As of 7:00 AM (EST), 11/27/08
As a former FBI hostage negotiator, I was involved in many hostage taking incidents ranging from single domestic bank robbers to prison riots to Americans taken hostage as they traveled and worked outside of the relative safety of America. While many prepare to give thanks for many things this season, a number of Indian citizens and internationals died because of terrorist attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India on Wednesday. Over 170 are believed dead and upwards of 400 are either wounded or otherwise injured. An unknown number of hostages, perhaps numbering into the dozens or higher, possibly westerners, are being held against their will in one or more locations, to include two major hotels and a Jewish outreach center in Mumbai. The situation remains tenuous with police and military struggling to stabilize the situation and identify both hostages and terrorists alike, this while gunfire and explosions continue to be heard in the city, especially near the two affected hotels. Some of the loud explosions heard coming from inside of the Taj hotel may be police and military teams using explosive breaching devices and/or flash bang diversionary devices as they attempt to clear the hundreds of rooms in the hotel where five or more of the suspected 10-50 terrorists are still believed to be holed up after the single biggest attack of its kind in India.
The terrorists are believed affiliated with one of two shadowy groups, either Deccan Majahedeen, a little known terrorist organization that has claimed credit for these attacks, or Lashkar-e-Tiba (L.E.T.), a terrorist group based in Pakistan, members of which have committed a number of terrorist attacks, to include involvement in an incident in America where they are now imprisoned. LET's stated goals are to destroy India, reclaim Kasmere, and attack Hindus, Jews and westerners, all three groups which were targeted in this attack. Most of the attackers are believed to have arrived in Mumbai by ship and to have spread out across the city to commence their coordinated attacks at at least 10 locations. Some of these attack sites were obviously planned while others may have been the result of terrorists fleeing from location to location. This was obviously a well-planned terrorist mission that could have taken months to put together, although some have even suggested a possible linkage between the recent arrest of a leading L.E.T. leader in the UK. The diversity seen in the 10 different target sites suggests the terrorists were seeking maximum public, political and media attention.
While the attackers appeared to have targeted American and British passport carriers, most of the dead and injured came from indiscriminate machine gun and grenade attacks at the large city train station where few westerners would be expected to be found. Some injuries were attributed to the panic the resulted as the attack was ongoing. One of the locations occupied was the 565 room Taj Mumbai hotel, a 105-year-old landmark near the water's edge, a national symbol perhaps equal to those attacked in America's 9/11. The question that lingers today is who was responsible for this multiple location attack in the world's second most populous city and why.
While westerners have obviously been targeted, to include hotels and restaurants where American and British citizens are known to frequent, the goals of the terrorists who are believed to have taken citizens from at least 11 nations hostage have yet to be determined. If, for example, only Brits and Americans were to be killed or taken hostage, the attacks could have been focused on locations where they could be expected to be found and not on Mumbai's Victoria railroad station through which thousands of the city's 18 million people pass on a daily basis. This would suggest that the taking of western hostages, while a goal of the terrorists, was, perhaps, secondary to their goal of seeking an international stage to make some type of statement via murder and mayhem. Mumbai remains a city gripped by fear as the attacks appear to have evolved into barricade hostage situations, this as the situation enters its second day.
Interestingly enough, the youthful gun toting terrorists are currently believed to have come from outside of India, in this case by ship from Pakistan. After hijacking one or more vehicles and shooting up various locations, a number of the terrorists have been either killed or captured, while others have made some initial demands, to include the release of Islamic terrorists from Indian prisons. Should the terrorists have links to Pakistan, a country that India has had three wars with in the last three decades, the relations between these two countries will be even further strained. Most know that India is home to over 1.1 billion people, 80% of which are Hindus and 12% Muslims, with many of the Indian Muslim population wanting to separate from India and be part of Pakistan. The British split Pakistan off from India in 1947, giving the minority Muslims a country of their own, but these two countries and China all make claim to the massive Kashmir region, a continuing source of conflict in the Indian subcontinent.
The taking of western hostages is probably meant to further capture international attention, a goal the terrorists have obviously achieved. Local hospitals have been overwhelmed with the wounded and the dead, include at least 14 police officers to include the head of the local police anti-terrorist squad, over a dozen of the terrorists, and many citizens from across the city and the world. India, which has witnessed at least seven bombings in that country this year resulting in the deaths of over 200, to include over 4,000 acts of terrorism in the past five years, but this attack is by far more the most coordinated. The Indian authorities will try to stabilize the various situations and attempt to conduct negotiations with the terrorists to gain the release of the hostages, some of which are believed to be American and British bank employees. Most nations, including India, do not like to negotiate with terrorists, as to do so simply makes them believe their demands can actually be achieved through violence. As a hostage negotiator I know that any discussion, any dialogue with hostage takers can be useful in gathering intelligence about the terrorists and the hostages, and can help to facilitate any type of hostage rescue mission in addition to, perhaps, gaining the release of hostages.
Police and military counter terrorism teams are searching the two affected hotels and other locations, floor by floor, room by room, in a dangerous attempt to recover victims, rescue hostages, and arrest terrorists. The current situation makes me recall the 1972 Munich Olympic hostage taking situation where terrorists were able to grab the attention of the world by the taking of hostages, in that case Israeli athletics, 11 of which were killed by the Black September group. As in that situation, a number of intermediaries may try to intervene with the terrorists in an attempt to obtain the release of the hostages, terrorists whose demands may not be achievable. In my case, I negotiated with Cuban hostage takers in three separate prison riots, one of which took place over Thanksgiving 1987, with the many hostage takers making numerous demands against the US government, the majority of which could not be achieved. Two of these situations were eventually resolved via negotiations with a later one requiring a tactical resolution to save lives. While the US, UK and other governments will offer all available resources, the actual negotiations, if any, will be conducted by Indian officials and those intermediaries that are allowed to talk to the terrorists. India, a country plagued by terrorism for years, has once again become the current epi-center of man's inhumanity to man, something the world must witness on almost a daily basis.
On this day of national thanksgiving, I know that many in this and other countries are actively engaged in attempts to resolve the ongoing hostage situations in a peaceful manner. The terrorists must decide their own fate and while suicide or death may make good terrorist news, some of them will likely choose to live and try to fight another day. Negotiations will be conducted as tactical forces develop their hostage rescue plans to be employed if negotiations are non productive, meanwhile fires continue to burn and shots and explosions can still be heard in the city of Mumbai, this while India and Pakistan share a common border and a common mistrust with both country's hands clutching nuclear weapons. Should the terrorists have their roots in Pakistan, communication intercepts indicate some of the terrorists are speaking in a language native to that country, the relationship between these two neighboring countries will likely worsen because of the current attacks, this while the world watches and prays for peace as one of the world's greatest cities remains on lockdown and an untold number of lives continue to hang in the balance.