ANALYSIS / Is Al-Qaida Behind the Mumbai Terror Attacks?

Experts say organized orchestration of Mumbai attacks could not have been carried out by local group.

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A previously little-known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the series of attacks that rocked Mumbai over the last two days.

The organization is named for Hyderabad, a mainly Muslim southern Indian city. It previously claimed responsibility for last May's series of explosions in Jaipur, which killed 70 people.

Indian security authorities, however, believe the group is actually a front for the Muslim terrorist organization Lashkar a-Tayeb ("army of believers"), established in 1989 by Pakistani intelligence.

This assessment is based partly on the interrogation of nine members who were arrested. They revealed that 60 to 70 terrorists, some of whom came to Mumbai by boat, carried out the current attacks. Weapons and a stash of grenades were found in one of the boats after its passengers came ashore.

Pakistani intelligence founded, aided and cultivated this and other militant organizations as part of its battle against India in the contested region of Kashmir. It was only in 2003, after 9/11 and under heavy pressure from India and the United States, that the organization and similar ones were outlawed in Pakistan.

Chabad center in Mumbai

Experts believe the main goal of Lashkar a-Tayeb is to destabilize India by damaging its economy and its fragile ethnic mix while fomenting dissent among India's large Muslim minority.

The organization, which is on the list of outlawed terror organization in many countries, seeks to end what it considers India's occupation of Kashmir. Its ideological platform combines anti-Western ideas (which explains its choice of hotels popular with Westerners in its list of targets) with those of global jihad and of hatred toward India.

In the past, the group had strong links to Osama Bin Laden, and its members trained in Al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. Abu Zubaydah, considered one of the most senior Al-Qaida officials being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, was captured in March 2002 in a joint operation by United States and Pakistani intelligence forces at a Lashkar a-Tayeb safe house.

Slow response

In the first several hours after the Mumbai incidents began, the response of the Indian authorities was slow, confused and inefficient. The first forces sent to the scene were inexperienced local police officers, who suffered many casualties as a result.

It took some time before military and security authorities realized the scope of the attack and deployed skilled security forced, including army and navy commando units, to the 10 attack sites. These units, and in particular the National Security Guard's Black Cats commando force, have an impressive operational record, especially in Kashmir and against the Pakistani army.

They operate in accordance with the British military tradition, and are trained by equivalent British special forces such as the Secret Intelligence Service, as well as by U.S. special forces units. According to Indian analysts, these units also maintain contacts with similar units in Israel.

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