Why was Mumbai targeted?

As they begin to rebuild their shattered lives, residents ask why they were targeted.

Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai
India is mourning its dead but also asking why [EPA]

India is in sombre reflection and mourning.

What happened in Mumbai was by any standard unprecedented and the shock at the sheer audacity of the attacks on India’s commercial capital continues to resonate.

The attacks are being touted as India’s 9/11 primarily because the country has never witnessed an attack of such proportions. The Taj Mahal Hotel, across from the historic gateway of India which symbolises the city, was the central target.

The perpetrators executed a string of highly-coordinated attacks targeting well-known symbols of India’s prosperity, leaving in their wake more than 200 dead and 300 injured.

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The ordeal began at 10 in the evening on Wednesday when armed men attacked three luxury hotels, a hospital, a train station, a popular restaurant and also the city’s Jewish Centre.

Twenty-five minutes later, two men with automatic weapons started firing outside the popular Leopold Café, which is frequently visited by foreigners.

They then moved towards the Taj Mahal Hotel, the famed waterfront monument which, for Indians, stands equivalent to the Empire State Building in the US.

The initial images of the armed men broadcast on television showed young men in T-shirt and jeans, wielding AK-47 assault rifles.

In the ensuing gun battles, more than 15 security personnel were killed, including the head of Mumbai’s anti-terror squad.

Intelligence failure

Analysts say there may have been a gross intelligence failure  [AFP]

The attacks were not simply about spreading terror and creating chaos, but also served to humiliate the government as they proved that a handful of men could paralyse a city and frustrate highly-trained security forces.

People were left wondering how the Indian intelligence agencies failed to anticipate an attack of this proportion.

The scale and execution of the foray points to acute planning for a sustained period of time. It was the first time that the sea route was exploited for access – the assailants used boats to reach the urban peninsula.

One former intelligence service member told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, that the collapse of human intelligence networks in favour of and total reliance on technological intelligence-gathering contributed to the failure.

Target: Foreigners

However, it is significant to note that the attackers chose to target foreigners and the places they frequent: the café, the hotels and Nariman House (home to the city’s Chabad Lubavitch centre).

While India awaits the outcome of the criminal investigation in the aftermath of the attacks, some analysts have speculated that a marked shift in Indian foreign policy over the last few years, namely a growing closeness to the US, could be a reason why the country was targeted by international terror networks.

Some have already started to question the wisdom behind the tilt towards the US and say it has put India on the vulnerable side of the economic and social world order.

The only silver lining is that there have been no blatant calls for Pakistani blood.

The Pakistani foreign minister’s presence in India helped calm the situation as he made some sensible observations about both countries being united in grief.

The neighbouring countries have also decided to share intelligence information and the impending visit of the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) chief to New Delhi is anxiously awaited to clear up the clouds of suspicion.

It is clear that intelligence officials across the world will have to develop better coordination to battle against such attacks.

Root causes

However, it would not be wise to assume that all this can be controlled without addressing the root causes of such brazen assaults.

Socio-religious and economic harmony will continue to be challenged unless disparities are acknowledged and amended.

It happened in Islamabad yesterday, Mumbai today and can happen in any other city tomorrow.

Nations and cities cannot function in a state of red alert, nor can para-military forces constantly be policing their own citizens.

The images and sounds of gunpowder and firing and mortar shells broadcast through TV networks across the country are likely to linger long after the dust settles on the violence unleashed in Mumbai.

Amitabh Bachchan, the iconic Bollywood star, summed it up in his blog when he said that he slept with his revolver loaded under his pillow.

This aptly reflects the sentiment of a city under siege.

Source: Al Jazeera