Mumbai Siege: The Hunt for the Perpetrators

Counterterrorism analysts search for answers as the official death toll from Mumbai’s siege rises to 183 people.  We now enter Susan Moeller‘s second stage of post-terrorist attacks: the hunt for the perpetrators and seeking justice.  See my October 2001 analysis here on the September 11 aftermath and Henry Rollins’ reaction in New York City.

Slate‘s Anne Applebaum observes that we don’t yet know much about the group that carried out the attacks.  Applebaum’s analysis echoes Walter Laqueur‘s ‘new terrorism’ thesis in the mid-to-late 1990s: attempts at mass casualty attacks, tactics from the guerrilla and insurgency playbook, an ideological mix, and groups that either do not claim credit or who are not on the radar of counterterrorism analysts.  Applebaum captures Gregory Treverton‘s distinction between solvable ‘puzzles’ and potentially unsolvable ‘mysteries’ in intelligence analysis.

“The particulars of the attacking group are unknown; the
political-military equation from which the group has almost certainly
arisen is not,” notes The New Yorker‘s Steve Coll.  The most plausible hypotheses for Coll and other counterterrorism experts are: (1) Pakistan’s intelligence services may have funded the group in a clandestine/proxy war with India; or (2) the group emerged as an autonomous cell that was ideologically motivated by the clandestine/proxy war.  Coll explains why at this early stage the Mumbai siege is closer to Treverton’s ‘mysteries’:

If past investigations into such groups prove to be any guide, it may
be difficult to find clear-cut evidence of direct involvement by
Pakistani intelligence or army personnel. This is because Pakistan,
knowing the stakes of getting caught red-handed, has increasingly
pursued its clandestine proxy war against India in Kashmir and on the
Indian mainland through layers and layers of self-managing and
non-state groups. The Pakistani government and its domestic Islamist
proxies, including nominally peaceful charities based in Pakistan but
with operations in Kashmir, almost certainly pass through money and
weapons on a large scale. They do so, however, in such a way that is
very difficult to trace these supplies back to the government.

Applebaum highlights the epistemological challenges that counterterrorism analysts face; Coll offers some guidance on how to conduct an investigation on the basis of ‘contingent’ beliefs and alternative hypotheses.

Pakistan’s government denies any role
in the Mumbai attacks.  Perhaps forensic analysis of crime scene
evidence will provide answers and shift the current speculation from
Treverton’s ‘mystery’ to ‘puzzle’.  Or maybe not.

The next day Coll analyses India’s claim that the group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the Mumbai attack.