Monday, December 1, 2008

Why we must pay attention to the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks

Why We Must Pay Attention to the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks
By Sean Osborne, Associate Director

27 November 2008:
The Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) India may well be a bellwether for Western counter-terrorist operations, particularly in the United States. Given the 25 November FBI/DHS advisory regarding “a plausible but unsubstantiated report” on “discussions” within Al-Qa’ida communications channels, all things must be considered relevant in order to counter the threat of Islamic jihadist strikes in America.

There is no doubt that Al Qa’ida discussions half a world away in Mumbai evolved beyond the “aspirational planning.” I think it necessary at this point to reiterate that one of the primary forms of “aspirational planning” discussions among Al Qa’ida jihadists are found on the forums resident with internet websites. As Randy Taylor reported 18 days ago, an Al Qa’ida “aspirational planning” document was posted on one of their primary forums. Item number 9 in the 15-item “aspirational planning” list of desired targets is the subject of the current FBI/DHS advisory.

Based upon analysis of this communication, as well as other more recent communications, the Northeast Intelligence Network most certainly may be in possession of further information, as have you and every other entity which read Mr. Taylor’s report. This kind of information is known within the United States Intelligence Community (US IC) as Indications & Warnings (I&W). Moreover, the list in the communication we collected goes far beyond strikes in the manner of the London or Madrid suicide bombers on the transportation sector in the northeastern United States and Canada. This communication discussed strikes against nine different nuclear power stations located across the entire northeast region and the entire electrical grid. In multiple and overwhelming instances it references strikes against the financial infrastructure of the United States based in New York City. It discusses what can only be mass tactical assaults on seven passenger laden commercial airports. It discussed the financial impact upon the United States during a time of financial crisis as well as the minimal cost to the Islamic jihadists in executing the strikes, and that they will occur at some particular point in time without warning.

Let’s shift our focus to Mumbai. How do these multiple attacks in India compare to what I’ve just discussed? They are well-coordinated mass attacks across a single major Indian city. But more importantly I think it should be obvious that the tactical execution of these attacks evidences a significant departure from the previous template of broad-daylight terrorist strikes. These Indian jihadists utilized darkness as tactical cover for the execution of a major, multi-faceted terrorist operation by launching the entire operation at 10 PM local time in Mumbai.

This evident change in tactics begs some analytical questions. Was this change in tactics based upon an Al Qa’ida leadership operational directive, or was it left to the local cell leadership to determine? Is this what occurred in the attacks against the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993 and again in September 2001? It would appear so – the local commander determined the timing of attack, Al Qa’ida’s central command merely approved the concept and targets of the strike, and was generally aware in advance that the strikes would occur. Al Qa’ida central was briefed on the plan of attack, it did not originate them.

All of this has brought about a change in my thinking about the execution of terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda is a decentralized terrorist entity. It was years ago at the urging of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (Abu Mus'ab al-Suri), the Al Qa’ida master tactician, theoretician and composer of the Al Qa’ida warfighting doctrine, who urged individual jihadists and cells worldwide to execute independent jihad operations on its behalf.

Since the Al Qaeda leadership places no constraints on the timing of attacks by its worldwide cells, there exists the distinct possibility that the leader of a given terrorist cell could choose an Islamic or Infidel date of significance or anniversary upon which to execute a strike. In this respect the "setting of dates" by individual jihadi posters on their forums cannot be completely ignored or discounted. Just because this "setting of dates" has not been the case in the past does not mean it won't be the case in the present or in the future. In fact, Islamic jihadists have repeatedly struck Israeli civilian targets on Hebrew dates of significance or holidays on many occasions over many years. The point here is that one additional and very recent jihadi forum post cites a specific date during the first week of January 2009 in which a “settling of accounts” with President George W. Bush will occur. We’ll see what actually transpires relative to these near-term threats, yet I believe it is prudent for all concerned to learn from past events as well as the recent.

Sean Osborne

Associate Director
Northeast Intelligence Network

No comments:

Post a Comment