Friday, November 28, 2008

Al Qaeda behind Mumbai attacks?

Post begun Wednesday, November 26 (read down for updates): I spent the day pleasantly, hanging out with my family and getting ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow. My father and I went over to Newton to buy the kosher Thanksgiving turkey (yum!). I plucked the remaining feathers tonight (kosher birds for some reason always have a few remaining feathers that have to be removed). I read most of a book that I bought at the SBL a couple of days ago - Amy-Jill Levine's A Misunderstood Jew, which is very interesting and well-written.

And then - at least a hundred people killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai/Bombay today. One of the bloggers at TNR points out how these attacks were different from earlier ones in the city. They were aimed not at Hindus (which we would expect if this were part of ongoing Muslim-Hindu violence), but at foreigners - Americans, Britons, and Israelis (the Chabad House in Mumbai was attacked and some people were killed there - the local Chabad rabbi and his family have disappeared - this is at a place called Nariman House).

He speculates about the culprit in Bombay:

But these Bombay attacks are different. The targets are not obviously Hindu at all--they are the main tourist locations in the city, and they were after Americans, British and Israelis. They went after a building called Nariman House, where several Israeli and Jewish families live. It was international, not domestic considerations which seems to be have been driving them. Also they seem very well-resourced. Apparently they came into the city on boats, used hand grenades and automatic weapons. It suggest some sort of Al Qaeda connection.

The New York Times has very good coverage - one of their blogs has been updating all day. They pointed to an interesting phenomenon - how much the attacks are being reported by new social media such as Wikipedia (which has a page up on the attacks) and by Twitter - Mumbai.

Update: I'm watching CNN-IBN right now via the CNN site. They're live-streaming the CNN India affiliate. This technology continues to astonish me. The terrorists have not yet all been captured or killed. There is an ongoing hostage situation at the Nariman House, with a number of people being held hostage there. At another hotel (Oberoi), there are still terrorists holding hostages, and government forces are now attacking them. There are also terrorists holed up in the Taj Hotel, which is on fire. There was another hostage situation at Cama Hospital. Some high anti-terrorist officials have been killed (one of the attacks was on a police station).

Now, a live interview with L. H. Advani (leader of the parliamentary opposition in India). First he spoke in English, now in Hindi I would guess. Advani said that this terrorist attack must have been planned for months.

Now reporting - terrorists came into Mumbai by boat, hijacked police vans.

Update: CNN-IBN is reporting that three people have managed to escape from Nariman House, two Israelis (mother and child), one Indian. Two or three of the floors of the house are rented by Israelis, others rented by Indians.

Another update (November 28): Nariman House has been stormed and there has been fighting there for over 12 hours. 5 bodies were found, and Haaretz has identified two of them as belonging to Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkia. "The couple ran the Chabad's local headquarters, which was one of 10 sites attacked. The Holtzberg's toddler son, Moshe, was smuggled out of the center by an employee, and is now with his grandparents. Representatives from the Israeli embassy and ZAKA rescue service personnel began the process of identifying the victims of the terrorist attack on the Chabad center in Mumbai."

(By the way, the Wall Street Journal for today has some very interesting articles on the businesses likely to be affected by the attacks - the articles really detail well for the uninformed, like myself, how much Mumbai is an international commercial center).

I've been reading a number of websites discussing who might have launched these attacks - the group that claimed responsibility for these attacks, calling itself "Deccan Mujahadeen," a group called the Indian Mujahadeen, who have claimed responsibility for earlier terrorist attacks this year in India; a couple of Pakistan based terrorist groups that were organized about twenty years ago to fight against the Indian presence in Kashmir (Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed) - or a combination of the above. Most of the sites I've read argue that Deccan Mujahadeen is just a name, not an actual group.

But if the terrorists are just an Indian group, or a mixed group of Pakistani/Indian terrorists, organized with local aims (to destabilize the Indian government; to disrupt peace talks between India and Pakistan; to highlight the complaints of Indian Muslims), then why aim at foreigners? Previous attacks have targeted Indians. It's the international connection that makes me think of Al Qaeda involvement. The attack on the Jewish center especially makes me think of Al Qaeda. As someone commented on Harry's Place - if the goal was to strike at Israel or Israelis, then the Israeli consulate would have been a target, or an El Al office. But instead a specific Jewish center was chosen.

I think that people have largely forgotten that after the 9/11/01 attacks, there were a number of Al Qaeda attacks directly targeting Jews in various countries. The one I specifically remember is an attack on the synagogue on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, which actually killed a large group of visiting tourists. Another occurred on November 15, 2003, in Istanbul - attacking two synagogues, Bet Israel and Neve Shalom.

But another question is - why the Chabad center in particular? There are Jews living in Mumbai, both Baghdadis and Bene Israel. Their synagogues were not attacked.

Chabad is an international organization, with its headquarters in Brooklyn. It's much better known than the Bene Israel or Baghdadi Jewish communities. I suspect that it was chosen, instead of those two Indian Jewish groups, because it was so well known and has an international presence. Attacking Chabad could be seen as an attack on Jews everywhere. This would be another reason to suspect Al Qaeda involvement.

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