As the bloody aftermath unfolds and the echoes of grenades and gunfire can be heard behind western journalists reporting from the streets, the world watches as the death rattle of Wednesday’s assault heralds a new era for urban terrorism in India. As I write armed militants are still, two days after the initial attack, holding out against India’s special forces. Slowly, as the chaotic fog of misinformation dissipates, the question of what happened begins to transform into why it happened and who in fact is behind all the chaos. Such was the global attention that initial suggestions pointed inevitably toward the pre-eminent global threat – Al Qaeda. Three days on however and it becomes less and less clear who it was that was behind such a sophisticated and coordinated attack. As the media focus wasin full swing and the 24 hour rolling news channels across the world were looping pictures of hotels ablaze and panic stricken faces, a group calling itself Deccan Mujaheddin claimed responsibility. However, who this group are and if they even exist at all is under dispute. They may very well be a front for a larger more established militant organization. The truth is no-one will know until the shock subsides and the assessment begins in the wake of what many are calling India’s 9/11.
As it seems is the tragic staple of terrorism the world over, the perpetrators were said to be young and carried out their mission with fervor. They came hidden on board a merchant ship and disembarked at the dockyards of India’s financial hub. As they fanned out across the district, they left a wake of merciless bloodshed, indiscriminately opening fire on crowds as they went. The crowd itself were of a particular type and that, it seems is a message that rings louder than any other factor in this mess. India is a nation in transition, of a growing economic and political standing on the world stage. That abounding growth has had a fundamental impact on India’s entrenched segregated classes. An affluent and wealthy crowd are native to Mumbai, it is a look-at-me city of silver spoons and the well-to-do elite. The result of Wednesday’s attack is that for the first time in India’s history terrorism has hit the class of the touchable.
The attacks spanned across part of Mumbai in six separate locations:
TAJ MAHAL HOTEL
The Taj is at the heart of Mumbai’s financial district and a popular destination attracting affluent foreign travelers and business people. Gunmen stormed in as residents sat down to dinner targeting in particular American and British tourists.
At least one gunmen is still suspected to be hiding out in the hotel and about a 100 special forces are on the hunt after confirming 30 bodies found so far. Fire broke out on a number of floors and it remains to be seen when operations will end.
This hotel is located in Naraim Point a place popular with business people as it is near the Bombay Stock Exchange. Security forces took control of it after gunmen rounded up patrons and tourists. The hostages were brought to safety but in the end 24 of the 100 hostages were found murdered.
CHHTRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS
Armed with rifles and grenades gunmen killed 10 and maimed 30 in an unrelenting attack at this, one of the busiest railway stations in the country. It was crowded with passengers who were in close proximity of each other, the ones who escaped with their lives intact were lucky they made it at all.
Witnesses who were present at the attack at the popular cafe described the attackers as ‘young boys’. The restaurant cafe is somewhat of a Mumbai institution. It is famous for being a the favoured hangout of Australian author Gregory David Roberts who authored Shantaram which is also set in Mumbai.
Another indicator toward the intentions of the assault, this residential complex housed a Jewish outreach centre called Chabad Lubavitch. It attracted many of Mumbai’s Jewish quarter and after one of the longer stand-offs between the gunmen and special forces, it was only until Friday that the area was secured. The attack resulted in the confirmed deaths of 6 people including a rabbi and his wife.
CAMA & ALBLESS HOSPITALS
These were hospitals that cared for women and children and there is a suggestion that this attack was carried out by the same group that attacked the nearby railway station. Indiscriminate drive-by shootings were also reported around the same area.
The strategic and specific nature of this attack as a whole shows that the one constant in all the targeted locations is that they were places that attracted western foreign nationals thus maximizing its global profile. It might be pertinent to point out that large scale attacks on Indian cities are not without precedent. Most incidents have stemmed along the lines of ethnic tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority. As recently as 2002 the western state of Gujarat saw the revenge killings of Muslims after an arson attack on a train left 59 dead, all of them Hindu. India also of course shares a border with Pakistan and the continuing dispute over Kashmir means that relations between the two ethnic groups on a national and civil level will always appear fragile.
But in the context of terrorist attacks within India, November 2008 is an important exception. The difference is that planted bombs on trains and market stalls kill the working class and the poor of India, not the elite classes and wealthy westerners. Wheras previously the target was a message of an eye-for-an-eye reflecting ethno-religous tensions, the motive and intentions behind these atatcks could well have been international. This time, the front pages of The Times of London and New York has had the Mumbai attacks on the front page for the past three days. This time, the message is louder and it calls to the likes of us watching worldwide. India’s response to these attacks as a nation and as an international burgeoning superpower will be no less as impactful.
[On Mumbai: Part II – The Pakistan Connection]