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Scholar: Mumbai Attacks Bring New Kind of Tactics

December 10, 2008 – As the world struggles to make sense of the three-day November attacks in Mumbai, India, one Georgetown professor fears the violence has ushered in a new age of terrorism.

“In the seven years since 9/11, there remains an absence of a truly major, innovative attack … Mumbai now falls very much into that category,” said Bruce Hoffman, professor of security studies.

Hoffman is one of three Georgetown scholars who helped the university community understand the issues surrounding the attacks -- and what it means for the future -- at a Dec. 8 discussion presented by the Mortara Center for International Affairs.

Shareen Joshi, visiting assistant professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, organized the discussion as part of Mortara’s new India Forum. Joshi, Hoffman and Tristan Mabry, visiting assistant professor of government and politics, talked about what led up to the attacks, how India is coping with the aftermath and what the attacks mean for antiterrorism efforts in the future.

Armed men began attacking a Mumbai rail station on Nov. 26. Within 90 minutes, shootings spread to hotels and restaurants heavily populated with tourists, a Jewish center, a newspaper office, government buildings and hospitals. The city remained under siege for three days with hostages and victims holed up in hotels and other locations. All told, more than 180 were killed and almost 300 injured. Estimates are that no more than 10 gunmen carried out the shootings, and only one is thought to have survived.

Unlike other  terrorism incidents in this decade, such as the London subway bombings in 2005 or the 2002 nightclub explosions in Bali, the attacks in Mumbai took on a “different magnitude and intensity,” Hoffman said. The terrorists proved that a small group of well-trained and armed perpetrators could paralyze a major city and dominate the news cycle, he explained.

Though some news accounts have called the Mumbai attacks “India’s 9/11,” Joshi rejects the comparison. Joshi is an economist by training, but studies South Asia as well. She said comparing Mumbai to 9/11 takes the analogy too far.

“You have to look at this not from a global or American perspective of terrorism, but a regional perspective,” she said. “Terrorism has a long history in India. India on Nov. 25 had a very different perspective of terrorism than Americans did on Sept. 10, 2001.”

Even so, the professor added, the attacks are among the first in India to specifically target foreigners. By hitting varied targets, the shootings affected middle- and high-income Indians in a way past incidents did not, she said.

A wave of Indian officials has already resigned in the face of public criticism over security and intelligence lapses. Joshi said she believes Indians will continue to demand accountability and express outrage, but not push to go to war over the attacks.

“Going forward, I think they will need to toughen security measures and toughen the relationship with Pakistan,” she said. “They will need the U.S. to help be the arbitrator.”

 

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