TERRORISM

11.26.12

Mumbai Attacks: Four Years Later

Four years after the terror attacks that killed scores in Mumbai, the group that carried them out still flourishes—and will almost certainly strike again, writes Bruce Riedel.

Four years ago Monday, the Pakistani terror gang Lashkar-e-Tayyiba attacked Mumbai, killing more than 160, including six Americans, in the deadliest and most brazen terror attack since 9/11. Then and now, LeT enjoyed the support of Pakistani intelligence and al Qaeda. Today, LeT is a ticking time bomb ready to explode again.

Ajmal Kasab, the only one of the 10 LeT terrorists who survived the attack, was hung for his crimes in India this week. He had confessed to joining the organization and to being trained in its camps in Pakistan for the operation. He implicated the senior LeT leadership in the plot. LeT’s founder and leader Hafez Saeed is not only still free and at large in Pakistan, he routinely speaks at large rallies attacking India, America, and Israel. He denounces the drones and demands Pakistan break ties with America. He eulogized Osama bin Laden as a “hero” of Islam after the SEALs delivered justice to al Qaeda’s amir last year.

Saeed’s patrons include the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, the ISI, which works closely with LeT. Kasab also implicated the ISI directly in the Mumbai operation, saying it assisted with his training and helped select the targets. Two Pakistani emigres, David Headley (an American) and Tahawwur Rana (a Canadian), have also confessed in American courts that they helped LeT plan the massacre in Mumbai and that the ISI was deeply involved in it. Both were found guilty. The ISI helped bankroll their reconnaissance trips to Mumbai to set up the attack.

In researching my forthcoming book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, it became apparent that there was a third party behind the scenes in the Mumbai plot: al Qaeda. Al Qaeda deliberately kept a very low profile, but helped the LeT plan and select the targets. Al Qaeda and LeT have long been close. Bin Laden helped fund its set-up, and LeT routinely helps hide al Qaeda terrorists at its bases in Pakistan. Al Qaeda had big hopes for the 2008 plot—a war between India and Pakistan that would disrupt NATO operations in Afghanistan and the drone attacks on al Qaeda. Instead, India chose to use diplomacy and avoid a military response. We all dodged a bullet.

Since 2008 LeT has continued to enjoy a free hand in Pakistan and plot more attacks. In 2010 it planned a major attack on the 19th Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. The plot was thwarted by good intelligence work, especially by the British intelligence services. This summer the Indians arrested a major LeT terrorist, Sayeed Zabiuddin Ansari, a.k.a. Abu Jindal, who was plotting another terror attack from a hideout in Saudi Arabia. Abu Jindal was also involved in the Mumbai operation in 2008—he was in the LeT-ISI control room in Karachi from which the orders were given by cellphone to the terrorists to kill hostages, including the Americans.

Al Qaeda had big hopes for the 2008 plot—a war between India and Pakistan.

The Mumbai attack took place just after Barack Obama's election. It was his first crisis as president-elect. In the last four years his administration has tried to rein in LeT. This year a $10 million reward was offered for information leading to Hafez Saeed’s capture, and the U.S. helped capture Abu Jindal. But the group is free to plot and plan in Pakistan and it has cells in the Persian Gulf, Bangladesh, England, and elsewhere. It will strike again sooner or later. When it does, al Qaeda and the ISI will probably be co-conspirators again.