Remembering 26/11: The challenges remain but have the lessons been learnt?

It is imperative to understand counter-terror responses for India must come from an effective processing of intelligence alerts, quick mobilization of first responders, and a unified collaboration in carrying out the required operations under a single command control.

Aparna Rawal Nov 25, 2022
Remembering 26/11

On October 28, 2022, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was joined by 15 members of the UN Security Council to pay tribute to the victims of the 26/11 (2008) Mumbai terror attacks at the Taj Hotel Memorial in Mumbai. The tribute ceremony was an informal part of the opening ceremony of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) meeting, which commenced on October 29 and was hosted by India, the first time the committee meeting was held outside the UN headquarters.

 “We will hold the masterminds and conspirators accountable. We will never give up,” tweeted Jaishankar shortly after his speech. While Jaishankar left Pakistan out of his remarks, he acknowledged the task of bringing the perpetrators to justice remains an “unfinished” business.

Jaishankar emphasized collective responsibility would be the key to countering the ongoing and impending terrorism threats. He further stated that the 26/11 attack on India must also be comprehended as an attack on nations internationally, considering many foreign nationals were specifically targeted and killed by the LeT on that fateful day.

26/11 has come to be compared to the American 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Both were horrific in nature and displayed the obvious choice of the terrorists to attack a high-density population area in the financial capitals of the two countries. If the intent was to garner attention to their cause and set in motion a wave of terror amongst the citizens, then the chances are the objective was met.

Failure of Pakistan's deniability 

The Mumbai attack of 26/ 11 consumed the lives of 140 Indians and 25 foreign nationals. American and British passport holders were murdered in two hotel complexes while Israeli nationals were tortured and later killed at a Jewish Center. Café Leopold in Colaba, frequented by many foreign nationals, was another target while Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal became the site of the largest Indian death toll in the attack. The orchestrated attack was of a jihadist design, the modus operandi was to wipe out all those who belonged to the nations that opposed Islamist terrorism, and to amplify the tensions between India and Pakistan. 

Soon after the attack, suspicion was drawn toward LeT. Even though it was assumed that the outfit was banned by Pakistan in 2002, LeT was believed to move and operate freely in Pakistan without any form of interference from the Pakistani authorities.

It is important to note that over the years terrorism has evolved and acclimatized itself to receive the desired population response depending on the changes in society, culturally and technologically. Given 26/ 11 was a decade ago, it is important to mention that the previous LeT attacks prior to 2008 were different. What made the 2008 attack different at the time was the execution of the attack, which encompassed Indians and foreign nationals, and the determination of the perpetrators to facilitate the attack in a fidayeen style. The idea was to fight to the death with none left to be interrogated or verified. This style of attack today is often seen in the case of LeT and many other terror outfits. On November 1, 2022, a similar kind of fidayeen attack carried out by LeT was averted by Indian security forces in the Awantipora area in Kashmir.

Ajmal Kasab, one of the perpetrators, was unable to abscond and was caught by Indian security forces. The important key to the execution of the terror attack plan, Pakistan`s deniability, was lost due to the capture of Kasab, who confirmed he was a Pakistani national and that there were in all nine Pakistani shooters who had infiltrated the city.  After the confession from Kasab, all fingers pointed to Pakistan. America's FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) was allowed to further interrogate Kasab. The Mumbai bar bench too refused to have any of its members represent Kasab. A total of 11,000 pages of charge sheets were filed and after many legislative delays due to the complexities in the case, Kasab was awarded the death penalty on February 21, 2011. He was executed under Operation X on November 21, 2012. The Indian government followed protocols and informed Islamabad of the execution, which the Pakistani government refused to accept.

ISI's 'S' Wing

During the course of investigations, Western intelligence officials in Islamabad met with the head of analysis at Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was reported that the official Pakistani response was followed by many contradictions. While Islamabad promised to cooperate in the post-attack investigation, it insisted that any link to Pakistani territory was unsubstantial. However, efforts were made by Pakistan to wipe out any evidentiary proof leading to Pakistan, especially in regard to its links with LeT.

It is also vital to mention a wing of the ISI, known as the Security or 'S' Wing. Initially, the wing was accused of initiating domestic terrorism. It is believed that it had initiated a massacre by Sindhi extremists in the city of Hyderabad in Pakistan on September 30, 1988. About 250 people were killed in the gunning, mostly from the minority Mohajir community. This incident was followed by retaliation from the Mohajirs in Karachi against the Sindhis.  This weakened the united community which supported the political representatives standing against the growing military oppression.

Similar aspects of this Hyderabad (Pakistan) attack were seen on 26/11. Perpetrators in both attacks almost walked free; secondly, the scale of the operation conducted on citizens and, lastly both were state-sponsored by Pakistan.

 The main culprit in the Mumbai case, LeT military chief Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, was bailed out in 2014.
Pakistan has clearly withheld evidence against Lakhvi for prosecution while China too has blocked the United Nations' efforts to place him on the list of proscribed terrorists whose assets should be frozen.

ISI`s ‘S’ Wing has been openly recognized as a sponsor of transnational terrorism. As S wing is directly a part of ISI, it is evident that the agency is responsible for both internal and external functions, from homegrown calibrated attacks to distributing “surplus violence towards foreign targets”

Case of David Headley aka  Daood Gilani

Daood Gilani, also known as David Headley, a Pakistani-American jihadist, was arrested in October 2009 for planning a Mumbai-style terrorist attack in Denmark. According to Headley, he was an informant of the US Drug Enforcement Agency who was assigned to infiltrate the Pakistani underworld. Upon coming on the ISI radar, he was placed with Lashkar-e-Taiba as a reconnaissance agent. He carried several tasks for LeT from 2006 till 26/11 attack and after. His scouting and information provided LeT with the desired information to carry the strike on Mumbai.

Headley confessed to being trained by the ISI in information gathering. He was known to have received $29,500 from his Pakistani sponsors, and $28,500 from a serving ISI agent known as ‘Major Iqbal’ in American court documents. The rest of the funds came to Headley from a LeT operative called Sajid Majeed (‘Sajid Mir’). Headley mentioned that the Mumbai attack was also coordinated by Majeed. He stated that the terrorists who orchestrated the Mumbai attack had been trained by the veterans of Pakistani special forces.

Headley was convicted in America but the US refused to extradite him to India. Strategic and security ties between the US and Pakistan may have been the reason for the above. India was also denied access to Headley for further interrogation.

In October 2009, Tahawwur Rana, another close comrade of Headley, was arrested. He served as a doctor in the Pakistani army and acquired Canadian citizenship in 1997. He was well acquainted with the LeT and was aware of Headley`s affiliation with the outfit. Along with Headley, Rana used his consultancy company, First World, as a cover to acquire the necessary documents for an Indian visa.

Though Rana has already served 14 years in prison in the US with a continued supervised release for five years, India continues to press unsuccessfully for his extradition.

Preparing for unforeseen challenges

26/11 Mumbai attack is a clear indication of a Pakistani military-ISI-jihadist corroborated joint attack meant to hurt India through the “thousand cuts” by utilization of subnational elements. LeT, as with certain jihadist outfits, has seen India as a part of the “Crusader Zionist Hindu” group, stating that their objective was not liberating Muslims from Kashmir or India but from Hindus themselves. A similar narrative has been seen being implemented by the Islamic Khorasan, who claims to have established the "Wilayat Hind" province in the Indian subcontinent. Through technological growth, misuse of technology to wage psy ops and terror funding has now become a weary issue.

Post 26/11, several structural reforms were proposed. This led to the creation of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Force 1, and a plan to establish the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). NCTC is yet to be formed.

It is imperative to understand counter-terror responses for India must come from an effective processing of intelligence alerts, quick mobilization of first responders, and a unified collaboration in carrying out the required operations under a single command control. Given the new front of waging war is in form of Info warfare, the need for utilization of Artificial Intelligence and the latest technology has also become a requirement in regards to counter-terror. India should reevaluate certain policies and resources to tie loose ends in regard to our security policies.

With Pakistan out of the grey list of FATF, the challenges remain predictable, yet somewhat unforeseen, due to the fluid geopolitics of the Indian subcontinent.

(The writer is an Indian research analyst, specializing in AF/Pak region and counter-terrorism. Views are personal. She can be contacted at

Post a Comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Poonam Mathur
Fri, 11/25/2022 - 22:07
Very well written article, most authentic and well researched information highlights the challenges being faced by India to defend her territorial integrity and citizens from infestations of terrorism and terrorists.
Fri, 11/25/2022 - 22:57
We are not willing to upgrade the quality of cops nor their numbers. Our internal security setup is filled with ego and complacency. Run a tactical fitness test and you'll know what I'm talking about.

The problem is something else. About time a civilian learns to secure and defend themselves and learns to act together and one big force.

A terrorist attacking a restaurant in Israel knows he'll have atleast a few chairs, bottles, butter knives ...being thrown at him (watch the video of the attack in Sarona Market in 2016). Here, hundreds died because we were running like headless chicken in their line of fire. The terrorist had to just squeeze the trigger, no need to aim.

We need aggression. Aggression that will finish the the job within a few mins and leave nothing for the courts to pass time.


Newsletter Subscription

The subscriber's email address.
Stay informed - subscribe to our newsletter.
Tweets about SAMonitor
SAM Facebook