Warnings Ignored as Lashkar Statement Emerges, and more…

December 1, 2008

Part 3

Evidence is emerging that Indian intelligence officials had advance warning of the 26/11 atrocities and that the life of 200 innocent people could have been avoided. This evidence will make intelligence agencies vulnerable to questions of negligence at best, and culpability at worst although, with the government and the political opposition keen to link the attacks to Pakistan-based militants these questions are not yet being asked particularly forcefully.

CNN-IBN reports that Indian intelligence officials received warnings of impending attacks from U.S. agencies. “Intelligence sources” told the network that “US Intelligence sources had warned us in October that Pakistan-based terrorists were planning to attack Mumbai and would come from the sea” – which appears to be what happened on the evening of 26 November.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper also reports that “On November 19, one of the country’s intelligence agencies circulated secret information after an intercept that indicated an attack was planned from the sea against Mumbai “very soon”. It also said the attacking terrorists would probably be carried in an Indian fishing trawler.”

This warning was not simply ignored. CNN-IBN’s sources also told the network that “The information was later developed upon by our own intelligence agencies, so much so that on November 19 — just a week before the attacks — they had specific information that Pakistan-based terrorists would take the sea route to the city.” If the unnamed sources are to be believed, “agencies picked up radio and mobile chatter in Mumbai and Karachi, which was passed on to intelligence agencies in Delhi.” Delhi then informed the government of Maharashtra and the Coast Guard.

The Maharashtra ATS was reportedly informed as well. As the anonymous sources maintain, its chief, Hemant Karkare, “had personally asked all five-star hotels in Mumbai to step up the security.”

Yet, according to the Hindu, “Police sources [have] said [that] these intelligence warnings had led them to deploy personnel near major hotels in Mumbai, and hold meetings with hotel security heads. Parking instructions were introduced at the Oberoi Hotel, and circulars were issued to local businesses asking them to observe special security precautions. However, the restrictions were lifted a week before the attacks, after businesses and residents complained of inconvenience.”

The owner of one such hotel, which turned out to be a target, Roshen Tata, told Newsweek that “he had indeed been given a warning about the possibility of a terror attack before the 60-hour rampage began.” Tata maintained that despite heightened security, little could be done, as the attackers chose to use the back entrance. Monitoring all of the entrances was clearly beyond the budget of one of India’s richest men.

Reports from soon after the attacks also suggested that security had been lax in the run up to 26/11 and during the night. Rhys Blakeley of the London Times reported that tourists and reporters were free to move across security cordons outside the targeted buildings. Tellingly, Blakeley reported that “A decision to relax security standards at the Taj days before the terrorist strike made the gunmen’s life easier still. That the gunmen knew this, and struck just as the guard was lowered, suggests that the site was being reconnoitred daily.”

The task of the attackers was made even easier by the slow response of the authorities. The Sunday Mail reports that Mumbai’s authorities knew of the arrival of the attackers by sea up to 2 hours before they began their assaults. As Charles Lavery relates, “They arrived at the docks aboard a rigid inflatable boat, or rib. One fisherman who saw them confirmed: “Some armed men were seen landing on the rib. The police were given a warning but it took them a long time to react.”

The Telegraph newspaper reports that when Mumbai authorities did respond, they “initially passed it off as a “gang war” between city crime syndicates” as did many passers by, a damning indictment of contemporary Mumbai.

The paper also reports that “The Indian Navy and Coast Guard also appear to have displayed criminal negligence” as “officials” in both have conceded. “They failed in detecting the hijacked fishing trawler in which the terrorists travelled to Mumbai despite alerts by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country’s overseas intelligence gathering agency, that an attack via the Arabian Sea was imminent.”

The precision of the supposed warning is extraordinary, and dubious. As the Telegraph’s Rahul Bedi has it, “On November 19 the RAW intercepted a telephone conversation between the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi and someone in Mumbai that talked of “sending cargo” to the city…After collating other information, they informed the navy and coast guard that Pakistan-based terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group aboard a trawler would approach India’s west coast to launch a major strike.”

The Hindu adds more detail, reporting on 29 November that “[Indian intelligence] analysts…rapidly determined that the apparently innocuous call was made to a Lahore phone number known to be used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s main military commander for operations targeting India, who is known only by the code-names ‘Muzammil’ and ‘Abu Hurrera.’”

Bedi further relates that “[a] five-day naval manoeuvres to intercept the trawler that also involved local port officials and coastal village councils were abandoned on Nov 22 as officials were unable to detect the hijacked vessel in which the gunmen eventually sailed to Mumbai, even though it was highly conspicuous as it regularly strayed away from the fishing fleet.”

In the aftermath of the attacks, the Congress government has responded by sacking key officials as criticism mounts. The Home Affairs minister Shivraj Patel and the National Security advisor MK Naranayan have both resigned. Naranayan was the man who reprimanded the ATS and Hemant Karkare for pursuing investigations into Hindutva-linked terrorist plots within the military. The right wing BJP is making capital from the government’s crisis, as PM Mahmohan Singh struggles to explain how it failed to prevent what seems to be a highly preventable series of attacks.

There is a strong possibility that elements within the intelligence agencies and the military that are linked to the far right, have influenced state and national moves to counter the perceived terrorist threat. As the case of Lt Col Purohit, who stands accused of organizing several atrocities (one of which has been blamed on radical islamic groups) shows, such organizations are vulnerable to infiltration by extremists.

The Maharashtra ATS was broadening its investigations to include more senior figures in the military intelligence apparatus when it lost its leader and prime mover behind the controversial enquiries. Far right elements within the state apparatus stand to benefit massively from the 26/11 atrocities as attention abrubtly shifts from terrorism originating within military and intelligence bodies to non-state islamist actors.

Leaks of information about prior knowledge should be assessed critically. There may be a hidden agenda to villanise Pakistan-based islamic groups and divert public attention, as suggested above. This information, which strongly reinforces the emerging official narrative – as discussed here – and incriminates Lashkar-e-Toiba, is based on leaks and speculation, and is highly congenial to the far right interests outlined above and elsewhere.

The response of Congress to these leaks and the atrocities themselves does not necessarily imply an acceptance of culpability either. With elections on the near horizon, the party is anxious to avoid a political meltdown and has panicked in the face of a concerted right-wing response.

In other news…

The Hindu carries a statement, purportedly from those who carried out the attacks. The group, which now goes under the label, the “Mujahideen Hyderabad Deccan” sent an e-mail in Hindi from a “Pakistan-based computer shortly before the attacks began.” Initial reports on the night of the attacks had it that the only known admission of responsibility, in the name of a group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen, was received at 2.35 am, six hours after the attacks began.

According to Praveen Swami of the Hindu, “Indian intelligence experts [believe] that the document was generated by a non-Hindi speaker, using voice-recognition software” as the text apparently contains numerous errors.

Its content (or what has been released via the press) is as follows:

In the document, its authors “warn the Indian government to stop atrocities against Muslims; that it return the states seized from Muslims; that it compensate, with interest, the cost of these atrocities”

“This attack” it states, “is a reaction to those actions which Hindus have taken since 1947 onwards. Now, there shall be no actions. There shall only be reactions, again and again. These shall continue until we have avenged each and every atrocity.”

It proceeds to assert that the violence “shall continue until Muslims have their own independent land where they may live their lives in accordance with the Quran and the Hadith. They shall continue until all our occupied states are returned to us. They shall continue until every death has been avenged.”

…“It is our innings now,” the mail concludes, using a cricket metaphor. “We shall not,” the e-mail states, “allow this innings to go waste. We shall play this innings with that style which was taught to us by Allah. We know that the Government of India will not listen to our warnings seriously. Therefore, we have decided that this warning should remain not just a warning, but demonstrated through actions — actions of which you have seen a living example in Mumbai.”

The statement has taken almost four days to arrive in the public domain, raising questions about its authenticity. It also echoes the statement released in July by a group calling itself the “Indian Mujahideen” following blasts in Ahmedabad and other Indian cities. The source of that e-mail was later traced to a wireless connection owned by an American evangelical Christian masquerading as an “executive skills trainer.”

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