In the United States we’ve now gone for 7 years without a significant terror attack within our borders, and even our forces in Iraq are facing fewer and fewer threats as the Sadrists look for a way out and al Qaeda becomes increasingly marginalized. We hardly even see reports on our news about our forces in Iraq, much less about violence in other parts of the world. East Africa and Israel are old news and hardly attract even the most cursory coverage. The sad truth is that unless it’s happening right here at home, our media and our complacent population just don’t pay a great deal of attention.
If you are one of those few who actually do pay attention to warning signs, you have to be alarmed over recent events in Mumbai. On Wednesday more than 20 terrorists launched at least 10 coordinated terrorist attacks which targeted hotels, cafes, a hospital, a Jewish civic organization and the main train station. At each location terrorists armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades attacked civilians and seized buildings, taking hostages and looking specifically for United States or British citizens to hold. In the initial assaults more than 100 were killed, and there have been more casualties as Indian commandos gradually recaptured seized buildings and attempted to rescue hostages.
Multiple witnesses at different locations described the attackers as “foreign looking” and “fair skinned,” suggesting that the attack drew on a larger terror network than just the regional Kashmiri terror groups which have launched other attacks in Mumbai and around India. There is as yet no absolute indication that al Qaeda was involved, but the scope of the attacks, the level of organization and the involvement of western-looking attackers is a reminder of how widespread and interconnected Islamist terrorist groups have become. Their networks reach from Europe to the Philippines and their cause attracts fanatics who are willing to fight and die for the interests of any of the allied extremist muslim groups which have a cause for them to fight for.
Many of the attackers hit their targets and escaped before local police could respond, but attackers at the Oberoi-Trident and Taj Mahal hotels and at the Chabad Lubevitch center took hostages and held out for more than a day before they were rooted out. After the recapture of the two hotels and other locations where hostages were being held, the death toll had risen to 119 with another 300 wounded. The final holdouts were at the Chabad Lubevitch Jewish Center, which was liberated early Friday morning. Also on Friday morning Indian naval authorities siezed two Pakistani ships which are believed to have delivered the terrorists to Mumbai.
Although these attacks differ greatly in technique from the large scale truck bombings which have rocked Mumbai in the past, they still likely to be the work of al Qaeda and associated groups, which are known to change strategies periodically to take local defenders off guard. The assault on Mumbai has all of the earmarks which are coming to identify 21st century terrorism. The scope was ambitious, the participants were part of the international terror community rather than just locals, and there was a clear connection to Pakistan, which has become the nexus for terrorism worldwide.
Here in Fortress America we may be able to sit back and dismiss the ongoing worldwide threat which these attacks represent. Much of the rest of the world doesn’t have that luxury. Too many nations have porous borders and substantial muslim populations ripe for radicalization. They can’t ignore the growing threat, and we do so at our peril. These foreign attacks already threaten American citizens and business interests in countries like India where we are very heavily involved commercially. Despite our geographic, demographic and security advantages, it is inevitable that terrorists as resourceful and determined as those who launched this attack will find a way to bring their cause to our shores. How well prepared will we be when most of us aren’t paying attention?