Thursday, December 4, 2008




Ever since the Pakistan-supported insurgency started in Jammu and Kashmir ( J&K) in 1989, Pakistan had been alleging that Israeli counter-terrorism experts had been assisting the Indian security forces in their counter-terrorism operations in J&K. They were also alleging that the Israelis periodically visiting Srinagar were counter-terrorism experts under the guise of tourists.

2.In the last week of June,1991, a group of 40 Israeli tourists had gone to Srinagar. Many of them had just then completed their compulsory military service and had come to India on vacation before resuming their normal vocation. Seven of them were staying in a house boat in the Dal Lake with a Dutch woman.

3.On June 28,1991, some terrorists, believed to be members of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), attacked the house boat. They locked up the owner of the boat and a servant. The eight tourists were moved to small boats and then taken to a house in Srinagar town.

4.The terrorists interrogated them to find out whether they had any links with the Israeli intelligence. They told them that because they were Jews they would be killed. They allowed the Dutch woman and an Israeli woman to leave. They tied the hands of the men behind their back with ropes. Two of the Israelis managed to remove the rope when the terrorists were not watching. They snatched a rifle from one of the terrorists and killed him. There was an exchange of fire in which one Israeli and one more terrorist were killed. Five Israelis managed to escape and contact the local police. One Israeli was re-captured by the terrorists before he could escape.

5.News of this incident caused an outrage in Israel and in the Jewish community in the US. Kashmiri organizations based in the US urged the JKLF to release the re-captured Israeli as they were afraid that they might lose the support of the American public if any harm came to him. The JKLF released him.

6.At that time, there was no Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Indian territory--- either in J&K or outside. It infiltrated into J&K only in 1993.

7.There were no more attacks on Israeli nationals, but the Pakistani jihadi organizations continued to criticize the growing Indo-Israeli relations and allege that Israeli counter-terrorism experts were helping India.

8.In addition to visiting Israeli tourists, the LET and Al Qaeda were interested in targeting the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, reportedly told his American interrogators in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre that Al Qaeda had wanted to blow up the Israeli Embassy before 9/11, but could not do so.

9.As mentioned in my book titled “Terrorism---Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow” ( ), in a travel advisory on its Hebrew language Web site, posted on December 13,2006, Israel's Foreign Ministry had said: "Within the framework of al Qaeda's terror threats in India, there is now a concrete threat focusing on the Goa region where multitudes of visitors, including Israelis, gather ... in late December. Israel's Counter-Terrorism Authority has recommended that Israeli citizens stay away from sites in Goa popular with Westerners and Israelis over the next few weeks."

10.On December 15, 2006, DEBKA, a non-governmental Israeli think-tank, which disseminates information and analyses relating to terrorism, posted the following comments on its web site ( "Information has reached Jerusalem that al Qaeda is in an advanced stage of preparing coordinated attacks on the big, end-of-year seasonal parties held by Western and Israeli tourists in the Indian province. Israeli travelers are advised to cancel their trips to Goa or at least stay away from the big parties. Some 4,000 Israelis have booked flights to India for the winter season. They will be joining the thousands living there. A standing terror warning is still in force for Egyptian Sinai and Turkey."

11. Ever since the terrorist strikes by pro-Al Qaeda Jemmah Islamiya (JI) in the Indonesian tourist resort of Bali in October, 2002, and again in October, 2005, the Indian security agencies in their plans for strengthening physical security have been taking into account the vulnerability of the Indian tourism infrastructure---and particularly in places such as Goa. A greater physical security alert is maintained in places such as Goa, even in the absence of specific information of a planned terrorist strike.

12.There was a greater alert during 2006 following the reported arrest on March 11, 2006, of Tarique Jalal alias Tarique Batlo, a
Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen cadre, from the Margoa railway station. It was reported that one kg of RDX, two Russian-made hand-grenades, two electronic detonators, two cameras and a mobile phone were seized from him. This was followed by the arrest on March 30, 2006, at Jelenabad in Gulbarga, Karnataka, of Shamim Ahmad, a suspected activist of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), who was reportedly a resident of Goa. An AK-47, two hand grenades, a mobile phone, maps of dams and power grid installations in Andhra Pradesh, some audio-video cassettes and printed material in Urdu were reportedly seized from him. These arrests indicated the possibility of the presence of sleeper cells of Pakistani and Kashmiri jihadi terrorist organisations in Goa---not necessarily for organising terrorist strikes in Goa itself, but for
providing back-up support to jihadi terrorist strikes in other parts of India.

13.In the beginning of November, 2006, the Goa police reportedly sought reinforcements of para-military forces to enable them to provide effective security during the International Film Festival at Goa and during the holiday season. Their reported threat perceptions particularly related to the LET and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), both Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations aligned with Al Qaeda in the International Islamic Front (IIF).

14.Media reports dated November 2, 2006, had quoted Shri D. K. Sawant, Superintendent of Police, North Goa, as saying: "There is no specific threat to IFFI (the international film festival). The police department is taking major precautions as the intelligence agencies have indicated a possible threat of suicide bombing which can target pubs, Army camps and nuclear plants." He was referring to threat possibilities all over India and not specifically in Goa.

15.While addressing the annual conference of the Directors-General of Police organised by the Intelligence Bureau at New Delhi on November 21, 2006, Shri Shivraj Patil, the then Indian Home Minister, who was, inter alia, responsible for counter-terrorism, was reported to have stated that "India's critical infrastructure is under serious threat and it's the coastline that's facing the increased threat perception. The coastal areas are coming under increased threat from groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). “While he did not refer to possible threats in Goa, subsequent media speculation talked of the possibility of a threat of maritime terrorism directed at the Goa shipyard.

16.The possibility of a terrorist strike in Goa by pro-Al Qaeda elements from Pakistan and India started receiving greater attention since 2006 in the wake of the two arrests mentioned above and the Mumbai blasts of July, 2006. The vulnerabilities of Goa to jihadi strikes arise from its attraction to Israeli and Western tourists and from the location of a shipyard there. Goa has been constantly in the minds of pro-Al Qaeda organisations. In their calculation, it is an attractive place for an act of reprisal terrorism against Israel just as Mombasa was in November, 2002.

17.The fact that the jihadis continue to evince interest in Goa in their thinking, if not planning, for their future terrorist strikes was again highlighted by the reported interrogation of two terrorist suspects arrested by the Karnataka Police in January,2008. These were Riyazuddin Nasir alias Mohammad Ghouse of Hyderabad and Asadullah Abubaker of Hospet in Karnataka, both in their early 20s. Nasir was reported to be a drop-out from an engineering college and Asadullah was a student of the Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences in Hubli. Another student of the same Institute by name Mohammad Asif was also picked up by the Police for interrogation on the basis of the
interrogation of Nasir and Asadullah.

18.Interestingly,Nasir and Asadullah were initially picked up by a Head Constable of the Devangere District Police in Karnataka on suspicion of being members of a gang of motor cycle thieves, who, the police suspected, stole motor cycles in Karnataka and Goa and sold them. When they were produced before a court by the Police for seeking police custody for further investigation, Nasir argued his own case for bail. It was stated that the Police were struck by his intelligence, ability to articulate and knowledge of law and procedure. They suspected that he may not be just a motor-cycle thief. Further interrogation by the Police brought out his links with the world of jihad and his training in a training camp of the LET of Pakistan from May, 2006, to January, 2007. There was no indication of any Pakistani links in the case of Asadullah and Asif.

19.Nasir and Asadullah reportedly told the police about their various plans to carry out terrorist strikes against Israeli and Western tourists in Goa and against American and other foreign IT companies in Bangalore. All the three members of the cell arrested by the Karnataka Police are educated Indian Muslims.

20.Thus, since 2006, there have been concerns in the Indian intelligence and security agencies over the possibility of a terrorist strike--- sea-borne as well as land-based---- in Goa mounted by the LET and the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) jointly or separately of each other. Since the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) started operating in different Indian cities in November,2007, there were concerns of a major terrorist strike in Mumbai by the IM involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A message purporting to be from the IM warned of a major terrorist strike directed, inter alia, against the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Mumbai Police, whose chief Hemant Karkare, was among the police officers killed by the terrorists on the night of November 26,2008. The assessment was that they were planning serial explosions similar to those earlier seen in three towns of Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi directed against civilians and the police of Mumbai. While the Ahmedabad Police viewed the explosions in Ahmedabad on July 26, as carried out by the members of the SIMI under the name of the IM, the Delhi Police viewed the explosions in Delhi on September 13,2008, as jointly carried out by the IM, the SIMI and the LET.

21.According to the “Hindustan Times” ( December 2,2008), the LET’s name as the main plotter of a sea-borne terrorist strike in Mumbai directed against some sea front hotels figured in three technical intelligence reports of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) based on intercepts reportedly of September 18, September 24 and November 19. These reports were more specific than the earlier interrogation reports about terrorist strikes planned in Goa. However, whereas the reports relating to Goa spoke specifically of Israeli and Western tourists as the targets, the R&AW reports, while indicating that the sea-side hotels in Mumbai preferred by foreign tourists would be the targets, did not speak specifically of Israeli and Western tourists. Nor was there any reference to a planned terrorist strike in the Narriman House, which is also near the sea, where a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre is located and which has cheap accommodation where Israeli visitors often stay. Among the hotels specifically mentioned by the R&AW was the Taj Palace Hotel, which was attacked by the terrorists on the night of November 26.

22.The presence of the Jewish centre in the Narriman House was not very well known in Mumbai outside Jewish circles. The fact that the terrorists had come to know about it and had included it as one of their principal targets spoke of their extensive local knowledge and of the enquiries that must have been made by them about Israeli/Jewish offices and places of stay near the sea front. They must have made detailed local enquiries either during an advance visit or through accomplices in the local Muslim community. The knowledge, which they seem to have had about the Narriman House, definitely speaks of some local involvement at least in intelligence collection. ." Mark Sofer, the Israeli Ambassador to India, has been quoted as saying: “Out of the thousands of buildings in Mumbai, it was hard to believe that the terrorists had stumbled by chance upon the Jewish center.” They did not target the local Israeli Consulate. This could have been because it was not near the sea front.

23.They wanted to kill as many Jewish people as possible and this might not have been possible in the five-star hotels because most Israeli tourists come on a shoe-string budget and stay in cheap hotels away from the sea front. The Narriman House provided a point where many Jewish people---- locals, Israelis and Jewish visitors from other countries --- congregate. However, since they attacked the place around 10 PM, not many Israelis and other Jewish people were present there. They were able to get only eight Jewish people living or temporarily staying in the premises---- one of them a Mexican and the other Israelis or Americans with the dual nationality of Israel.

24.The terrorists do not appear to have been interested in taking the Jewish people as hostages and using them to achieve any demand. They just wanted to torture and kill all those found in the premises. A rapid reaction raid into the House might have saved at least some lives, if not all the lives. Shortly after getting information about the forcible entry of two terrorists into the Narriman House, a small police party reportedly reached the scene, but it did not apparently have either the numbers or the capability for immediate intervention. One had to wait for the arrival of the specially-trained National Security Guards (NSGs), which is a special intervention force. It arrived the next morning and took nearly 40 hours to enter the premises. By the time it could force its entry into the building it was late. All the eight Jewish people had been killed by the terrorists after torturing them. Only an Indian maid managed to escape with a two-year-old Jewish child. While the Israeli authorities have praised the role of the Indian security forces in dealing with the situation and the co-operation extended by the Government of India, a note of regret over the delayed intervention is evident in some of their remarks.

25.While acknowledging the complexity of ending the attacks across sprawling Mumbai, Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, told an Israeli TV channel on November 28: "I'm not sure it had to last three days, but that's what happened." Barak told Channel 1 Television that the bodies of two women and three men had been found at the religious-cum-cultural centre.The body of a third woman was found later in the building. Barak added that some of the bodies had been tied up, and that two women had been killed many hours before. "All in all, it was a difficult spectacle," he said.

26.The Defense Minister said that the roots of the attack were in India, but involved militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan . While he did not elaborate, his comments seemed to indicate that the Israeli authorities suspected that it must have been a joint operation of jihadis of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and not just Pakistan as claimed by India.

27.One could discern notes of criticism in the comments of retired security experts and other private experts too. A former head of Israel's Mossad external intelligence agency, Danny Yatom, said the attacks revealed major failings in Indian intelligence as they "involved dozens of terrorists enjoying the support of numerous sympathisers.""It is vital that the Indian security services draw the necessary lessons," Yatom told a local radio station.

28.The head of Israel's counter-terrorism department, Colonel Nitzan Nurieli, said: "We have to acknowledge that in the Mumbai case our intelligence services did not have adequate advance knowledge; nor did the Indian security services." He urged Israeli tourists to avoid travel to northern India.

29.Ms.Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister said:"There is no doubt, we know, that the targets the terrorists singled out were Jewish, Israeli targets and targets identified with the West, Americans and Britons. Our world is under attack, it doesn't matter whether it happens in India or somewhere else. There are Islamic extremists who don't accept our existence or Western values."

30.DEBKA wrote on December 3: "This marine tactic was one of the al Qaeda scenarios most dreaded by US security agencies between 2002 and 2004. They feared that terrorist bands dropped secretly on a US beach from a mother vessel would sneak into the North America and create mayhem. But in the years since al Qaeda has mostly skirted the United States, this apprehension faded, even though bin Laden's organization owns some 40 merchant vessels. The Mumbai assault revived that dread for US intelligence and anti-terror services. It may take years to uncover all the details of the elaborate Mumbai terrorist operation. In the meantime, Western intelligence and counter-terror agencies are badly bothered by the failure of Indian intelligence and all the world-wide network of terror watchers to pick up a sign that the Mumbai attack was coming. The very stretch of water traveled by the terrorists is patrolled by the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its strike group. Neither this vessel nor Indian naval intelligence noticed anything amiss. "

31.DEBKA also wrote: “Counter-terror sources were pretty sure that al Qaeda was behind the efficiently-orchestrated assault. They are less sure whether the jihadists, having chosen Mumbai as a target-arena within easy reach of their bases in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir, are performing a one-off operation, or launching the first of a series. They fear its sequel or sequels may be staged in other parts of the world to coincide with the end-of year holiday season and the inauguration of the new US President, Barack Obama , in January. The terrorists spread out in deadly bands like a cluster bomb. Even before Mumbai, Western intelligence services had picked up Web site chatter indicating that Osama bin Laden was contemplating a spectacular attack to seize the limelight as Obama prepared to settle in the White House. But none of the experts dreamed of a raid on the scale of the Mumbai assault or conceived of its clockwork efficiency. If indeed it is proved to have been the handiwork of al Qaeda, the West faces more spectaculars which may take different forms to astonish the world's counter-terror authorities. A number of innovations were unveiled in Mumbai. The customary suicide bombers and car bombs were abandoned. Instead, the terrorists operated for the first time like a cluster bomb which sends lethal bomblets across a wide area. This was no in-and-out operation. Twenty-four hours later, the terrorists still held the city and hundreds of hostages in a deadly vice."

32.Israeli counter-terrorism experts compared the Mumbai strike to an attempted sea-borne terrorist strike in Tel Aviv in April 2003, when two British Muslims of Pakistani orgin, were allegedly recruited by Al Qaeda, to land by sea in Tel Aviv, seize a large beachside hotel and the nearby US embassy, take hostages and shoot as many as possible. Recruited at London's radical Finsbury Park mosque (like Shoe-bomber Richard Reid) Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif were trained in Syria and Gaza Strip.

33.Foreign, including Israeli analysts, seem to have difficulty in accepting the Indian version that only 10 terrorists were involved and that there was no local involvement. Their view is that an operation of this type could not have been carried out by just 10 terrorists and that too without local help.

34. A widespread impression is that in their anxiety to focus on LET involvement, Indian investigators might be missing vital clues about an Al Qaeda hand which would be necessary to prevent a repeat of November 26. (4-12-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retired ), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: )