Western targets in India are revealed to be vulnerable to attack

The bloody attacks in Mumbai, which killed at least 200 people, have threatened to destabilise an already fragile region and increased the likelihood of more violence over the coming months.

Terrorists often choose a target based on its symbolic value and this incident does not prove an exception. Heavily armed gunmen launched an assault on the main Victorian built railway station in Mumbai. Killing indiscriminately the terrorists spread fear into the heart of the city. ‘As well as disrupting transportation networks the assault on the train station could be seen as an attack on the culture of Mumbai itself,’ said Exclusive Analysis in an incident assessment released immediately after the strikes.

The terrorists also attacked the luxurious Taj Mahal hotel, which was previously seen as a secure place to stay. The hotel is frequented by westerners and became the focus of the world’s media attention. The gunmen shot at guests and held hundreds of them hostage. Media reports said the terrorists were specifically looking for British and American targets.

The vulnerability of this upmarket hotel has intimidated foreigners. Many businesses are likely to reconsider their travel plans in the wake of the incident. The England cricket team called short a tour of the country, concerned for their safety as a potential target of the terrorists.

Rowena Fell, intelligence manager, Pilgrims Group, does not believe major companies will flee the city following these attacks. 'Mumbai is a strategic financial centre within the world economy. Larger firms will be required to stay in Mumbai to continue their operations but will no doubt increase security to their business and staff accommodation and exercise extreme caution when booking accommodation and travel itineraries for visiting employees.'

Also on the militants target list was the Oberoi Trident, in Mumbai’s financial district. Here many more hostages were held for days as the Indian security forces battled to regain control of the hotel. Other targets included a popular restaurant, a hospital, a cinema and a Jewish religious centre.

Many of these sites are close to India’s commercial centre and as a result of the attack the city’s stock exchanges were forced to suspend trading. The terrorists also caused extensive property damage in the city. The total damage to the Taj Mahal is likely to be between $300m and $600m, according to Exclusive Analysis. Interruption to airport services is likely to continue as India steps up its security to reassure the public. Vijay Mallya, the chairman and chief executive of Kingfisher Airlines, said the catastrophic incident would significantly disrupt India’s travel sector.

Who is responsible?

The mainstream media branded the terrorists as al-Qaeda but this could be an over simplification. ‘We are resistant to media reports that these attacks were the hallmarks of al-Qaeda or even inspired by al-Qaeda,’ said the Exclusive Analysis’ incident assessment. The terrorists referred to themselves as Deccan Mujaheddin, a previously unknown group, although this may be an attempt to confuse investigators.

Dangerously, Indian intelligence has linked the terrorists to Pakistan. Both South Asian countries are nuclear armed and harbour deep suspicions of one another. Reports suggested the treatment of Indian Muslims in the disputed Kashmir region was one motivation for the attack. Fingers of accusation have been pointed at the Kashmiri Muslim extremist group Lashkar-e-Toiba. Pakistan is known to train militants who conduct operations in Kashmir. The destabilising effect posed by a violent escalation of the Kashmir stand-off has led to calls for calm from the international community.

‘The attackers most likely consisted of both domestic and external networks, including elements of Mumbai’s criminal underworld,’ said Exclusive Analysis. The analysts said they did not expect India to mobilise troops in response. ‘It is highly unlikely the attack in Mumbai was authorised or even known about at the top-level in Pakistan.’ However, they predicted a deterioration of India-Pakistan relations.

The political risk forecasters said a direct consequence could be retaliatory attacks on Muslim assets by Hindu extremist groups. ‘Similar attacks on major Indian cities are more likely to take place every three to six months. But heightened security makes Mumbai a less likely target.’

In India, terrorist attacks are sadly a frequent occurrence.

The Global Terrorism Database estimates that since 1970, 4,108 acts of terrorism have occurred in India, leading to over 12,000 fatalities.

In 2006 seven bombs were placed aboard packed passenger trains in Mumbai's railway terminal killing 186 and injuring more than 700.