Remembering the Mumbai Attacks: The Lessons Learned One Year Later

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One year ago today (November 26) Mumbai, India experienced its worst terrorist attack. Ten jihadists with small arms and grenades killed over 173 people and wounded over 308. They managed to hold the police and armed forces at bay until November 29.

While there have been some changes made in the hopes of preventing another attack, Karan Singh Tyagi laments:

Sadly, not much has changed. A year down the line no individual has been held accountable or punished for such a heinous act. It was only yesterday that the Pakistan Anti-Terrorism Court formally charged seven suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, with planning and helping execute the Mumbai attacks. It is better late than never, but one only hopes that this indictment will be taken to its logical conclusion without any further delay.

In India itself, the trial of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone jihadi captured alive, has been turned into a prolonged circus that is serving no one. Kasab initially pleaded not guilty, but later, on July 20th, admitted his guilt. The court accepted his plea and placed the confessional statement on record, but dubbed the admission of guilt as a partial admission and let the trial proceed.

By all reckoning, Kasab’s is an open and shut case. So why not get on with it and reach the inevitable end? I am not suggesting kangaroo courts and summary trials, but delays like this don’t translate into justice. It is especially distressing to see such problems continue to emerge after the discomforting maze of the Indian judicial system was so badly exposed to the whole world when the Trial Court took thirteen years to bring down curtains to the 1993 Bombay Bomb Blast case.

Kasab claims he was recruited for the attacks by an Islamist faction in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan initially denied he was Pakistani but they were forced to admit his citizenship as more and more evidence emerged about how and where the plot was hatched. Rhys Blakely reports (July 21, 2009):

Kasab said he had decided to confess and face a possible death sentence in India after learning that Pakistan intended to prosecute five men accused of being linked to the attacks. “I have heard that Pakistan has now admitted I am Pakistani. My wish is to end the trial and for you to punish me,” he told the judge. He had previously pleaded not guilty to 86 offences, including murder and waging war against India, claiming that a confession had been beaten out of him.

Yesterday, however, he detailed how the Mumbai strike had been masterminded by Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist faction.

A recent AP story disclosed Italian police arrested two Pakistani men involved in financing aspects of the operation:

The day before the attacks began on Nov. 26 they allegedly sent money using a stolen identity to a U.S. company to activate Internet phone accounts used by the attackers and their handlers, said Stefano Fonsi, the head of anti-terror police in Brescia.

The transfer was just $229 but gave the attackers five lines over the Internet, which are difficult to trace and allowed militants to keep in touch even during the rampage, Mr. Fonsi said.

Italian police began the probe in December after being alerted by the FBI and Indian police about the transfer, Mr. Fonsi said…

The two suspects in Brescia, identified in a police statement as 60-year-old Mohammad Yaqub Janjua and 31-year-old Aamer Yaqub Janjua, are accused of aiding and abetting international terrorism as well as illegal financial activity. Their agency, which operated on the Western Union money transfer network, was seized by police.

Transferring funds using the identity of other people was a common practice at the Madina Trading agency in Brescia, and the Italian probe broke up a ring of people who used the system, Mr. Fonsi said.

Two more Pakistanis were arrested in Saturday’s raids for allegedly committing fraud, money laundering and other crimes through the masked transfers, but they were not linked to the Mumbai attacks. A fifth Pakistani man escaped arrest and was still being sought.

An additional 12 people were flagged to prosecutors for possible investigation but were not arrested, Mr. Fonsi said.

Just by using the stolen identity, the suspects had transferred some €400,000 ($590,000) between 2006 and 2008 to various countries. The network also used its contacts in Pakistan to help illegal immigrants enter Italy, Mr. Fonsi said.

What are the lessons we can learn from the Mumbai terrorist attacks? The first is recognizing the mayhem and destruction that can be accomplished with hand-held weapons. Bombs or other high explosives are not necessary. This was sadly made apparent by Major Malik Hasan’s recent rampage at Fort Hood. The second is realizing the extent of the global connections and networks established by these jihdists rather than narrowly focusing on South Asia. The third lesson regards the wisdom of trying people responsible for warlike acts in civilian courtrooms. While our system of jurisprudence is not as labyrinthine as the Indian courts, the delays in Kasab’s case are what we can likely expect in the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Gitmo detainees.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those killed and wounded in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Remember what happened on this day one year ago.

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