• SHARE

Terrorists launched a multipronged siege of the Indian city of Mumbai last week, which left at least 195 people dead and more than 300 wounded. The attacks are an offense against all civilized people and must be roundly condemned. But words alone are not enough. Those responsible for this outrage, and their supporters, must be caught and punished. There can be no sanctuaries in this fight. These horrific attacks are a reminder that the threat of terrorism is ever present and is a problem for all of us.

The assault on Mumbai, a city of 18 million people, one of India’s economic centers and home of the “Bollywood” film industry, began Wednesday night when at least two dozen men armed with explosives and automatic weapons attacked 10 sites popular among tourists and the city’s business elite. They fired at random at the train station, a Jewish center, hospitals and restaurants, and took hostages at the Jewish center and at two of the city’s most famous hotels. Police said Saturday all of the gunmen had been killed or taken into custody.

An unknown group calling itself Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks. “Deccan” refers to the Deccan Plateau, an area that covers much of the central and southern part of India. “Mujahedeen” are holy warriors. A militant group called Indian Mujahedeen launched a bombing spree this year that has claimed more than 130 lives, striking New Delhi in September in a series of attacks that killed 21 people.

The reference to holy warriors suggests the attackers are Muslims venting grievances against the Hindu majority or hoping to increase sectarian tensions. India is the world’s second-largest Muslim state; its 150 million Muslim citizens make up 15 percent of the population. They have been the target of Hindu nationalists, who have launched bloody attacks of their own. There are suspicions that radicals in Pakistan support militant Islamic groups in India to pressure the Delhi government to change its position on Kashmir — territory held by India and claimed by Pakistan since the 1947 partition.

The latest attacks, which ended Saturday after Indian commandos killed three holdout gunmen at the Taj Mahal hotel before moving in to search each room, was significantly different from previous ones, prompting suspicion of foreign involvement. Most terror attacks in India are bombings in public places that focus on local targets. This carefully planned and coordinated siege — some of the attackers arrived by boat before fanning out across the city — targeted foreigners. At least 22 foreigners were killed; most of the dead were Indians, however.

Heavily armed and well-trained, the terrorists sought out American, British and Israeli nationals. This suggests that the goal of the attacks was to scare foreign investors and the Indian elite: Hitting Mumbai is the equivalent of striking New York.

There is a view that al-Qaida provided assistance to the attackers. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed militant groups based in India’s neighbors — usually a reference to Pakistan — and warned of “a cost” to these neighbors if they did not stop their territory being used to launch such attacks.

Reportedly, three of the captured attackers were from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which has been fighting for control of Kashmir with aid from Pakistani intelligence. Lashkar-e-Taiba has denied any involvement. During the siege, a militant, speaking Urdu, the main language spoken in Pakistan, called a television station to complain about abuses in Kashmir and demanded the return of Muslim lands.

A confrontation between India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear-armed, could be catastrophic. Some suggest that the attacks were designed to derail a rapprochement that had been in the making recently between the two.

It is too early to blame Pakistan. There is another possible culprit: the Muslim underworld in Mumbai. In March 1993, organized crime groups in the city bombed Mumbai’s stock exchange, trains, hotels and other sites, killing 257 people and wounding more than 1,100 others. A decade later, another series of attacks killed 52 people, and in July 2006, bombings on trains and commuter rail stations killed at least 187 people. Those attacks were allegedly in retaliation for Hindu assaults on Muslims elsewhere in the country.

Since May, there has been a wave of bombings across Indian cities, claiming more than 200 lives. Most look like the work of Islamic extremists, but there are also indications of retaliation — or provocations — by Hindu extremists as well.

The scale of violence suggests that India faces profound and fundamental problems. Sectarian tensions are said to be responsible, but ethnic controversies, caste issues, and vast income disparities contribute as well.

All nations must condemn this violence, do their utmost to help India through this trauma, and do more to fight the terrorists who have done this terrible thing. Most important, Indians must have faith in their state, to see it as impartial and capable of providing justice for all.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW