Lessons Learned: Mumbai terror attackAnalyzing one attack in order to disrupt the next
By John Taylor
Homeland security and business leaders from around Washington converged on the Embassy of India recently for a briefing on the terror attacks in Mumbai. At the invitation-only event hosted by Ambassador Arun Singh, we were briefed on the attacks and screened the HBO Documentary Terror in Mumbai.
Without question, the film is a “must see” for any homeland security professional.
From the evening, here are some of the facts, tactics and events from the attack that provide insight into the mindset and methods of the jihadist.
1) At least one of the terrorists, once caught, claimed that he had been sold by his father to Lashkar-i-Taiba recruiters for a bounty. He was then told that by following the leader’s directions, completing training, and then executing their attack in India, that his family would receive benefit. The terrorists had little education and little experience in the modern world.
2) Throughout the attacks, handlers in Pakistan directed the attackers using mobile phones. Telephone intercepts registered over 248 phone calls between the killers and their overseas handlers. Practically every movement and action, including killings, was ordered in real time by the handlers.
3) The attackers pirated a local fishing boat, killing the crew and forcing the captain to help them near the shore undetected before killing him. This allowed them to enter India without having to go through customs and begin their secret attacks before authorities even knew there was a problem.
4) After splitting up and hailing taxis the bombers left behind bombs in the taxicabs as a diversion. When these bombs went off they became primary crime scenes that immediately began diverting police resources. Now the police had two different explosion sites, multiple casualties, and no clue that the terrorists were now heading toward primary target sites still undetected.
5) The terrorists used a hit and run method, moving frequently, with most of the killing occurring the first hour of the attack.
6) Local police were wholly unprepared to respond to the attacks. Many were armed with only batons, the few who were armed with ancient bolt-action rifles carried only a few bullets. Heavily outgunned and with little or no training on how to handle such an event, many officers stood frozen in fear or retreated as they watched dozens killed.
7) False reports and rumors of other bombings and attacks ran rampant and served as a tremendous distraction to the limited resources of the police.
8) The setting of fires at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower was not tactical, but rather it was symbolic and deliberately done to draw media attention to the attack and destroy a historic and economic landmark.
9) At primary target sites, the shooters sprayed bullets with the deliberate intention of killing as many people as possible.
10) Finally, after wreaking mayhem and death throughout the city, the terrorists headed to what appears to have been their final primary target, the local Jewish center. There the terrorists killed the local Rabbi and his wife, and took others hostage before killing them later at the direction of their handlers. The handlers told the killers that they would get 25 times the reward in the afterworld for killing the Jewish victims.
Based on these and other lessons from the Mumbai attacks, America’s homeland security professionals should consider the following:
1) We must assume that terrorists can successfully penetrate our borders or that self-activating teams will originate from within the United States as has been the case in Lackawanna, South Florida and other places. Simply put, responders across the heartland and in all major cities must assume that a well practiced, well supplied and well planned attack could happen at any time with NO warning, chatter or other indicators. We must also assume that we will face multiple teams with a range of current weapons, explosives and technical gear. Then, we must be prepared to confront them quickly and head on.
2) Local law enforcement and citizens with concealed carry permits will likely be the only responders who will be able to reach a terrorist team in time to impact their plans and terminate their attack. We must not allow our local law enforcement to be outgunned in a surprise attack by terrorists. Every patrol officer must be equipped with the weaponry necessary to defeat, delay and defend against loss of life in a surprise attack.
3) Responders must develop fast and reliable means of separating rumors from actual attacks. Any delay in responding to a real attack or resources spent on a falsely reported incident may be the difference between terrorists accomplishing their primary mission or having it disrupted. In every major operation I have been involved in, such rumors have heavily come into play. We must identify best practices and protocols to better sort fact from fiction when seconds count.
4) We must be prepared for multiple teams, multiple attack sites, multiple means of transportation, weaponry, and explosives.
5) Finally, Homeland security leadership should think through the issue of foreign-controlled teams using real-time mobile communications. Thought should go into developing Constitutionally-compliant technical capabilities that will quickly find, intercept, and disrupt such communication in real time.
On the diplomatic front, Indian officials at the event made clear their frustration at what they consider a lack of willingness on America’s part to hold Pakistan fully accountable for its tolerance for the Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Taliban and other radical groups that live, fundraise, train and operate inside Pakistan’s borders.
One of the clearest lessons learned was that we continue to underestimate the full extent of the role that Pakistan is playing as a training and operations center for jihadist terrorism. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama is taking a much more aggressive and pro-active approach to this issue. If we fail to keep the pressure on the Pakistanis, with clear diplomatic messaging as well as direct action against confirmed targets, then they will continue to be the home base of choice for the world’s worst and most active terrorists.