The combination of tactics used by the terrorists who laid siege to Mumbai, India, for 60 hours and killed more than 172 people made it difficult for law enforcement and security agencies to adequately respond, according to a RAND Corp. report.
"It was a complicated, multipart operation," the report states. "By dispersing into separate teams and moving from target to target, the terrorists were able to sow confusion and create the impression of a greater number of attackers. The explosive devices that would go off after the terrorists departed heightened the confusion."
According to the report's authors, the ten terrorists—allegedly trained by the Pakistani-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)— broke into four teams: three two-man teams and one four-man team. After arriving by sea at two separate points along the southern part of the city, they abandoned their inflatable rafts and set out on foot.
One of the two-man teams went to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CRT), the city's central train station, and slaughtered commuters for 90 minutes before fleeing law enforcement. Next, the pair attacked the Cama & Albless Hotel, then carjacked a police vehicle and engaged in drive-by shootings on their way to the Trident-Oberoi Hotel, where one terrorist was killed by law enforcement and the other captured. This two-man team accounted for a third of the dead.
The second two-man team lobbed grenades at a gas station then attacked the Jewish Center across the street, taking 13 hostages, killing five of them, for a total of eight fatalities. The third two-man team went directly to the Trident-Oberoi Hotel and opened fire indiscriminately. They remained there for 17 hours, murdering 30 people before they themselves were killed.
The final and largest team, composed of four men, attacked the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Before entering the hotel, the team sprayed the Leopold Café with gunfire, killing 10. The four attackers then entered the hotel through hidden doors and used the hotel's back hallways to avoid detection and law enforcement. From the ground floor, they then climbed to the upper levels, setting fires and murdering victims along the way. Sixty hours later, Indian commandos killed the four terrorists.
In all, the attack combined "armed assaults, carjackings, drive-by shootings, [improvised explosive devices], targeted killings (policemen and selected foreigners), building takeovers, and barricade and hostage situations," RAND found.
Because the terrorists broke into teams, "the failure or elimination of any single team would not have put the other teams out of action," the report states. "The only possible point of failure for the entire attack was while the terrorists were still at sea on their way to Mumbai."
The report's authors also posit that LeT may have chose the commando-style raid because of rising criticism within the Muslim world that suicide bombing violates Islamic rules of war. By targeting Americans and Britons, the attack might not be seen as indiscriminate. And by fighting Indian soldiers and police, the authors say jihadist supporters could portray the terrorists' final moments as an "heroic last stand."
The authors argue that the attack's audacity may place LeT on a par with al Qaeda, and could also signal an escalation in South Asian terrorism.
"LeT has emerged, not as a subsidiary of al Qaeda, but as an independent constellation in the global jihad galaxy," the report concludes. "Indeed, with al Qaeda central operational capabilities reduced, the Mumbai attack makes LeT a global contender on its own."