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'Mumbai attack was a jihadi fundraiser'

By Prem Panicker in Mumbai
Last updated on: December 02, 2008 15:48 IST
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The Mumbai terror-attacks of November 26-29 was as much about fund-raising for the jihadist cause as it was about maintaining the drumbeat of terror that has been a constant this year, says Namrata Goswami, Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, the New Delhi-based think tank.

Goswami was cited in a USA Today report making the game-changing claim that the Mumbai attack was executed by indigenous terrorists seeking to impress Islamist militants worldwide, earn a reputation and establish a linkage with Al Qaeda in order to attract foreign sponsors.

That, says Goswami, is only half true. "What I said was that the attack showed a convergence of external and internal operatives; I did not say it was carried out solely by indigenous terrorists. But yes, the other part, about fundraising, I did say that.

"This latest attack was a corporate performance," Goswami argues. "Three days of terror, beamed live to living rooms around the country and transmitted around the world. There's a lot of money in it, and an attack of this kind usually sees a spike in sponsorships and donations from abroad."

Efficiency was a hallmark of the attacks -- thorough reconnaissance, highly detailed planning and almost near-perfect execution. The attackers held a sizeable contingent of India's top commandos at bay for the best part of three days, with their attack beamed blow by blow all around the world. "And consider this -- they had maps of the Taj Mahal Hotel, that is confirmed; but the National Security Guard commandos who were going up against them had no maps to work from, as Director General J K Dutt pointed out."

All of that adds to the sort of "impressive" performance that goes down well with jihad sympathisers, and unlocks cheque books, Goswami points out. Terrorist groups need a constant influx of funds, and typically, highly publicised attacks are the best trigger for fresh inflows of capital.

But sponsors also need a receiver, and absent some organisation standing up and taking responsibility for the attack, how would a potential donor know where to send funds?

"The machinery of jihad has a transactional mechanism of its own," Goswami says. "It has an information-disseminating machinery, and a mechanism to tap into donors and harvest funds. That for instance is where the e-mails come in, the ones that go out before each attack.

"The word mujahideen is a constant, and like a coded signature. Within the network of jihadis and their sympathisers, everyone will know, or be told, who the perpetrators are. They are not looking to tap into the random public; as long as the network of donors knows who is responsible, they have accomplished their objective."

The scary part, says Goswami, is that the most recent attacks are clearly the handiwork of a small, well trained and motivated cell guided by a larger terror network and leadership -- and the network and leadership is still at large.

That, says the IDSA analyst, is the biggest danger since it raises the possibility that the attack will be replicated across urban India, with each target picked for great vulnerability and great visibility. Goswami identifies Ahmedabad, New Delhi, Lucknow and Raipur as likely targets for the near future. "And any attack on Raipur by such outfits would have added danger, given the proximity of Naxalite-affected areas in Bastar and Dantewada districts in the state of Chhattisgarh," says the analyst, whose area of speciality is primarily the strife-torn northeast.

If the danger is so clear and present, what then is the solution? A start, Goswami argues, can be made if we stop blindly condemning politicians or, at least, suggesting that they are solely responsible for the problem. "That is bad analysis, to suggest the Mumbai attacks are solely attributable to bad politics. And bad analysis produces worse solutions," she argues.

In her opinion, massive intelligence failure is the core problem -- and it is not confined to the top of the intelligence tree, but goes all the way down to the operational street level. "A common misconception is that the process is homogenous," she says. "How it really works is, intelligence agencies acquire information, and share it with a whole host of agencies -- the home ministry at the Centre and in the concerned states, the police and a whole heap of other groupings at the Centre and state levels.

"These agencies investigate independently. Firstly, this produces duplication and wastes time and in the case of terrorism, time is crucial since there is little leeway between alert and the actual strike. Secondly, in such a situation there is the possibility of each agency thinking the other one is on top of the situation, with the result no one is holding the ball."

That explains, says Goswami, why recent attacks have been accompanied by analysis that the attacks could have been prevented if proper action was taken -- that is true enough; only, since the systemic structure remains the same, there is no likelihood of a different outcome next time.

All of that argues a change -- of the kind the government is currently contemplating. But will a central investigative/intelligence agency of the kind now being mooted solve anything -- especially given that such a nodal role is what the National Security Advisor and his office was supposed to be performing anyway?

"You are right when you say that the NSA has the coordinating role," Goswami says. "But it appears more and more likely that just having the NSA is not enough for a more focused integration of intelligence.

"The gathering and assessment of intelligence is not an easy task. For that, you require trained groups of personnel all along the intelligence hierarchy right to the lowest level, with a supreme amount of motivation at all levels and guided by a focused leadership.

"Remember, we are dealing with a very highly motivated terror force. A federal intelligence coordinating agency is a good idea, as we are face terror attacks across the country which knows no borders. Turf wars between various arms of the security forces and between the states and the Centre actually weakens our response. A coordinated intelligence wing will not only gather intelligence data at all levels but will also be reporting to one higher up who will consequently spell out a singular assessment of a particular threat scenario. At present, because of multiple agencies involved in intelligence assessment, threat scenarios differ.

"Take the example of the seemingly different intelligence available with the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Mumbai police in the coastal borders just before the bomb blasts. Such confused intelligence is not acceptable to a nation facing a common threat, to have its security agencies bickering over who has the best intelligence threat assessment."

External Link: Namrata Goswami on preventing terror

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