rapid-reaction force. This underscores two main problems- one already highlighted is its location and the second one is that it has no aircraft of its own and cannot count on dedicated access to Indian Air Force or civil aircraft in an emergency. The only plane that was available to transport 200 commandos to Mumbai was an Air Force IL-76 from in Chandigarh, which is 165 miles south of Delhi. The pilot had to be awakened, a crew assembled, and the plane fueled. The aircraft did not reach Delhi until 02:00 hours (five hours after the attacks began and most of the killing had been done) and took roughly 3.5 hours to reach Mumbai(compared to just two hours for a commercial jet). According to various counterterrorism experts, any rapid-reaction force must reach the scene of a terrorist incident no later than 30–60 minutes after it has commenced.
  3. Hostage Rescue Strategy.  In several respects, the NSG hostage rescue plans for the Taj Mahal and Trident-Oberoi Hotels had some defects. Teams went into operations without any knowledge of the basic layout of either of the two buildings. Both hotels were designated “clear” when terrorists were still alive; room-to-room sweeps were hampered by insufficient intelligence on the numbers of hostages being held and the profile of the militants involved; and the possibility for a surprise raid under cover of darkness was ruled out because civilian casualties could occur. The Author’s  experience in Kashmir is that when terrorists take over a building, it is best to announce  an evacuation and mount a raid simultaneously, giving no time to the terrorists to re deploy or take counter action. Casualties, in any case, had occurred long before the NSG had arrived. Furthermore, the NSG did not establish any command and control centre for senior officers to direct operations and it was a pathetic sight to see the NSG Director General addressing the Media on a street in Mumbai.
  4. Training and Equipment.         It is a fallacy to believe some reports that the NSG did not have night vision devices and some other essential equipment. It has the most sophisticated weapons and equipment available in the world market and its profile is comparable to the SAS and GSG 9. The SAG which is the strike arm of the NSG is manned entirely by very select volunteer officers and men of the Indian Army, on deputation to the NSG. Their training and motivation are of the highest order as is borne out by their operational record, Two of them (an officer and a NCO), were awarded India’s highest civil gallantry award (equivalent of George Cross), on 26 January 2009, for bravery displayed during the operations in Mumbai.

Police Performance

  1. Initial Reactions.    The early responding police forces simply failed to properly identify the attackers, to isolate and neutralise them. The terrorists made difficult targets because they were trained to kill and keep moving, and they may have booby-trapped rooms, buildings, and bodies. They were difficult to distinguish from ordinary civilians. Nevertheless, when a gunman starts to shoot civilians, that is an unmistakable giveaway, and an organized tactical squad must be able to pinpoint each perpetrator, track them, pin them down, and neutralise them. The first responding police forces signally failed to do so in Mumbai. This is elementary small unit tactics.
  2. Training and Equipment.        The Mumbai attacks very graphically illustrated how ill prepared the Maharashtra police were to handle a major terrorist incident. Manypolice officers remained passive, seemingly because they were outgunned by the terrorists. The bulletproof vests that were available could not withstand AK-47 or AK-56 rounds as is evident from the fact that three of the police officers died from bullets penetrating their vests. Many officers had only been issued 5-mm-thick plastic protectors that were suitable for riot control but not for engaging terrorists. Helmets were of World War II vintage and not designed for modern combat, and most of the responding detachments involved in the incidents were carrying .303 Rifles. The metal detectors at the Central Rail Terminus were of questionable reliability, and, although the Railway Protection Force (RPF) officers were armed, their weapons were also antiquated and in short supply (one for every two officers). The attacks also underscored the limitations of the police in terms of training for counterterrorism.

Although the force has the ability to fend off common criminals, it is completely lacking in training to deal with a well-orchestrated terrorist attack.

Coastal Surveillance and Defence

  1. The attacks highlighted India’s inability to effectively monitor its coastline—a condition that is common to many littoral states in both the developing and the developed world. Although, there was information about a possible terrorist landing by sea, whatever measures were taken proved insufficient to monitor maritime traffic in and around Mumbai. This failure would seem to reflect the coast guard’s shortage of equipment for coastal surveillance: fewer than 100 boats for more than 5,000 miles of shoreline and minimal aviation assets. Although the central government has set aside funds for the purchase of 26 additional vessels to patrol the country’s coastal states, Maharashtra State (of which Mumbai is the capital) refused them on the grounds that it lacked the funds necessary for maintenance.
  2. There is some speculation as to whose responsibility it was to tackle likely terrorist threat from the sea. In peacetime, coastal defence is the responsibility of the Coast Guard-functioning independently of the Indian Navy, albeit it concerns smugglers and illegal entrants into the country. Armed threat is said to be the responsibility of the Indian Navy-perhaps this is a game of blame shifting. What stands out is the lesson to be learnt of lack coastal surveillance and failure of coastal defence, irrespective of whose responsibility it was meant to be.  Following the incident, it has been announced that a coastal command is to be established to secure India’s 7500 kilometre long coastline.

Functioning of Emergency Services

  1. Ambulance and fire services responded piecemeal and in an ad hoc manner-there was no plan for their concerted deployment-or so it seemed. They were also not geared to function under threat of gunfire or explosions. They also failed to coordinate their actions with both the local police and national security forces and suffered from inadequate equipment. These limitations underscore the poor quality of municipal services even in a major, bustling, economically vibrant city such as Mumbai. The fire in Taj Mahal Hotel raged unabated till the firemen were assured that there was no danger to their life. It is rather surprising that neither the Army nor the Navy was asked to deploy their fire tenders and ambulances-they are trained to function under fire.

Crisis Management

  1. India does have an elaborate crisis management plan-formulated after the terrorist attack on the Parliament but it is only at the national level. In the Mumbai Massacre, there was no semblance of a crisis management plan-consider the following:-
  • The state home minister was in another state when the problem started-he was contacted on the phone for deployment of the NSG-he in turn spoke to the union home minister who asked for the strength to be dispatched-the answer was 200 men-no relationship to the threat or to a tactical unit.
  • Local contingents of the army arrived at the scene of the attacks at 02:50 hours; a full five hours after the first shots had been fired. The first “special response” team, the Marine Commandos (Marcos), arrived a little later, but the unit was pulled out before engaging any of the terrorists
  • Senior police officers such as the head of the ATS, charged headlong into the fray, only to be gunned down-proof of lack of any crisis management plan.
  • Nobody thought it necessary to declare the city to a disturbed area-it needed an ordnance signed by the governor-it would have paved the way to overcome legal problems.
  1. There was a public outcry after the massacre regarding the lack of crisis management and an unprecedented public interest lawsuit has been filed against the government charging that it failed to discharge its constitutional duty to protect the country’s citizenry and uphold their right to life. Compare this with what happened in New York- Mayor Giuliani established a command post near Ground Zero, and kept in personal touch with first responders as the disaster unfolded. That should theoretically not be necessary, but to coordinate different agencies, with (at that time) different communication systems, competing jurisdictions, and different tactical procedures may require ad hoc control by political, police or military leaders. The failure of first responders in Mumbai suggests that competing command centers were unable for some days to establish a coherent chain of command, communication, and control.

Command and Control

  1. This was the most important lesson to be learnt from the incident. The Indian Government has clearly laid down the command and control arrangement for such a situation-to quote- “Whenever the functioning of two or more Armed Forces is involved, there should be no ambiguity whatsoever, in the chain of operational command. Thus, where the Army is involved, the senior most Army Officer should have the clear responsibility and authority for all operational planning and execution“. Therefore, in Mumbai, where the Army, NSG and the Police were involved in operations, the senior most army officer should have been in command.
  2. The senior officers involved in the operations were The Southern Army Commander, Director General NSG and the Police Commissioner of Mumbai. Logically and in keeping with the laid down norms, the Southern Army Commander should have been controlling operations but in actual fact, all three forces were operating independently. The net result was that on international TV one saw all three senior officers making conflicting statements about the clearance of the Taj Mahal Hotel. The lack of a correct chain of command/control also precipitated a scenario where in there were serious breaches of security which provided the terrorists with vital operational intelligence. Major criticism was directed at a cabinet minister on the first day of the crisis, after he announced that 200 NSG commandos were to be deployed in the area in two hours. Not only did this alert the terrorists as to when a hostage rescue mission might occur, it also effectively confirmed that no units had yet been mobilised.

Media Management

  1. During the incident, Media Management provided a lesson in how things should not be done. Nobody realised for a full 24 hours that the terrorists in the two hotels were coolly watching numerous Indian TV channels, BBC and CNN to gain valuable intelligence on the operational situation.  According to Indian authorities, the terrorists were in frequent contact with their handlers, presumably based in Pakistan, during the attack. In the transcripts of these phone calls, intercepted by Indian authorities handlers in Pakistan urged the attackers on, exhorting them to kill, reminding them that the prestige of Islam was at stake, and giving them tactical advice that, in part, was gleaned from watching live coverage of the event on television. All this would have been avoided if some control was exercised over interviews and movement of media persons.
  2. The terrorists also talked to the news media via cell phones to make demands in return for the release of their hostages. This led Indian authorities to think that they were dealing with a hostage situation, which further confounded their tactical response. It also imposed undue caution on the NSG operations. There was no attempt to hold a proper press conference or briefings; one just saw senior officers shooting their mouths off in an ad hoc manner at road corners and in front of hotel facades. No heed was paid to the language used and throughout the crisis, the central government and security forces failed to project an image of control, with the words like “chaos” and “paralysis” used repeatedly to describe events as they unfolded. All in all, it was a pathetic attempt at Media Management and resulted in an adverse psychological impact.

Legal Provisions

  1. India has always had a difficult time in passing acts and legal provisions to handle insurgency/terrorism, solely because of the public out cry against any draconian measures. In the past, acts like “Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act” and “Prevention of Terrorist Activities”, have been repealed. Consequently, there has been too much emphasis on privacy depriving security agencies of essential tools–surveillance, interrogation, detention-necessary to maintain security.
  2. The Mumbai Massacre has made people realize the necessity to have the basic legal framework in place to counter terrorist activities and India’s lower house (Lok Sabha) approved new anti-terror legislation; it was approved by the upper house (Rajya Sabha) the next day. The new Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act provides new powers to the security services, including the ability to hold suspects for six months without charges. It also makes provisions to establish a National Investigative Agency that will be responsible for investigating terrorism and gathering and processing intelligence.

Protection and Security

  1. The Mumbai attack demonstrates the determination of the terrorists to seek high body counts, go after iconic targets, and cause economic damage. Gone are the days of vehicle bombs and suicide bombers. The terrorists will continue to demonstrate tactical adaptability, which will make it difficult to plan security measures around past threats or a few threat scenarios. A holistic look will have to be taken of protection and security. A few important aspects which will govern such measures are:-
  • Screening barriers/equipment must be some distance away from the structure being protected.
  • Vehicular access must be curtailed.
  • All future construction should take in to account security considerations.
  • Develop pre planned response strategies to any threat.
  • Protection and security will have to be given importance over delay and discomfort.
  • In any city, all iconic institutions and soft targets must be identified and “hardened”.

Terrorist Tactics

  1. The Mumbai Massacre has clearly shown that terrorists are now moving towards sophisticated thinking in their choice of targets and tactics. The attack appears to have been designed to achieve many political objectives. This indicates a level of strategic thought and culture that makes this kind of terrorist foe particularly dangerous. Given that the terrorists seek to maximize the psychological impact of the attacks, we can expect that future attacks will aim at both large-scale casualties and symbolic targets.
  2. The characteristics of future terrorist strikes are likely to be:-
  • They will do the unexpected-no car bombs and suicide bombers.
  • The likely targets will be soft and places of congestion.
  •  Iconic institutions are likely to be potential targets.
  •  Dependence on firearms assault and commando type of raids.
  •  Insertion from outside the country rather than using local cadres.
  •  Prolonged multiple strikes as opposed to a single strike.


Terrorist Threat and Seaborne Attack

  1. With the Mumbai attack, LET has demonstrated that it has the ability and the will to internationalise its targets. It now has now assumed a larger role in the larger terrorist landscape and is believed to have considerable reach into Pakistani Diaspora population, raising a number of concerns for countries with Pakistani expatriate communities. Add to this the threat from the Taliban/Al Qaida, and Australia has to accept that it is one of the important terrorist targets for futuristic operations. There is also a potent threat from the hard line groups in Indonesia and Philippines, like the Jamaat Islamic. The present complacency over counter terrorism must end-the thinking at high levels indicates otherwise-to quote an example-the ASIO Website states-“compared to many other countries, Australia faces a lower overall level of security threat”.
  2. Australia’s vulnerability to a seaborne attack cannot be over emphasized. The coast line is huge and long-the beaches and landing places are innumerable and whether we accept or not; surveillance is not anywhere near fool proof. Add to this the large number of small boats and craft around the coast line and the daily traffic; the picture is not good. Recently, there was a case of an under world figure slipping out of the country easily and there are numerous cases of so called ”boat” people attempting to land. Almost all of the state capitals are on the coast, further compounding the problem. Therefore, even though it may sound alarmist and un palatable, Australia faces an imminent seaborne terrorist threat or so should our hypothesis of security be. A review is needed to study surveillance of our coastline and assign/coordinate responsibility between the Navy, Coast Guard and other maritime agencies.

Intelligence Setup

  1. Australia’s intelligence setup strongly resembles what India’s setup is and thus faces the same draw backs. Consider the details:-
  • ASIO’s Mission is to identify and investigate threats to security and provide advice to protect Australia, its people and its interests. This is akin to India’s IB.
  • ASIS is Australia’s overseas secret intelligence collection agency. Their mission is to protect and promote Australia’s vital interests through the provision of intelligence services as directed by Government. This is akin to India’s R&AW.
  • DIO is an intelligence assessment agency and is responsible for assessing military intelligence that focuses on global security activity, terrorism, defence economics, military capabilities, and science and technology that has military applications. This is akin to India’s Military Intelligence.
  • AFP and each state police have their own intelligence setup, the same as in India.
  1. Much as one would like to believe that coordination is better in Australia, an analysis of the missions/roles of the intelligence setup shows that it suffers from the same problems of overlap, ambiguity and liability of mix-up that surfaced during the Mumbai Incident, and, therefore needs urgent attention to reorganise it. These problems are not unique to India. They were also identified in post-9/11 inquiries as limiting the effectiveness of the US government’s response to the September 11 attacks. The way to go is establish a National Investigation/Intelligence Agency that will be responsible for investigating terrorism and gathering and processing intelligence.

Special Forces

  1. Australia has a well trained army special force component for commando operations and strikes like what is being done in Afghanistan but it is not trained adequately to meet situations arising out of terrorist situations like the Mumbai massacre. The anti terrorist squads of the AFP and state police are adequate in policing normal terrorist situations but it is for consideration that neither of these can deal with fire assaults, raids, hostage situations and laying siege to holed out well armed and determined terrorists. There is, hence, an urgent need to raise a specialized counter terrorist force on the lines of GSG9 or NSG and train/equip it to meet catastrophic terrorist situations. The existing army and police forces can be utilised as a nucleus but what is required are volunteers of a very high calibre. This force must be directly linked to the new National Investigation/Intelligence Agency and should have teams located in each state capital.

Crisis Management and Command / Control

  1. The existing command and control setup or liaison type relationship will not prove to be adequate in a Mumbai like situation. USA has raised a new homeland security setup as also India is in the process of doing so. A national command authority with the National Investigation/Intelligence Agency and the envisaged new special force must form part of it. This authority should be part of the Prime Minister’s Office and should have direct linkage with the State Premiers. The control need not be army based and could be a separate independent entity.

Target Profiles

  1. Australia has, perhaps, the softest target profiles existing anywhere. One has to only look around to discern how easy it would be for a terrorist group to launch its operations. To exemplify, Melbourne CBD abounds in five star hotels with no protective measures and very little space to implement these if one wants to. Thickly populated places like Crown Plaza, Flinders Street and Southern Cross Stations are in close proximity to each other and bear resemblance to the area of South Mumbai. All capital cities have similar profiles and there is an urgent necessity to look at the protection and security profiles of all CBDs and airports. The author does not wish to sound alarmist but prevention is better than cure.


  1. The following recommendations are made in the Australian Context:-
  • Reorganisation and re vamping of the intelligence setup.
  • Re structuring and training of a specialized counter terrorism task force located in all state capitals.
  • Better coordination of emergency services and a look at their protective equipment.
  • Establishment of a National Command Authority for counter terrorism.
  • Convening of a study group to analyse target profiles and recommend “Hardening” measures.
  • A review of coastline surveillance to optimise coverage and viability.
  • A discreet study and continued monitoring of the Diaspora of various ethnic groups who are likely to provide even tacit support to likely terrorist organizations.
  • A fresh look at the legal existing provisions available for counter terrorism.


  1. The 26/11 terrorist carnage in Mumbai is a watershed landmark in terrorism and has radically changed the entire outlook of counter terrorism professionals. No country is safe or less prone to a terrorist strike and future incidents will be intense and bloody. The days of single suicide bombers and vehicle laden with explosives seems to be on the wane. Attacks with automatic weapons, grenades and IEDs in form of commando type raids and sudden strikes may gain ascendancy over the earlier forms of terrorist activity. Gunning down people from nominated countries, religions and ethnic groups has sent a sobering and daunting message to the civilised world, especially to democratic nations.
  2. The city of Mumbai did not suffer more casualties than it did in earlier terrorist attacks or when compared to what happened in London or Madrid. What it has suffered is an almost crippling psychological body blow in its ability to withstand such attacks and to the faith people have in the government/democratic way of life. The rest of the world including Australia has to learn from the lessons and dispassionately examine one’s own ability to combat such situations.


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