If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it.
The terrorist attack on Mumbai, India in November, 2008 lasted 60 hours. The fact that the attack continued for such an extended period of time with television news media focused almost continually on the events amplified the emotional impact.
A 2006 train bombing in Mumbai killed more people but the 172 people that were gunned down marked a new level of terror because of the way that ten shooters were able to move through the city without any effective response from India’s law enforcement or military for several hours. Experts studying the operation have concluded that many aspects of the attack demonstrated new tactics that should be expected in future operations.
Detailed surveillance and planning began at least as early as 2007. The attackers sailed from Karachi but, according to some accounts, at least some of the shooters had already been in the city posing as students. The ten attackers hijacked a trawler, killed the whole crew and then beheaded the captain when they got within reach of Mumbai to come ashore in two inflatable boats.
Each terrorist carried a Chinese version of the AK-47 (AK-56 automatic assault rifle) with seven 30 round magazines and 9-mm pistols with two clips. Additionally they carried 8-10 grenades each and IEDs containing RDX, ball bearings for shrapnel, and a timer. There were Heckler & Koch MP5 machine guns that may have been taken from downed Indian security personnel and accounts of prepositioned ammunition caches.
The four teams were able to keep moving and created enough confusion that the police could not seal off an area quickly enough to contain the shooters. The Indian police were totally outgunned as a result of the fact that their government does not trust the police to arm officers properly or even to provide enough ammunition for officers to practice properly. Nevertheless, whenever the shooters were confronted with armed force they moved on to other targets.
Mumbai is a financial center and contains a hub of hotels and other facilities that cater to elite businessmen and foreigners. The terrorists targeted middle class Indians and American, British and jewish travelers that normally utilize the restaurants and hotel facilities.
A two man team went to the train station and opened fire. Then they went to a hospital and began killing again. The team hijacked a police car and headed to a hotel when they were intercepted by the police. One terrorist was killed and the other captured but they caused a third of the total fatalities.
Meanwhile, a second team went to the Nariman House, a Jewish complex. This second two-man team killed eight. A third two-man team went to the Trident-Oberoi Hotel and began cutting people down with automatic weapons fire. During the 17 hours that the hotel was under siege, two terrorists killed 30 people and then were themselves killed. The fourth team was a four-man team and deployed to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Chronology of the Attack
November 26, 2008 (all times are local)
21:20 Gunfire outside the Hotel Oberoi at Nariman Point in south Mumbai.
21:20 Terrorists run into Nariman House, where they take control of the Chabad Lubavich center.
21:30 Gunfire outside the Leopold Café at Colaba in south Mumbai, about 100 meters behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
21:40 Gunfire near the Bade Miyan Café (behind the Taj Hotel in south Mumbai).
21:45 Terrorists enter Taj Hotel lobby and fire indiscriminately.
21:45 Gunfire inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Mumbai’s central train station. There are ten fatalities there.
22:30 Gunfire at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai headquarters gate 2, opposite the 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 is one of the IEDs left behind in the taxi.)
23:00 Explosion in a taxi in Mazgaon—probably the second IED left behind.
23:10 Two explosions at Napean Sea Road in south Mumbai.
23:30 Explosion at Dhobi Talao.
November 27, 2008
00:30 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 Army arrives at the Taj Hotel.
03:00 Large fire breaks out at the Taj Hotel.
09:15 Army arrives at Oberoi Hotel, storm hotel.
09:15 Security forces engage in first attempt to retake the Taj Hotel.
10:30 Security forces engage in room-to-room searches at the Taj Hotel.
17:30 NSG forces arrive at Nariman House. Helicopters begin surveillance.
November 28, 2008
07:30 NSG forces storm Nariman House.
11:00 Hostage siege ends at the Hotel Oberoi, hostages released.
11:00 NSG forces report that they have cleared the new section of the Taj Hotel.
13:00 Indian security forces report 30 people dead in one Taj Hotel hall.
18:00 Operations reported to have ceased at Nariman House. However, NDTV reports that one floor still has not been cleared.
19:45 All NSG forces emerge from Nariman House, stating that no one was found alive.
November 29, 2008
04:30 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 Indian police.
By moving constantly, the shooters eluded commandos for 60 hours. Explosions, demands to release imprisoned Muslim fighters in exchange for hostages and detailed knowledge of buildings and streets all contributed to the tactical team’s ability to sow confusion and continue moving. The attackers only attacked in areas where the security was nonexistent or very light. They used cell phones, Satellite phones and Blackberries; handlers in Pakistan provided tactical advice and urged the young men not to be taken alive and to continue killing because the prestige of Islam was at stake.
By identifying goals that exceeded anything that had occurred prior to the attack, the planners boosted LeT’s ability to recruit jihadists within India and worldwide; the organization also gained prestige within the culture of terrorism, thus grasping parity with al Qaeda. The planners, almost certainly affiliated with elements of the Pakistani government, also were attempting to destabilize the Pakistani civilian government’s relationship with the United States and other countries, including India itself. The Indian government demonstrated a complete lack of ability to protect its citizens.
Even though it had recently created an elite anti-terror force and intelligence personnel had intercepted “chatter” pertaining to an imminent attack, the information was not disseminated from the central security agencies to the local police and coast guard- at least not in a manner that local security forces could take any effective action.
The local Anti-Terrorism Squad was inadequately trained to seal off multiple attacks. The attacks were designed to create exactly the kind of confusion experienced by the first responders. Local army personnel took five hours to arrive. The elite National Security Guard, India’s most elite strike force, did not arrive for almost 10 hours. Counterterrorism experts allow 30-60 minutes from the time an incident commences but the NSG (or Black Cat Commandos) headquartered in Delhi had no aircraft and so the 200 commandos had to patch together air transportation in a helter-skelter manner.
Police officers were often seen hiding behind buildings with their heads down. Helmets and vests were substandard and many officers carried British .303 bolt-action rifles from the 1950s. Most Indian officers are only provided with 50 rounds of ammunition per year with which to practice because of corruption and a colonial mentality that deems weapons to be dangerous even in the hands of law enforcement officers.
According to a TimesOnline article, Outgunned Mumbai police hampered by First World War weapons, Dec. 3, 2008:
Most of the police involved were carrying .303s or self-loading rifles like those adopted by the British Army in the 1950s.
Some officers said that they were not given enough weapons training because of a shortage of ammunition and shooting ranges. In theory, all officers shoot 50 rounds a year in training. In practice, senior officers get their full quota with small arms.
“The rest is all bunkum,” Mr Pereira said. “It’s target practice with a .303 rifle. I wouldn’t call it suitable knowledge of weapons and their uses in urban policing.”
All those interviewed said that the issue was not money: the Government allocated £154 million for modernising the police in 2007-08 alone. The problem, they said, lay with the Home Ministry’s procurement system, which is dominated by corrupt bureaucrats and politicians rather than technical experts.
“It’s a cartel,” Mr Singh said. “The Government is spending millions, but the police isn’t getting the equipment it needs.”
Thus, India’s strict gun laws severely hampered the ability of citizens and law enforcement to protect themselves from the armed attacks.
The low-tech nature of the equipment, the drawn out horror of a paralyzed city and the prestige garnered by mass carnage ensures that such an attack is being planned in the U.S. Are we ready?