When a group of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists rampaged through the streets of Mumbai for nearly three days in November 2008, they provided a template for brazen coordinated attacks in urban areas that has been used by groups such as the Islamic State and al-Shabaab in subsequent years.
As Paris was hit by a series of attacks on Friday that claimed 127 lives, security experts were quick to notice the similarities with Mumbai.
“The attackers in Paris seem to be very familiar with the area. And what is worrisome is how they got access to arms. That also shows there is a limitation to every kind of surveillance and security,” said AS Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency.
V Balachandran, former special secretary of the cabinet secretariat, who was part of a commission that inquired into the 26/11 attacks, noted the similarities in the modus operandi and the targets. “If we have to see the mindset of the terrorists...it is very evident the assassins had come to die like the terrorists during the Mumbai attacks,” he said.
Though there were reports that European intelligence had picked up chatter about terror groups, especially the IS, planning a big attack before or during the COP21 climate change summit in Paris, Friday’s attacks were yet another instance of “low cost, high impact” terror strikes involving small arms and unsophisticated equipment that are harder to detect and prevent.
Unlike the 9/11 attacks, when terrorists trained for months to become pilots, a new breed of jihadis have resorted to tactics similar to those used in Paris to strike at targets as diverse as a shopping mall in Nairobi and the Sri Lankan cricket team during a visit to the Pakistani city of Lahore.
But the high profile of the Paris assault could make the West take a fresh look at low cost, high impact attacks, said Michael Leiter, a former director of the US National Counterterrorism Center.
“The attacks show a level of sophistication we really haven’t seen in an urban area since 2008 in the attack in Mumbai,” he told NBC News. “This will be a game changer for how the West looks at this threat.”
As far as India is concerned, counter-terrorism officials say the situation is not comparable with what that in Europe.
“Only two dozen Indians – residents and non-residents – have joined the ranks of IS so far. One of them – Kalyan boy Areeb Majeed – has returned to the country. More than four dozen Indians have been stopped from joining the IS. We deal with them on a case-to-case basis. The emphasis is on involving community rather than police,” said a home ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The home ministry has put in motion a formal de-radicalisation plan under which community elders and religious heads are being nudged to tell the younger generation about the futility of violence, the official said.
The ministry held a meeting with security officials of 10 key states a few months back to discuss the threat from the IS.