Will the missing 20 Mumbai terrorists "test "US President elect Barack Obama

Published: December 13, 2008 - 14:31 Updated: January 6, 2009 - 14:45

By Sanjay Kapoor


New Delhi: Indian Intelligence agencies that are interrogating the arrested Mumbai terrorist, Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, are coming around to the disturbing view that the heinous attack at India’s western metropolis could be a prelude for a more “spectacular” attack that may take place before this tumultuous year comes to an end. What they have not been able to fully ascertain is- whether this strike will take place in India or in a western country. The understanding of some intelligence analysts is that the target this time could be a western capital.

This understanding flows from the interrogation by intelligence agencies and Mumbai Police of Kasab, who has reportedly stated that there were 30 odd militants who trained together for this operation. In Mumbai terror attack, police sources claim, only 10 took part.

Highly placed intelligence sources told Hardnews magazine that the 20 odd terrorists that disappeared after training may have either gone to United States or to a European capital. “There is nothing really to suggest that the other group that had trained with the terrorists who attacked Mumbai did not sail towards India. Our understanding is that they could have gone anywhere,” claimed this source.

What is strengthening this view is the manner in which the Mumbai attackers went about their murderous task. Put together like a Special Forces operation, this has very few precedents anywhere in the world. Chechens militants are the closest that come to the Mumbai attack in their tactics. Intelligence source indicate that while the terrorists may belong to Pakistan based Lashkar-e-tayiba, their agenda and their modus operandi clearly had the imprimatur of an international terror outfit, possibly al-Qaida.

Hardnews was informed that the Mumbai terrorists chose their targets carefully. The siege of Nariman House from where Jew Chabad sect operated was a clear give away. No Lashkar operative would choose a non-descript inconspicuous Jew settlement till there were instructions and intelligence from those who would benefit by provoking the ire of an extremely militaristic and pugnacious Israel. Also, sources point out that the manner in which the terrorists separated the Americans and British from rest of their captives is indicative of the fact that their real target was not just India, but the western world.
Mumbai terrorists and their clever mastermind have thrown a lot of red- herrings to confuse the investigators. The first one and the most significant one was an attempt to show Mumbai attack as home grown. This was done by first making public an email sent by an unknown outfit Deccan Mujahideen to show that the terrorists were local Muslims, who were venting their grievance against the Indian state. The trail of evidence that the terrorists left behind, however, contrarily showed their obvious Pakistan link. The GPS devise on the fishing trawler “ Kuber” that established the movement of terrorists, the phone intercepts, the markings on the ordinance were all indicative of how the operation was guided by people in Pakistan. Intelligence sources suggest that there were more distractions that were thrown in this operation. The big question was is why the attackers created two different profiles of their operations. There are more worrisome aspects of the operation that have not been adequately explained.

For the first time, the pre-paid phone SIM cards that were used by the terrorists were mobile banking ready. What is not known is whether the terrorists, from whom a bunch of credit cards of their rich victims were seized, could transfer or move money from these accounts. Was this operation just to establish Islam in these parts or more? Intelligence agencies have been vague to this line of enquiry about terrorists transferring money by using credit cards, but if that happens then it would lend a more sinister spin to the Mumbai attacks. It may be remembered that the people who were killed in Taj Mahal Hotel or Oberoi were mostly High net individuals (HNIs). An owner of a private bank, too, was killed in these attacks.

Authoritative sources in the government feel that if the motive of these attackers was indeed to precipitate a war between India and Pakistan or even escalate tension between the two countries to force Islamabad to shift troops from its Afghanistan border to that of India, then another terrorist incident in India would not really help. This is more so after Islamabad responded with alacrity US and global endorsement of India’s demand to close down terrorists training camps and arrest those who were running them. If there is another terror attack at India then Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari could safely say that his country did not have a role in the violence as his government had done whatever was asked of them. President Zardari has been saying that the Mumbai attack was the doing of non-state actors that wanted to destabilize his government and pit the two countries against each other and put a halt to the painfully slow and jerky peace process. Another attack, would deepen misery in this region, but still would not force a war between the two countries as India has little clarity about its military objectives. For that matter, New Delhi seems unclear about how it should countenance a democratic Pakistan pulled in different directions by its army and the Islamic Jehadis, who are hell bent on establishing a religious state.

From this standpoint, intelligence sources claim that the 20 odd commandoes who trained with the Mumbai group could be heading West and trying to give meaning to the warning that US Vice President elect Joe Biden made during the run up to campaign that a big test may be waiting for President elect Barack Obama.