November 27, 2008

Terrorist attacks in Mumbai

While we celebrate Thanksgiving during this long holiday weekend in the U.S., half way across the globe, the largest democracy in the world faces its toughest challenge yet in its war against terrorism. What has been unfolding over the past 36 hours in Mumbai (formerly, Bombay), India's largest metropolitan city with a population of 19M and the hub of its commercial and entertainment industries, is outrageously shocking. Terrorists had literally taken seize of South Mumbai, the city's richest and most popular area, and went on the rampage with indiscriminate shootings and bombings with a focus on city's several symbolic targets. The last count of casualties showed 134 dead and 308 injured, including 12 foreigners and Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism police chief. At this hour, some terrorists are still holding out their positions with sufficient armaments inside the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, arguably the city's most popular spot amongst rich, celebrities and foreign tourists.

I extend my solemn condolences for all who lost their loved ones. My wife is from South Mumbai, but fortunately everyone from her family is safe. Her relatives live in and around Colaba, which was the ground zero for the deadly attacks. But some of my wife's friends and relatives have been directly affected.

The map below shows a timeline of the synchronized terrorist attacks and affected areas of Mumbai. Click on the map to enlarge it.


While Mumbai has been repeatedly hit by terrorism in recent years, the difference in the attacks this time is the scale of coordination across simultaneous multiple locations, targeting of foreigners, and the choice of the picked iconic landmarks in the city. Another major difference, a disturbing one, is the possible emergence of internal Islamic terrorist groups aligned with al-Qaeda and its agenda from within India, the home to 140M Muslims, third largest in the world. A little known Indian group by the name of Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks, but we cannot be assured whether these claims are true and/or other external terrorist groups are not involved. India has a history of being targeted by Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups based in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Middle East.

I hope the Indian government takes tough, concrete actions this time. It has been rather soft after previous terrorist attacks on its soil, when despite having definitive proof of the involvement of specific groups based in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), the Indian government, sometimes under pressure from the U.S., restrained from retaliatory actions due to the fear of escalating wider tensions with Pakistan. But the time has come when Pakistan has to match its rhetoric against terrorism with actions on the ground. It got to fully cooperate with India in investigating the Mumbai attacks, and aggressively go after every terrorist group in Pakistan that may be involved in these deadly attacks.

In parallel, India will need to work extremely hard in restoring the confidence, especially overseas, in its ability to keep its cities and people safe and secure. The psychological damage to the country's reputation cannot be overstated. With the Indian economy already slowing down amidst the ongoing global recession, the timing of these terrorist attacks on India's commercial capital could not have been worse.

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