It is still too early to be certain which of the many reports in the media over the last few days were correct and which were not. More witness statements will be printed and more quotes from security troops, commanders and politicians.
This attack suggest al Qaeda to me. Why? The tactics resemble the most recent attacks in Saudi Arabia where apartment buildings housing foreigners were assaulted by teams of gunmen.
The attackers’ knowledge of the city was impressive if they were foreigners. It is very unlikely that they would have stumbled upon the small Jewish community of Mumbai by accident. I also believe those reports that suggest that the gunmen had some familiarity with the non-public areas of the Taj and Oberoi hotels.
The main targets were the two hotels and the Jews at Nariman House. That is where the majority of the gunmen were concentrated. The Cafe Leopold attack, close to the Taj, may have been a target of opportunity attack as the terrorists moved into position to take the Taj.
The attacks on the hospital and the CST railway terminal were well north of the main attacks. They may have been a diversion. I could also believe that the team there was lost or trying to flee.
It is not clear that the gunmen who hijacked the two police vehicles were ever found.
The most logical scenario for the Mumbai attacks would appear to be as follows:
One or two cells enter the city weeks or months ahead of time for recon and intelligence gathering. Some may have registered as guests at the hotel while others may have been employed there.
Some arms and explosives are brought to the city and cached in preparation for the attacks. It is possible that just before the attacks, these caches were moved to the hotels. They could have been brought to rooms rented by the local cells for that purpose or secreted in non-public areas of the hotels. Food stores may also have been cached in the same manner.
The sea borne assault lands and is met by local cell members who have stolen vehicles and provide directions, maps, etc.
The Indian intelligence services may have had little to be alert for. The preparation for the attacks in Mumbai would have been very innocuous and would not have raised any flags. The Indians would have had to infiltrate a cell or a cell member would have had to leak information for there to have been any alarm. If this is an al Qaeda op, that is virtually impossible.
The response to the attacks by the Indians was hampered by several issues. The hospital attack, by luck or by plan, caught the leadership of the response forces off guard and they were killed. AQ and other terrorist groups are noted for follow-on attacks at hospitals where injured are taken from the main attacks. The Indians could have been more on guard but given the turmoil, it is very understandable that they were not.
Absent the leadership, the initial Indian responses were disorganized. Thereafter, interference by politicians and disputes over turf seem to have slowed the Indian response more.
It also appears at this point that the Indian forces, brave as they were, were less well trained than they might have been. The also may have lacked some of the technical tools that Western anti-terror units use.
The ability of the terrorists to hold out for the length of time that they did indicates that they had supplies and that the Indians had no clear strategy until the last day.
Do not underestimate the Indian security troops and their work in Mumbai. Few nations would have coped as well with such an assault. The United States would likely have done worse, since the law prevents the military from taking part in law enforcement.
This op involved around 30 men in country and an unknown number where the group trained. It was complex, another al Qaeda sign, and the participants had no agenda other than killing and dying.
Media speculations talk about the potential for multiple such assaults in a country like the United States. That is unlikely though not impossible for several reasons. The events of 9/11 revealed that the larger the op, the more likely that parts of it will fail. Out of five attacks, three succeeded. One team of airplane hijackers never got off the ground. Another was overcome by passengers and failed to reach its target.
The ability to plan, organize, supply and execute multiple such assaults is there but at each stage and for each team there are multiple points of failure where a single part of the op or the entire op can fail.
After all the reports are out, and vetted, we will have a clearer idea of just what happened in Mumbai. Until then, continue to take analysis and even “statements of fact” as not yet proven. Even this analysis may be wrong in whole or part, so be skeptical of all of the media and blog reporting.