US President-elect Barack Obama’s main advisor on South Asian terror said he believed that the Mumbai attack was a combined Al Qaeda-Lashkar-e-Toiba operation. Terrorism experts said this would explain the non-Indian focus of some of the terrorist teams who attacked the city.
Said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute and author of The Search for Al Qaeda, “This has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda: a very sophisticated attack at multiple targets. The US, the UK and Israel are global jihadist targets, not Indian Mujahedin targets. Thorough casing is an Al Qaeda trademark.”
Riedel, an advisor to Obama’s transition team, added: “My suspicion is a joint Al Qaeda-Lashkar project. If it also creates an India-Pakistan crisis or worse, all the better for the masterminds.”
This would explain the dichotomy in the choice of targets by the terrorists. One team of terrorists indiscriminately killed Indian civilians at Victoria Terminus railway station and Cama hospital. They did not seek places frequented by foreigners. That, as well as the Pakistani Punjabi origin of the terrorists, points to Lashkar involvement.
Three other terrorist teams attacked Leopold’s café, the Oberoi and Taj hotels, and a Jewish guesthouse. These teams made the killing of Americans, Britons and Israelis as their top priorities. This reflects Al Qaeda thinking. Osama bin Laden, said G. Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Pakistan, “has long said he wishes to plant the green flag of Islam in New Delhi, Tel Aviv and Washington.”
Al Qaeda working alongside a local jihadi group is a growing norm in Islamic terrorism. Hyderabadi Muslim Abu Abdel Aziz “Barbaros” is cited by Indian officials as the militant who helped forge the ties between Al Qaeda and Lashkar.
An Afghan and Bosnia war veteran, Barbaros embraced Al Qaeda’s concept of regional jihad. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has shared details of interrogations of Al Qaeda operatives which cited Barbaros’s work in hitching Lashkar to Osama bin Laden’s international jihad.
“The ties started in early nineties have grown by leaps and bounds. Thanks to Barbaros the Lashkar for eight years has had unhindered access to Al Qaeda’s training facilities,” said a source. “Lashkar could be said carrying out attacks on Indian soil on behalf of Al Qaeda.”
Al Qaeda no longer has a sizeable body of its own fighters. It provides ideological guidance, training and ideas to groups like Lashkar. This is especially important if Al Qaeda is beginning to wean itself off its trademark, but increasingly ineffective, suicide bombings. The use of suicide fighters, as happened in Mumbai, requires personnel-heavy groups like Lashkar. Mumbai has shown how lethal is the mix. “This is a new horrible milestone in the global jihad,” said Riedel.