I’ve got 20 browser tabs open to stories on different aspects of what’s happening but it’ll take too long to digest them all at once, so let’s start small and then I’ll follow with updates. For the moment, suffice it to say, they’re still at it: Indian troops are inside the hotels being held hostage and are clearing them room by room to flush out the jihadis hiding in both buildings. Terrorists are firing from the eighth floor of the Trident and at least four of them have blown themselves up inside the Taj. MSNBC was reporting new explosions in the latter building as recently as a half hour ago, which I assume is due to Indian troops stumbling upon rooms where suicide bombers are holed up. What kind of arsenal are we talking about here? IBN:
One commando was killed two others injured in the operation at Taj in which one rucksack full of plastic explosives, eight–nine loaded AK–47 magazines, large amounts of ammunition, hand grenades, detonators, batteries, wrist watches for IEDs, foreign currencies, fake credit cards, dry fruits and cash carried by the terrorists were recovered.
More than 100 people, including at least 14 cops are dead so far, but since no one knows what’s going on inside the hotels and bombs are still going off, the true death toll is anyone’s guess. A hostage released from one of the hotels reports having seen “many bodies.” Another open question is how many of the victims were or are being killed accidentally by Indian security themselves: According to Jonathan Foreman at the Corner, they’ve been known to fire wildly in these situations.
Update: A surreal scene from the Guardian as eyewitnesses describe terrorists arriving by boat.
At least some of the terrorists, said to be in their early twenties and armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, landed on the coast of Mumbai’s commercial and entertainment neighbourhood in light and fast Gemini boats, powered by small outboard motors.
These inflatable dinghies, according to Indian navy sources quoted by the Headlines Today TV news channel, were launched from a larger vessel, the MV Alfa, which arrived near Mumbai sometime yesterday and anchored offshore a distance from India’s financial capital…
By this time the vessel had left the vicinity of Mumbai. When first reported by the news channel today, the MV Alfa was said to be off the Gujarat coast and heading towards Pakistan.
The Guardian’s source reports seeing six men get off the boat. Sky News claims that there were only 12 in all, which can’t be true given how many separate attacks there were last night unless that group rendezvoused with another group that was already in the city. I saw a bulletin on IBN earlier claiming that five jihadis had been killed and nine captured, so Sky’s number is at least a little low. Or, more likely, a lot.
Update: Whodunnit? The NYT offers a melange of expert opinion suggesting (a) it’s Al Qaeda, (b) it’s definitely not Al Qaeda, (c) it’s a group with ties to Pakistan’s Lashkar e-Taiba, (d) it’s a homegrown Indian group. Hope that clears things up. The Independent makes a strong case that the answer’s (d), that the “Deccan Mujahedeen” is actually a dangerous group known as the Indian Mujahedeen acting by another name. (“A high level of sophistication has also been a hallmark of previous attacks by the Indian Mujahideen.”) Is India likely to acknowledge that if it’s true? Stratfor plays realpolitik and says no:
[T]he Indian government has two choices. First, it can simply say that the perpetrators are a domestic group. In that case, it will be held accountable for a failure of enormous proportions in security and law enforcement. It will be charged with being unable to protect the public. On the other hand, it can link the attack to an outside power: Pakistan. In that case it can hold a nation-state responsible for the attack, and can use the crisis atmosphere to strengthen the government’s internal position by invoking nationalism. Politically this is a much preferable outcome for the Indian government, and so it is the most likely course of action. This is not to say that there are no outside powers involved — simply that, regardless of the ground truth, the Indian government will claim there were…
Either way, India is under enormous pressure to respond. Therefore the events point to a serious crisis not simply between Pakistan and India, but within Pakistan as well, with the government caught between foreign powers and domestic realities. Given the circumstances, massive destabilization is possible — never a good thing with a nuclear power.
Pakistan’s already trying to defuse the situation, but too late: Sources are whispering to the Times of India that the jihadis are Pakistani nationals (“We have total clues”) and Indian PM Singh hinted darkly in his speech to the nation this morning about “external linkages.” Which isn’t to say it’s not true: Sky News claims one terrorist spoke in a Kashmiri accent and ranted about the number of Muslims killed there. But Stratfor’s right, needless to say, that this is a huge embarrassment for Indian intel (especially since it happened in Mumbai, where security is tighter because of previous bombings) and doubly so if it was planned on Indian soil.
Here’s vid of Singh’s address.
Update: As always, Jews are a special target. Eight people are reportedly being held hostage at the Mumbai Lubavitch center, although the rabbi’s two-year-old son was released. Another surreal scene:
“We heard bang-bang in the alleyway and first thought it was firecrackers. But then we heard horrible grief and a woman ran out covered in the blood of her mother. We saw two older women were shot dead while cooking dinner in their kitchens,” said Sanjay Kokate, who was a local political leader and said he was part of a self-appointed citizens police force. “We helped carry the bodies out. People have been trapped inside their apartments ever since. It’s so horrifying.”
According to Chabad’s Web site, the center offers daily prayer services and Torah classes, and is a popular hangout among Israeli tourists.
The Web site said the center is run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. The couple’s two-year-old son was escorted out of the building several hours after the attack, his clothing soaked in blood, the Associated Press reported. The toddler was accompanied by a cook and another employee of the center. The Chabad Web site said the fate of Gavriel and Rivka Holtzvberg was not known.
And a tantalizing detail from the Guardian:
One police officer who encountered the gunmen as they entered the Jewish centre told the Guardian the attackers were “white”, although this could mean they were paler-skinned Indians from the country’s north.
“I went into the building late last night,” he said. “I got a shock because they were white. I was expecting them to look like us. They fired three shots. I fired 10 back.
The litany of errors is long. Unlike their counterparts in the West, or in East Asia, India’s perpetually squabbling leaders have failed to put national security above partisan politics. The country’s antiterrorism effort is reactive and episodic rather than proactive and sustained. Its public discourse on Islam oscillates between crude anti-Muslim bigotry and mindless sympathy for largely unjustified Muslim grievance-mongering. Its failure to either charm or cow its Islamist-friendly neighbors — Pakistan and Bangladesh — reveals a limited grasp of statecraft. Finally, an inability to modernize a 150-million strong Muslim population, the second largest after Indonesia’s, has spawned a community ill-equipped to seize new economic opportunities and susceptible to militant Islam’s faith-based appeal…
In sum, the Indian approach to terrorism has been consistently haphazard and weak-kneed. When faced with fundamentalist demands, India’s democratically elected leaders have regularly preferred caving to confrontation on a point of principle. The country’s institutions and culture have abetted a widespread sense of Muslim separateness from the national mainstream. The country’s diplomats and soldiers have failed to stabilize the neighborhood. The ongoing drama in Mumbai underscores the price both Indians and non-Indians caught unawares must now pay.
Update: The Economist joins the “whodunnit?” game and leans heavily towards the theory that it was a homegrown group of Indian Muslims, quite possibly the Indian Mujahedeen. They also mention, en passant, reports from Indian troops inside the hotels that there are “bodies in many rooms.”