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Examining Who May Be Behind Mumbai Attacks


The scale and sophistication of the attacks in Mumbai have taken many analysts by surprise. The only claim of responsibility so far came from a previously unknown group. It called itself the Deccan Mujahedin. But analysts believe the attacks carry the signs of a well-established group with plenty of resources and training. NPR's Jackie Northam explores the question of who did it?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Over the past few years, India has seen an increasing number of small-scale terror attacks on its soil. For the most part, they're blamed on Kashmir separatists or on neighboring Pakistan. India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was quick to suggest that this was the case with the Mumbai attacks.

In a televised address to the country, he said it was evident the attacks were carried out by a group based outside the country. But Nigel Inkster with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London says, while attacks in the past were often driven by external forces, this time, India may need to look inward.

Mr. NIGEL INKSTER (Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk, Institute for Strategic Studies): Latterly, the problem seems to have been coming more from indigenous Indian groups who have become radicalized and mobilizing themselves. The degree to which they enjoy external support isn't altogether clear.

NORTHAM: Rita Barlow(ph) with Stratfor, a global intelligence company, says the little-known Deccan Mujahedin which claimed responsibility is named after a region covering much of south India. Barlow says that group is likely affiliated with the larger, better known India Mujahedin. She says it's important to note the groups include references to India in their names.

Ms. RITA BARLOW (Director, Stratfor): They are showing that they're recruiting, they're coordinating, they're planning, and they're carrying out these attacks within India's borders, which is a very different threat for India to deal with because they can't just go right away and say, you know, this is all Pakistan's fault like they used to.

NORTHAM: But the Mumbai attacks don't bear the clear indisputable signature of any extremist group, Indian or otherwise. Xenia Dormandy, a South Asia expert at Harvard University's Belfer Center, said this attack was unlike others in India.

Ms. XENIA DORMANDY (South Asia Expert, Belfer Center, Harvard University): The recent attacks in India have very much been targeting normal Indians going about their everyday business. This specifically targeted Westerners - attacks to five-star hotels, attacks at a Western bar, a Jewish center, so in this respect, it is quite unusual. We haven't seen this before in India.

NORTHAM: The types of targets, Western and economic symbols, certainly bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, so too does the style. The Mumbai attacks were well-planned and highly orchestrated, hitting a number of targets at the same time, says Nigel Inkster.

Mr. INKSTER: That suggests that a lot of careful preparation and training went into this. That doesn't necessarily prove an al-Qaeda link.

NORTHAM: Inkster says al-Qaeda leans towards more suicide bombings, not fighters indiscriminately spraying gunfire or holding hostages. He says those behind the Mumbai attacks may just have some lose operational or ideological affiliation with al-Qaeda. The Belfer Center's Dormandy says its unclear how the attackers were financed, where they were based, or where they trained. Dormandy says the Indian security forces have not had much success in keeping ahead of the curve when it comes to homegrown terrorism.

Ms. DORMANDY: Unfortunately, the Indian Intelligence Services and the Indian Policing Services have not found, not been able to really track and capture many of these people.

NORTHAM: Dormandy says Indian intelligence and security forces are going to have to take the threat of terrorism up to a whole new level in the wake of these attacks. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.