They May may call the next several years the “Era of Mumbai Terror.” An increasing number of counterterrorism specialists say the nature of the attack is clearly different from the South Asian norm and possibly even by any global measure. And because it is was so successful — a score of armed men holding an entire country to ransom for three days — it may become a model for the next wave of jihadi fighters.
Colonel Jonathan Fighel of Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism is among those who has pointed out that the Mumbai attacks are “unusual not only for India, but also on the international scale.” The subcontinental norm has been a “series of explosions undertaken simultaneously by radical Islamic organizations aiming to kill” masses of people. This was an “all-out offensive, with clear military hallmarks.”
The military nature of the attack is striking. Indian commandos have been interviewed as saying it was like fighting regular soldiers whose training was not unlike their own. And contrary to the common perception, the militants largely avoided the taking of hostages or using civilians as shields. The innocents were either executed or got caught in the crossfire.
Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and its ilk have over the years developed a jihadi-making process that churns out ideologically-driven cannon fodder. This attack indicates they, probably with the assistance of al-Qaeda grey matter, have shifted to quality over quantity. US intelligence sources say they rate the Mumbai attack as being more sophisticated and logistically complex than even 9/11.
Slam-bang terrorism may make way for a special forces variety.
Why would jihadi master-blasters feel the need to try a new tactic? The reason is that their cause is in the grips of its own global meltdown.
The movement’s main fighting force, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, in retreat — ironically because of attacks by infuriated Arab Sunni tribal groups. The enemies that Osama Bin Laden’s has often declared to be his number ones — the US, Israel and Britain — haven’t had their hair seriously ruffled now for several years. Al-Qaeda affiliates in Saudi Arabia, Southeast Asia and the Caucasus are subprime and falling.
It’s not as if militant Islamicism doesn’t have its bright spots. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the Maghrib are still in turmoil. But this is a far cry from 9/11. The movement is struggling to find a new clarion call and, as important, offer evidence it remains a potent force against the infidel. It is clearly flailing. The latest set of videos by Ayman al Zawahiri and Bin Laden are noteworthy for their weirdness. Comparing Barack Obama to Malcolm X or offering leftwing analyses of the world financial crisis indicate the message is in trouble.
The medium of terrorism isn’t faring too well either. Terrorism needs to show a steady stream of successes to win hearts and minds. Outside of the governance wilderness of Afghanistan, Islamicist terror is struggling against security and intelligence establishments that have surpassed it in thoroughness. Islamic terrorist groups haven’t really gone beyond the same old hijack aircraft formula. Their long awaited technological leap forward to liquid bombs, biological and chemical agents, dirty bombs and the like show no signs of ever materialising. When US presidential voters rate potholes on roads a greater concern than terrorism, it’s time for any self-respecting mujahedin to consider joining the Boy Scouts.
Mumbai 26/11, with its mix of military force and managerial nuance, may come to be seen as a major tactical shift by terrorists. Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman famously said a terrorist is an “intellectual gone bad.” The new definition may be an “MBA holder gone bad.”
India should worry. Terror attacks of such complexity are most easily detected and disrupted by a developed country which has deep pockets and efficient systems. A country like India, with a foothold in three centuries, provides both porous lines of defence and excellent, globally important targets. Rohan Gunaratne, author of Inside Al Qaeda, points out that “the world’s top four countries that suffer from terrorism are Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and India.” Take out the failed and rogue states and only India is left. Or, to put it another way, you won’t find a Chabat Lubavitch guesthouse in the other three. Other major cities are bombarding New Delhi with questions about the tactics, methods and whatnot that the attackers used. Mumbai’s terror experience, an assault that invoked Che Guevera as much as it did Sayid Qutb, may be a dry run for it is a new template of blood.