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The Mumbai Attacks – Why Guerilla-Style and not Suicide Bombing?

Al-Qaeda and its local affiliated terror groups adopted suicide attacks and have used this mode of operation as part of their terrorism repertoire. In fact, Al-Qaeda has become the dominant group in the global arena with regard to suicide terrorism. While this modus operandi remains very difficult to counter without concrete preliminary intelligence, the presumably Al-Qaeda-affiliated perpetrators of the terrorist atacks in Mumbai chose a different tactic.

Suicide attacks as ideology and symbolism

One of the main forces in the proliferation of suicide terrorism phenomenon and transforming it from a local phenomenon to an international phenomenon was the ideological factor. On an ideological level, Al-Qaeda introduced the ideal of self-sacrifice, “Istishhad”, as the supreme commitment and ultimate manifestation of global Jihad, it’s leading organizational value, and became its own “trade Mark” symbol. Radical Islamic local affiliated groups adopted suicide as the supreme embodiment of global Jihad and raised martyrdom self-personal sacrifice to the status of a principle of faith. [1] The concept of “Istishhad” as a personal duty carrying out Jihad as an obligatory duty as a means of warfare is part of an overall philosophy that sees active Jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam as a central ideological pillar and organizational ideal.


Pakistan-based pan-Islamic terrorist organizations, which are allied with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in his International Islamic Front (IIF), have been consistent in the pursuit of their long-term strategy directed against India. The most virulent and the most active of these organizations is the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), whose headquarters previously used to be based at Muridke, near Lahore, in Pakistan. It has been responsible for most of the suicide attacks in India since it joined bin Laden’s IIF shortly after its formation in 1998. Before it joined the IIF, it did not believe in suicide terrorism.[2] According to the LeT Emir, Hafiz Muhammad Sa’eed, ‘the jihad would spread all across Kashmir. It would spread to every peak, every forest and every path’. As part of this new strategy, the Lashkar came up with a new means of attack suicide bombers, which it named as “Ibn Taimiya Fida’i Missions”, in memory of the medieval Arab Islamic scholar who crusaded against what he saw as un-Islamic practices.[3]
On December 26, 2001, the U.S. Government designated the LeT as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Furthermore, on January 12, 2002, the Pakistani government banned the organization from operating in the country. Following both the U.S. and Pakistani banning, the LeT renamed itself as the Jamaat U Da’awa (JUD), in an effort to evade sanctions and continue operations. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the JUD, although claiming to be a humanitarian organization, maintains their violent agenda as expressed their activities. A recent article published by the JUD magazine extolled suicide attacks by terrorist around the world, citing the activities of the Taliban, Iraqi insurgents and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In addition the Treasury department cites that the JUD utilizes the vast infrastructure built by the Let, which includes mosques, madrassas and fundraising offices in Pakistan used to raise money and recruit new members.[4]

On January 16,2008 the UN Security Council’s “Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee” designated three Kuwaiti nationals for providing support to al-Qaeda. The three Kuwaitis, Hamid al-Ali, Jaber al-Jalamah, and Mubarak al-Bathali were added to the UN’s so-called “1267 list” of nearly 500 individuals and entities tied to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Jaber Al-Jalamah provided financial and logistical support to al-Qaeda in Iraq. According to US Treasury, he recruited “a significant number of men” to fight for the organization, including potential suicide bombers, and had direct contact with Osama bin Laden.

Mubarak al-Bathali helped raise funds for a range of terrorist organizations including al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, and Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan by speaking at mosques in Kuwait.[5] According to the Australian government, Lashkar-e-Toiba is the military wing of Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI). The LeT is also known as Paasban-e-Kashmir and Paasban-i-Ahle-Hadith. These details have been corroborated by material from intelligence investigations into the activities of the LeT. The LeT has been involved in a number of terrorist attacks, including suicide attacks, against non-Muslims in Kashmir, Indian security forces and Indian Government installations.[6]

The Indian Government has publicly implicated the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror organization, along with Lashkar e-Toiba, for the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament that killed nine and injured 18. According to Indian security sources, in the attacks carried out by LeT on the Indian Parliament Dec 13,2001 and the attack on the Ram Janambhoomi site in 2005,the attackers were wearing a suicide belts/vests.

Why Perpetrate a Guerilla-Style Attack and not a Suicide Bombong?

Considering the operational strategy background of Lashkar, the Mumbai attack demonstrated the fact that this time we are not dealing with the kind of terror attack increasingly experienced by India in recent years – a series of explosions undertaken simultaneously by radical Islamic organizations aiming to kills masses of Hindus. This time around we saw an all-out guerilla style urban warfare offensive, with clear military hallmarks, targeting the city considered to be India’s economic and tourism center. This mixture to objectives, as well as reports that the Muslim terrorists who raided Mumbai arrived from outside of India, by sea, could point to the fact that the offensive is a joint operation initiated by global Jihad forces (al-Qaeda) and Indian Muslim groups that operate in a local, religious, and political context.

The Mumbai attack was not a downright suicide attack as we have experienced in resent years, which bears the hallmarks of global Jihad and Al Qaeda’s inspiration. Usually, suicide attacks are characterized as “an operational method in which the very act of the attack is dependent upon the death of the perpetrator, a situation in which the terrorist is fully aware that if he does not kill himself, the planned attack will not be carried out. He cannot fulfill his mission and stay alive at the same time.”[7]In the Mumbai attack, it seems that the perpetrators were not operating as suicides, they were acting in a very much guerilla style warfare regardless of the end results in which the terrorists were killed after 62 long hours of siege and a determined fight from door to door.

Unlike previous attacks in India this year, which consisted of anonymously planted bombs; the Mumbai assailants were spectacularly confrontational, well armed armed with AK47s and chucking grenades, highly trained, determined, carrying out multiple and mobile incidents, that achieve a large number of fatalities before anyone could pinpoint the threats and react effectively. One would expect that a local Al Qaeda’s affiliated organization like Lashkar-e-Tioba or Jaish Muhammad(yet to be established),would employ suicide attack as a mode of operation rather than a rapid moveable shooting campaign.As mentioned above, Lashkar-e-Toiba has employed suicide attacks in the past and it should be asked why the attack was not a suicide attack?Why bother investing long time of preparations and operational efforts in creating a highly skilled assult team, when its would have beem much easier and simple to dispatch a group of suicide attackers that would have blown themselves in highly crowded places achieving the same impact and results? Is the resent attack a manifestation of a new trend shifting from the traditional suicde attacks into a new mode of operation ? Was it an isolated misrepresentative case or a signal of a new trend and development regarding the future nature of radical Islamic terror organizations affiliated to Al Qaeda ?

Voices of criticism regarding the Indian operational military, coast guard and police response to the attack is already being heard, pointing out and criticizing the tardiness and inadequacy of response, the utter incapacity and incompetence of India’s security apparatus, intelligence warnings that were given to the State Government, and that were also passed on to the security establishments of the hotels under threat which were ignored or not translated to security measures and the reality is that there was a comprehensive structural failure in Mumbai.[8]

Obviously, the Mumbai attack, surfaced internal public criticism as well by respectable counter terrorism Indian experts calling urgently for internal organizational restructuring within the Indian governmental counter terrorism bodies like the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), the military, state police, the coast guard and intelligence apparatuses. One of the suggestions is to create and shape joint integrated coordinating bodies to ensure joint operational action in all terrorism-related matters. Every agency is equally and jointly involved and responsible for the entire counter-terrorism process starting from collection to action on the intelligence collected. If such a system had existed, the advisories issued by them on the possibility of a sea-borne attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba on Mumbai that were not acted upon by the Mumbai Police, would not have arisen because the IB and the R&AW would have been as responsible for follow-up action as the Mumbai Police.[9]

Never the less, for all of us out side India, as outsiders observers, it would be premature at this stage to drive strategic and operational conclusions, and there is no need to get into unestablished speculations or theories, we all should wait in patience to get answers to these questions to be determined by the thorough ongoing investigations conducted by the Indian authorities and other governments around the world through its intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Mass hysteria reactions and rhetoric echoed by counter terrorism experts describing the Mumbai attack the “doomsday scenario”[10] is premature, counter productive and unnecessary at this stage. The strategic question to be asked within a fact finding analysis should provide answers to what was the “raison d’etre” and the strategic intention taken by the terror organization which initiated and perpetrated in the Mumbai attack, was it a manifestation of a new trend of the global Jihad mode of operation or an isolated event?


[1] 9/11 Commission Report, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Washington, 2004, p. 234.

[2] B. Raman,”Al Qaeda Empire In Pakistan” 26. 11. 2002.

[3] Yoginder Sikand, Islamist Militancy in Kashmir: The Case of the Lashkar-i Tayyeba, November 20, 2003.


[5] Treasury Designations Target Terrorist Facilitators, December 7, 2006


[7] Boaz Ganor, “The Rationality of the Islamic Radical Suicide attack phenomenon” 21/03/2007. 

[8] Ajai Sahni, “Mumbai: The Uneducable Indian”.