India - and Mumbai - are no stranger to terrorism but the attacks on multiple targets in the city mark a significant step change. Previous attacks involved the leaving of explosives in public places like markets or on trains. These could be devastating in terms of the loss of life, with nearly 200 killed in 2006. Indian television footage showed scenes of chaos on blood-splattered streets. Armed police were searching cars and people, and witnesses spoke of gunmen brandishing machine guns
But the latest attacks are different in terms of both method and scale, with teams of well-armed men involved in synchronised attacks - the gunmen were also clearly prepared to die in their attacks. Another major difference is the targeting of restaurants and hotels used by westerners and the apparent singling out of those with British and American passports. This points to either a major shift in strategy by an existing group or the influence or direction of outside parties, perhaps even al-Qaeda, whose style of attacks this mimics.
However, while the attack was highly organised, it was not necessarily that advanced in terms of technology, with automatic weapons and grenades. It had more the look of a small-scale guerrilla war than a typical al-Qaeda attack. A group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attacks but little is known of it. The men were of South Asian appearance and reportedly spoke Hindi, indicating they originated in India. Attacks over recent years have seen a variety of different groups named, particularly the Indian Mujahideen who had apparently threatened to attack Mumbai in September, claiming that Muslims had been harassed. Security forces declared the siege at the Taj Mahal Palace over, although the sound of explosions was still being reported.
The authorities have often pointed the finger at the Students' Islamic Movement of India, believing that other groups like the Indian Mujahideen are a front for this banned organisation.Some attacks have also been blamed on Lashkar-e-Toiba, which India says is backed by Pakistan's intelligence agency the ISI. That group on Thursday denied any involvement in the attacks. However, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did say the "well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks" probably had "external linkages" to a neighbouring country. Operations to free people trapped in the hotel continued throughout the night, with the flames reported to be under control by dawn.
Wider impact If India were to formally accuse the Pakistani government, then major diplomatic problems could ensue, but that may be less likely happen as quickly as occurred in the past when relations were more fraught. An attack by militants on the Indian parliament in December 2001 nearly led to war between the two countries. Even if there were some kind of link to Pakistan, that would be different to a link to the Pakistani government, which is itself battling terrorists and suffering heavy casualties among both security forces and civilians.
The detention of a number of the militants and their subsequent interrogation should provide evidence for Indian authorities to try to understand any international links. The growing tide of attacks, particularly this year, raises major problems for the Indian authorities. As well as tracking down any gunmen who have escaped, the local and national authorities will also have to deal with the issue of public confidence in their ability to get a grip on the situation.
After previous attacks, Mumbai bounced back quickly as a city, with life getting back to normal and people travelling on the trains again, but this attack may have a different psychological impact.
Analysis: a new tactic by Islamist militants: The group that claimed to be behind last night’s attacks on Bombay -- the Deccan Mujahideen — has not hitherto been heard of in India, let alone in the outside world. But it could be an offshoot of the Indian Mujahideen, an Islamist group that was also unknown until it said it had caused a series of multiple bomb attacks on Indian cities in the past year. Last night’s attacks also appear to fit into a new campaign to hit busy urban targets, popular with foreigners and wealthy Indians, to cause maximum damage to India’s economy and international reputation. Many of last night’s targets — especially the Taj and Oberoi hotels — are frequented by tourists, diplomats and foreign business people as well as the city’s own wealthy elite. The Taj is one of India’s best-known colonial buildings and is next to the Gateway of India, which was built in 1911 to mark a visit by George V and is one of India’s most popular tourist sitesIndia has blamed most of the recent terrorist attacks on Islamist militant groups based in Pakistan or Bangladesh which, it says, have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service. Other alleged culprits include Maoist rebels and separatist groups in India’s remote northeast, on the borders of China, Bangladesh and Myanmar. But this year, the Indian Mujahideen has said that it has carried out multiple bomb attacks that have killed more than 130 people in the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Jaipur and Ahmedabad. In September the group threatened to attack Bombay, accusing the city’s Anti-Terrorism Squad of harassing Muslims. It is also reported to have threatened British and US targets in India. Some terrorism experts say the Indian Mujahideen is a front for an older group called the Students Islamic Movement of India, which they say has links to Pakistan. Others decribe it as the first homegrown terrorist group to have emerged from India’s 151 million strong Muslim population. India’s Muslims have long complained of discrimination at the hands of its Hindu majority. Many also object to Indian rule in Kashmir, the Muslim majority region claimed by both india and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly threatened to attack India in revenge for its policies in Kashmir, although Indian security officials maintain that the group has no active presence within the country. The picture has this month been complicated by the arrest of a senior military intelligence officer on suspicion of involvement in a bomb attack by Hindu extremists in western India in September. All key places are on high alert
Colonel Srikant Prasad Purohit is the first serving officer in India’s Army — seen as a bastion of secularism since the country won independence in 1947 — to be arrested on terrorism charges. Police are now investigating whether he and other members of Abhinav Bharat (New India), a Hindu nationalist organisation, were behind other recent bomb attacks. Abhinav Bharat’s president is Himani Savarkar, the niece of the Hindu radical who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Indian officials said that it was too early to say which of these groups carried out last night’s attacks, but the scale, complexity and targets suggested that it was the work of an Islamist group. Rakesh Patel, a British citizen who was staying in the Oberoi, said that the gunmen had asked specifically for British and American passport-holders. “They were looking for foreigners,” he told India’s NDTV channel. Islamic militants have been blamed for all the recent attacks on Bombay, including multiple bombings of trains and railways stations that killed more than 180 people in 2006. In 2001 an assault on the Indian parliament by Islamic militants left 12 people dead and almost led to war between India and Pakistan. If India accuses Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of masterminding this attack, it will almost certainly cause another crisis in already tense bilateral relations. Pressure will now increase on the Indian Government to overhaul its counter-terrorism infrastructure in time for the national elections, due before May. After blast at Colaba: Remains of a taxi (above & below)