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The Terroristic Attacks on India


The contemporary landscape comprises an array of challenges in terms of national security. Agencies operating within national security frameworks aim at effectively addressing those risks, and prevention becomes the leading strategy in this regard. However, the world’s history has seen several examples of severe intelligence failures, which led to considerable casualties inflicted by terroristic acts (Gaibulloev and Sandler 2019, p. 281). The attack on Mumbai, India, which occurred on November 26, 2008, became one of the most notorious examples of such a development (Kaura 2020, p. 159). On that day, a series of thoroughly organized attacks staggered one of the largest Indian cities and caught law enforcement unaware. This act of terrorism became part of a larger context in relation to the conflict between India and Pakistan, but the national security framework still remained unaware. This paper aims to analyze the 26/11 attacks as an example of intelligence and law enforcement failure, which cost numerous lives of Indian residents.

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History of Violence

The attacks on Mumbai, which occurred in 2008, became the fallout of a lasting conflict between India and Pakistan, as the investigation revealed that the terrorists came from the latter. The tensions emerged in 1947, following the partition of the two nations upon the dismantling of the British colonial empire in South Asia (Doshi and Mehdi 2017). The newly acquired freedom prompted people to rekindle the old conflicts and pushed to a clash of an unprecedented degree. Saroha refers to the Indian-Pakistani conflict as “one of the most protracted and intractable” ones (2020, p. 7). It has persisted through most of the 20th century and entailed one of the deadliest attacks in the contemporary history of India.

The death toll of the conflict can be traced across the pivotal points of the confrontation. Doshi and Mehdi state that the number of people who perished within several months in 1947 ranges between 200,000 and 2 million (2017, para. 3). Kashmir, a mountainous region, became the symbol of the half-century-old confrontation. Since the moment of the partition, both Indian and Pakistani governments have claimed their rights to control this territory. Cheema writes that “the sub-conflict of Kashmir that has become the one of the most dangerous issues not only in South Asia but also in the world” (2015, p. 45). By the 1990s, the Indian government refused to consider political approaches to Kashmir and decided to focus on the militarized agenda (Cheema 2015). Evidently, such a situation has led to military tensions and open conflicts in the area (Majid and Hussain 2016). Through the spoils of war, distrust on the verge of hatred was nurtured between the historically close people of India and Pakistan (Ganguly et al., 2018). The 26/11 attacks reflected the atmosphere of tension, which resided on the border of the two nations for the past half-century.

Case Narrative

Ultimately, the tensions between India and Pakistan transcended the border of the Kashmir region and had a direct impact on the lives of people in both nations. Such a menacing situation was conditioned by the emergence of several entire generations nurtured in the atmosphere of conflict between India and Pakistan (Rath 2011b, p. 359). The attacks on Mumbai in 2008 were carried out across several days, from November 26 to November 29 (Mockaitis 2011, p. 317). The members of a Pakistan-based organization called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or “army of the righteous,” infiltrated the Indian territory from the sea as a part of their preparations (Rath 2011a, p. 3). According to the law enforcement reports, the attacking group comprised ten young men who were bound to wreak havoc in Mumbai.

The attackers brought equipment, weapons, and ammo required for an organized attack against the infrastructure of Mumbai. The events began to unfold at 10:30 pm, November 26, across seven locations in the city (Kamal 195). In addition to assault rifles, they were armed with 9-mm pistols and improvised explosive devices. Using this equipment, LeT launched a highly mobile and sequential attack on Mumbai (Azad and Gupta 2011, p. 7). Four tactical teams attacked several areas at once through “armed assaults, carjackings, drive-by shootings, prefabricated IEDs, targeted killings (policemen and selected foreigners), building takeovers, and barricade and hostage situations” (Rabasa et al., 2009, p. 5). The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the city’s main trains station, took one of the first hits on 26/11, and armed response units only arrived after 90 minutes of chaos.

Following the initial shootings, the terrorists proceeded to other locations. According to Rabasa et al., the subsequent targets included the Cama & Albless Hospital, the Trident-Oberoi Hotel, and Nariman House (2009, p.5). In addition to firing their rifles, the terrorists threw grenades at a gas station near Nariman House for an increased effect. The siege of the Trident-Oberoi Hotel endured for seventeen hours and only ended when the response units were to apprehend and eliminate the attackers (Rabasa et al., 2009, p. 5). While the instigation of fear among Indian residents and visitors remained the primary objective of the killing, the LeT members also issued demands for the release of Muslim fighters imprisoned in India.

The final attack of those days became the most protruded one and also the deadliest. As stated by Rabasa et al., the largest group of LeT fighters targeted the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, before entering which they killed ten people in a nearby café (2009, p. 6). The intruders moved freely on the hotel’s premises, killing its workers and residents on sight. The attackers proceeded to the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, “setting fires and moving constantly in order to confuse and delay government commandos” (Rabasa et al., 2009, p. 6). The liberation of Taj Mahal became the longest law enforcement operation during these attacks, and the completion of the objective required nearly 60 hours. Only after such a considerable period the police and the military, who eventually joined the former when the death toll was already high, cleared the building of the hotel and killed the last attacker.

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The attacks in question virtually paralyzed the entire city of Mumbai, causing fear and chaos across India. In the end, the death toll of the attacks amounted to 165 fatally wounded victims and over 300 injured people (Mockaitis 2011, p. 318). The act of terrorism caught the city and its structures unaware, causing major interruptions within the functioning of its vital mechanisms (Kolas 2010, p. 85). As can be inferred from the previous description of the event’s timeline, the LeT fighters managed to penetrate the national border of India unnoticed even though they transported considerable weaponry. Moreover, the terrorists moved toward their targets freely and did not face any impediments. As they launched the attacks, India’s national security system was unable to respond immediately, which aggravated the impact of the event. In fact, in such critical situations, the speed and efficiency of the response become a matter of paramount importance. In the case of the Mumbai attacks, this vital aspect was not present in the response protocol implementation, thus contributing to the further increase of the death toll.

The 26/11 attack on Mumbai appears to be thoroughly planned, and its execution was in an overt, bold manner. Accordingly, it is possible to theorize that the event represents a serious failure on behalf of the Indian national security framework. First of all, it was an outrageous, large-scale attack on one of the largest cities in the country, which must have taken a significant amount of planning. In the age of advanced technology used in intelligence, events of such magnitude are often noticed and prevented as early as the planning stage. Overall, it appears that the security mechanisms of Mumbai and India, in general, failed to both discern an immense threat beforehand and effectively address it on-site. As discussed by Javaid and Kamal, Mumbai is vulnerable to Pakistani attacks from the seaside, as a major part of the city faces it (2013, p. 25). Despite this fact, the supervision of the marine vicinities of Mumbai was inefficient, as LeT fighters managed to approach the city without impediments.

Evidently, the government and law enforcement must have been aware of the city’s vulnerability to external attacks from the seaside but did not implement any sufficient control measures. Moreover, the importance of the city of Mumbai in the context of international terrorism is actively discussed by Pawar (2017). As statistics show, this city has been able to familiarize itself with terrorism, as it has had to endure an array of attacks throughout recent history. As such, the capital of the Maharashtra state “has been targeted eight times since 1993, and every attack has had its own magnitude” (Pawar, 2017, p. 81). The terrorists’ interest in Mumbai is conditioned by a combination of factors, which was supposed to be considered by law enforcement (Bishop and Roy 2009, p. 266). First, as discussed above, the city is easily accessible from the Arabic sea. Next, Mumbai forms the core of the Indian economy, representing “25% of industrial output, 60% of all customs duty collections, 20% of all central excise tax collections, 40% of India’s foreign trade” (Pawar, 2017, p. 82). Accordingly, an attack against Mumbai is likely to be effective due to its immense potential in terms of economic, social, and political impact.

Effective national security policies have to consider the primary target for terrorist activities, providing maximum defense and intelligence for such areas. In India, it was not the case, providing LeT with sufficient opening to damage the country to its core. On the other hand, one nation fails to discern and address a threat; the purpose of the global security framework is to provide the necessary assistance through help from other countries. According to Byman, the United States intelligence agencies set the assistance to other, namely developing nations, as a pivotal mission (2016, 145). However, Tuninier argues that the existence of well-established international security channels does not prevent the system from being deeply flawed (2020, p. 117). Various resources have confirmed that several intelligence agencies across the globe possessed the knowledge of a planned attack against India. As such, Perez et al. confirm that the U.S. counter-terrorism units were aware of the planned attack through the information provided by the Pakistani plotter’s wife. (2010, para. 1). Nevertheless, the response did not follow, and the attacks became successful.

The inability of the intelligence service to pursue an important lead and effectively share information with other agencies and countries was evident in the case of 26/11. As it is argued, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tried to warn its Indian counterpart about a possibility of a major attack against Mumbai, but they still occurred (Perez et al. 2010). Moreover, Indian intelligence had allegedly been infiltrated by a proponent of the Pakistani terrorist group. In their book, Scott-Clark and Levy cite the statement of the attack’s organizers, who claims to have had contact within the intelligence service of India (2013, p. 52). This way, the counter-terrorism framework of the country was practically sabotaged by one person, whose damage went undetected by local specialists. National intelligence services are supposed to be able to respond to these challenges, as it is natural for the enemy to design infiltration plans.

Overall, a terrorist operation similar in magnitude to 26/11 requires a considerable degree of prior planning and training. Several months before the attack, the same group of attackers attempted to penetrate into the territory of India and approach Dubai in a boat, which eventually hit rocks by the shore (Rao 2016). The suspicious movements within the waters of Mumbai were observed by fishermen whose reports to the police were never processed (Roberston 2008). An even more surprising aspect of the attacks consisted of the terrorists’ better preparedness for the operation as compared to the Indian law enforcement. According to the High-Level Inquiry Committee on the 26/11 Attacks, the LeT terrorists had better weapons and equipment, whereas their knowledge of each location was superior to that of the National Guard officers (Pradhan and Balachandran 2009). Moreover, law enforcement’s arrival was anything but timely, and each second of the delay resulted in a higher death toll (Badri-Maharaj 2009, p. 148). This combination of negative factors confirms that the attacks on Mumbai became the consequences of systematic negligence exhibited by the intelligence services of India.


The emergence and growth of terrorism continue to threaten the global community, and the fight against it remains the primary order of business for intelligence agencies across the globe. In the case of Mumbai, facts suggest that there were potential means to prevent the attack, which took over 160 lives. Terrorists thoroughly planned each step and even attempted to infiltrate Mumbai months before the actual attack took place. Moreover, the Indian intelligence possessed HUMINT regarding the threats posed to the nation by Pakistani-based terrorists. Nevertheless, the data was never processed, leading to a strategic failure. On the tactical level, the flaws in the work of the Indian law enforcement consisted of the units’ overall unpreparedness for a protruded confrontation will well-equipped terrorists. Cases like this have become pivotal in the history of each nation, prompting governments to redefine their approach to intelligence, although at the expense of hundreds of lives.

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