THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Analysts seeking answers, suspects

Some doubt Qaeda involved

By Alan Cowell
New York Times / November 28, 2008
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PARIS - A day after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 100 people, one question remained as impenetrable as the smoke that still billowed from one of the city's landmark hotels: Who carried out the attack?

Security officials and analysts agreed that the assaults represented a marked departure in scope and ambition from other recent terrorist attacks in India, which targeted local people rather than foreigners and hit single rather than multiple targets.

The Mumbai assault, by contrast, was "uniquely disturbing," said Sajjan Gohel, a security specialist in London, because it seemed directed at foreigners, involved hostage-taking, and was aimed at multiple "soft, symbolic targets." The attacks "aimed to create maximum terror and human carnage and damage the economy," he said by phone.

But the central riddle was the extent to which local assailants had outside support. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said the attacks probably had "external linkages," reflecting calculations among Indian officials that the level of planning, preparation, and coordination could not have been achieved without help from experienced terrorists, particularly groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

The planning of the attack has profound political implications for India and its neighbor, Pakistan. But the identity of the attackers remained a mystery.

An e-mail message to Indian media outlets taking responsibility for the attacks said the militants were from a group called Deccan Mujahedeen. The word "Deccan" refers to a plateau in southern India, and "Mujahedeen" refers to holy warriors. Almost universally, analysts and intelligence officials said that name was unknown.

Deccan is a neighborhood of the Indian city of Hyderabad. The word also describes the middle and south of India, which is dominated by the Deccan Plateau. But the combination of the two words, said Gohel, is a "front name. This group is nonexistent."

"It's even unclear whether it's a real group or not," said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the author of the book "Inside Terrorism."

An Indian security official who spoke in return for anonymity said the name suggested ties to a group called Indian Mujahedeen, which has been implicated in a string of bombing attacks in India that killed about 200 people this year.

On Sept. 15, an e-mail published in Indian newspapers said to have been sent by representatives of Indian Mujahedeen threatened potential "deadly attacks" in Mumbai. The message warned counterterrorism officials in the city that "you are already on our hit list and this time very, very seriously."

Several high-ranking law enforcement officials, including the chief of the antiterrorism squad and a commissioner of police, were reportedly killed in the attacks in Mumbai.

Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims and not linked to Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, another violent South Asian terrorist group.

"There's absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it," she said of the attack. "Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don't do hostage-taking and they don't do grenades."

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