A number of shootings took place in India's financial hub of Mumbai on Nov. 26. Though there have been a number of recent militant attacks in India, this incident displays a significant change in tactics and targeting.
A posh area of India's financial hub city of Mumbai was rocked by between eight and 10 attacks beginning at 10:15 p.m. local time on Nov. 26. In the first incident, shooting was reported at Leopold Cafe in Colaba, a spot popular with tourists. The second attack occurred at the Taj Mahal hotel, a third near Oberoi hotel in Nariman Paoin and a fourth at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station. More shooting incidents are also being reported at the Trident hotel, a hospital and a highway leading to the airport. All the attacks reportedly occurred within a radius of less than 2 miles, and all seem to have involved small-arms fire, with some unconfirmed reports of grenades being used. A shootout reportedly is still occurring at the time of this writing and a hostage situation is developing at the Taj Mahal hotel. The reported death toll now stands at 25. This attack is markedly different from more recent attacks that have occurred in India. In past incidents, Islamist militant groups, operating mainly under the name Indian Mujahideen, have used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) made of explosive materials that would have been relatively easy to obtain under the guise of commercial use. Those attacks primarily focused on soft targets — crowded market places, religious sites (both Hindu and Muslim), transportation hubs and so on — and were designed to spur retaliatory attacks by extremist Hindu nationalist groups with an overall aim to incite communal strife between Hindus and Muslims. The Nov. 26 attack also is reminiscent of an attack in December 2001 (carried out by Kashmiri militants), in which militants opened fire on the Parliament building — at least one of the attackers in that case had a suicide vest. In this latest attack, a large number of perpetrators are attacking harder, better-secured targets using small arms. As opposed to previous attacks — in which the IEDs were left near the target and detonated remotely or with timers — the militants in this attack likely carried out the operation with the knowledge that they would probably be caught or killed. They quickly took hostages, however, indicating that creating a hostage situation (and so not getting killed during the attack) was part of the plan. Moreover, the sheer number of locations hit in this attack had to involve a large number of gunmen willing to take such risks, revealing a high degree of determination, coordination and planning. The targets in this attack are also more strategically focused. As opposed to trying to rile up extremist elements in India's Hindu and Muslim communities, the attacks in Mumbai are going after the country's tourism industry, spreading fear to Western tourists and businesspeople who frequent India, thereby hitting at India's economic lifelines. Given the shift in tactics, it is difficult at this stage to pin this latest attack on the Indian Mujahideen and its affiliates. That said, STRATFOR has expected the Islamist militant groups operating in India to recognize eventually that their attempts to incite religious violence were not achieving the desired results, and that a shift to harder and more strategic targets was likely in the making. Indeed, a September attack claimed by Indian Mujahideen on New Delhi's most popular shopping districts that both locals and foreign tourists frequent could have given some indication to the group's interest in shifting toward a more Westen-focused target set. Reports in September also claimed that Indian Mujahideen had threatened to attack Mumbai next.