- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

Terrorists didn’t need to conduct a detailed reconnaissance. The commuter trains of Mumbai (Bombay), India, classify as a “very soft target.” According to Indian government statistics, 6 million people a day ride Mumbai’s commuter trains. Checking every bag and briefcase is simply a logistical impossibility.

As an operation, India’s July 11, 2006, repeats methods and techniques exploited in London’s July 7, 2005, and Madrid’s March 11, 2004 — serial bombs detonated on mass public transportation. The Madrid Method is a proven, blood-soaked concept — scatter a few time bombs on city trains, and high explosive wreaks its deadly evil. The Mumbai attack also echoes the September 11, 2001, attack on Lower Manhattan, for Mumbai is India’s financial center. Bombing a financial center exacts an immediate international economic cost.

As I write this column, no terrorist organization has “claimed responsibility” for what Indian police describe as a “coordinated” terrorist act. Initial police reports indicated the bombs exploded over 6 minutes during the evening rush hour. Several Indian states placed their police and security forces on high alert to prevent further attacks.

Americans will immediately think of al Qaeda and point to the hideous numerology — 9-11, 3-11, 7-7, 7-11 — as a clue. Roll sevens and 11s on the dice table, and the shooter wins. Terrorists use mass murder to create fear and chaos. If the public begins to dread 7 and 11 on the calendar, international terrorists will consider that a psychological victory.

Al Qaeda, or an al Qaeda affiliate, may well be involved in the murders. Polyglot, poly-ethnic India, however, confronts an array of homegrown ethnic, religious and political zealots with track records in terrorism.

Violent Hindu separatist groups have been implicated in past bomb plots. The terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are based in Sri Lanka — the island nation off India’s southern coast. The Tigers tend to focus their terror on fellow Sri Lankans. In May 1991, however, they assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi. The LTTE arguably invented modern suicide terror attacks. The Tiger assassin wore a suicide explosive belt. Ghandi was killed while campaigning in India’s state of Tamil Nadu.

Islamic radicals have repeatedly attacked India. For 50 years, India and Pakistan have battled over Kashmir — and in 1965, the two nations fought a full-scale war over the religiously divided region. In December 2001, Islamist gunmen attacked India’s parliament building in New Delhi. Islamist radicals consider Kashmir one of the holiest of holy wars. They seek to derail any Indian and Pakistani diplomatic rapprochement. Launching attacks in India stymies any peaceful resolution.

Mumbai attracts attention in India. The city is wealthy. It’s a media center and the headquarters of the Indian “Bollywood” movie industry. In the early 1990s, Mumbai suffered a series of bomb explosions that Indian government later blamed on criminal gangs. In 2003, a bomb killed 11 people on a train there. In August that year, two car bombs killed 60.

In the last decade, India’s economy has grown — at times spectacularly. As the world’s largest democracy, India serves as a political example to other developing nations who confront ethnic divisions, illiteracy and poverty.

Terrorists of all stripes despise democracy, for democracy means having to respect the interests of human beings who are political opponents. Rattling India seeds doubt in the fragile nation-states of the developing world.

But don’t expect India to waver. New Delhi is already an ally in the War on Terror. In fact, Indians argue the United States is the Johnny-come-lately to the war against Islamo-fascists.

In a public statement following the attacks, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed to “fight and defeat the evil designs of terrorists.” Believe him.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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