A horrible news from Bombay. In a coordinated series of Seven (perhaps Eight) blasts more than one hundred and sixty people have been reported dead, with several hundred wounded. The bomb blasts occurred during the rush hour in the evening, and as a result the number of casualties may rise. Earlier in the day, there were five different attacks, although at a much smaller scale, in Srinagar. It is not clear right away if the bomb blasts in Mumbai were in any way related to the Srinagar attacks, but it is very likely to be the case. The Mumbai Police think that each of the Bombay blasts may have involved 3-5 kg of RDX, and Lashkar-E-Toiba may be behind the attacks. CounterTerrorism Blog is reporting that the blast may show if there are links between infamous gangster Dawood Ibrahim and Al- Qaeda that are responsible for the blasts. Dawood along with Lashkar-E-Toiba was responsible for the 1993 bomb blasts in Bombay.
Just about a year ago, after the massive rains in Bombay, I had asked:
Think about how a large terrorist operation might be able to cripple a city for days or weeks, and how will you counter that threat. Will that be different from countering dramatic changes in weather or catastrophic climate change? How might you want to modify the current Risk Assessment and Vulnerability Analysis as well as Mumbai Disaster Management Plan to better respond to the situation?
Unfortunately, I do not have any better answers this time around as well. A part of the story from last year repeated again in that all modes of communication, first the mobile phones and then landlines, got jammed quickly. The blasts have shut down Western Suburban line, which carries over 2.5 million people every day. The fact that the blasts all occurred on the Western line during rush hour indicate that the intention of the terrorists was not just to inflict large number of casualties, but to also disrupt the lifeline, as the suburban railway system is popularly known, of Mumbai. As a result, there has been an increased pressure on roads which were by all accounts, understandably, in a state of chaos. It is not clear to me how soon the railway could start functioning completely, but at least partial services have resumed now.
Personally, this is a reminder that I should perhaps start thinking more carefully about counter-terrorism than just an intellectual interest. More updates later.
UPDATE (07/12): Amit Varma has a thoughtful post on Guardian blog about possible backlash, especially from those who may want to exploit this sad incident for political purpose.
The death toll is now reported to be over 200. Meanwhile, the prime suspect behind the attacks, Lashkar-E-Toiba (LeT) is denying any involvement. As Praveen Swami discusses in an article, it could take weeks before the actual planners of this attack could be identified.
The sustained terror of having those seven bombs explode individually in a well thought-out random way over a 3-month time period could have greatly impacted the security beliefs of that system’s users and providers resulting in a greatly destabilized train system in Bombay, possible in India, and would have greatly increased sustained worldwide fear of such attacks. As it is now, without a repeat (very unlikely; for they probable “shot their wade”), the incident will be a historic footnote in India’s struggle with GGs and likely soon to be less thought about in the rest of the world than either the Madrid or London bombings.
Perhaps, as suggested, the potential direction that GGs are headed is away from the symbolic to the systemic target. However, further evolution may occur when strategies begin to fully recognize that the critical systempunkt is not a system's nuts n’ bolds, but the world belief systems (i.e. sense of personal security) of the soft targets that use or provide the system.
I think that Salsabob is forgetting that bombing has been used by the terrorists in Mumbai for at least past 13 years, as this timeline would show. Also remember that several bomb blasts have taken place in Delhi over the last decade, the Diwali blast of last year being the most destructive of them all.
One has to think of how the 2006 bombings differed from 1993, or a series of bombings in 2002- 2003 bombings. In 1993 the targets of attack were all financial centers in Mumbai all targeted within two hours of each other: The Bombay Stock Exchange, Air India Building, Century Bazaaar, and ten other places. In 2002-2003, there were several different bombings which targeted buses, trains and restaurants over a period of several months. The 1993 bombings were a response to the 1992-1993 demolition of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent riots in Bombay. The 2002-2203 bombings were apparently a response to the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
In 2006, there is no apparent casus belli. It is not clear yet if the organizations responsible for previous Bombay bombings [Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed] and are responsible for the current bombings, but they are certainly the top suspects. If it is confirmed that the same group of people behind the deadly bombing in Delhi in 2005 was responsible for the current Bombay bombings, then this incident would only highlight the inability of the intelligence and security operations further. The fact that the targets in both of these attacks have been heavily crowded areas suggests that the intent was to maximize casualties, and not just disrupt the daily lives of people. In that sense, John Robb's thinking about systempumkts is extremely apt.
UPDATE (07/14): Patrix points towards this post by Atanu. I understand and share the frustration of not being able to do anything to respond to the attacks immediately. My frustration however is quite different from that expressed by Atanu. The fact of the matter is no expert that I know would be able to give a straight answer as to how to respond to these attacks, as there is no simple answer. I have written previously that terrorism poses a rather difficult challenge that quite frankly nobody knows how "to solve". Today's terror groups operate as much more decentralized networks, often passing critical information and supplies through sophisticated communication systems and supply chains, making it extremely difficult to identify who exactly masterminded operations, and from where. Conventional military tactics are unlikely to yield any fruits. We need a different tactical response. Very likely, this will require us to reevaluate our geo-political realities, and rethink what we mean by security and defense.