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LONDON (AP) — The attack on India’s financial capital bears all the trademarks of al-Qaeda — simultaneous assaults meant to kill scores of Westerners in iconic buildings — but clues so far point to homegrown Indian terrorists, global intelligence officials said Thursday.
Spy agencies around the world were caught off guard by the deadly attack, in which gunmen sprayed crowds with bullets, torched landmark hotels and took dozens of hostages.
“We have been actively monitoring plots in Britain and abroad and there was nothing to indicate something like this was about to happen,” a British security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.
Britain is the former colonial power in India and Pakistan and closely monitors terrorist suspects in those countries.
In some ways, the attack illustrated just how fluid terror tactics have become since Sept. 11 — and how the threat has become more global. Al-Qaeda’s leaders on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border still provide inspiration but groups are becoming increasingly local.
The group that claimed responsibility, Deccan Mujahideen, was unknown to global security officials. The name suggested the group was Indian.
One of the suspects reportedly called an Indian television station, speaking the main Pakistani language of Urdu, to demand the return of Muslim lands. That was a reference to Kashmir, territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.
But Ajai Sahni, head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management who has close ties to India’s police and intelligence, said the attack was a departure from past assaults waged over Kashmir. Other such attacks had targeted Indian legislators, not Westerners.
Security officials said it was too soon to make a connection to Pakistan.
“It would be premature … to reach any hard-and-fast conclusions on who may be responsible for the attacks, but some of what we’re seeing is reminiscent of past terrorist operations undertaken by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed,” a U.S. counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity, referring to Pakistani militant groups linked to al-Qaeda who have fought Indian troops in Kashmir.
Another British security official told the AP on condition of anonymity that the attack doesn’t look to have been directed by al-Qaeda’s core leadership, which has been weakened by the deaths of several leaders and key operatives in recent months.
Al-Qaeda’s core leadership is believed to be fewer than 100 people now, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of “Inside Al-Qaida” and a terrorism expert at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.
The British security official said it appeared the attack was inspired by Islamic extremist ideology and al-Qaeda propaganda popular among radicalized youths. Many of the attackers in the Bombay assault were young.
Gunaratna said he believed the group that carried out Wednesday’s attack was the Indian Mujahideen, responsible for past attacks in Bombay.
The word “Deccan” refers to a plateau in southern India. “Mujahideen” refers to holy warriors.
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