Ten terrorists spread out through the city of Mumbai in the early evening hours of November 26, 2008. It would be three days before all of the terrorists were dead or captured. In their wake, they left at least 165 people dead and hundreds, if not thousands, more injured. What happened? Can it happen here?
In the 2008 Mumbai attack, five two-man teams hit targets that were likely to generate high numbers of casualties. The targets included a train station, a hospital, a restaurant, two hotels and a Jewish center. All of the targets were ‘high-visibility’ locations, with the exception of the Jewish center. The Jewish center was a very low-profile location, and the selection of it as a target clearly indicates the anti-Jewish sentiments of the terrorists.
The teams worked independent of the others, with the exception of two teams that started off separate, but later linked up. Several of the groups went mobile after the intial attack, moving on to a secondary target in one case, and linking with another group the the second case. Ultimately, four of the five teams bunkered down into a single location, though negotiations were never the intent of the terrorists.
The terrorists were all between 21 and 28 years of age and were very well prepared for the attack. Unlike the popular myth that terrorists are largely unskilled, these teams had spent months in training, becoming highly skilled in small weapons handling. Evidence indicates during the attacks the terrorists consistently fired controlled, three-round bursts at head level.
The terrorists also spent much of their training time building their physical fitness, and evidence suggests they were on a steroid regimen to enhance strength and endurance.
The terrorists had access to maps, photos, diagrams and videos of the targets, and it is believed the planning for the attacks reached back into at least 2007. The terrorists also received training in infantry tactics, the use of improvised explosive devises (IEDs) and how to resist interrogations.
The terrorists were each equipped with a rifle, pistol, hand grenades, IEDs and extra ammunition.
Communication between the terrorists and their controllers in their native Pakistan was excellent. The terrorists had access to at least one satellite phone, and numerous cellular phones. The commanders of the attacks were able to control the team movements and feed the terrorists with real time information on police movements courtesy of live media reports.
Sound like a nightmare scenario? It is. But can it happen in the USA? Unfortunately, yes.
One of the strengths, and vulnerabilities, of the United States is the freedom of movement granted to all citizens and visitors. Small teams of men with weapons can easily move into highly populated areas such as malls, hotels, sporting events and other locales and launch coordinated attacks designed to overwhelm police response capabilities and inflict maximum casualties.
Don’t think it can happen here? Think of the various mass-shootings this country has seen such as the one at Virginia Tech. If there were ten shooters, spread out all over that region, rather than a lone shooter in one location, how effective would your area’s agencies be in responding to the threats?
Plans similar to the Mumbai attacks have already been disrupted in the USA. And guess what, as recently as a few weeks ago, several men in Chicago were arrested for their involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
I doubt there are many departments ready to handle such an event.
For more information on the Mumbai attacks, check out the series of Senate reports entitled “Lessons from the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks” archived at the Texas A&M Integrative Center for Homeland Security. Also, “Anatomy of a Terrorist Spectacular” by Charles McMinn that was published in the Summer 2009 edition of The Tactical Edge is a great break down of the attack.