Monday, December 01, 2008


Thoughts About Mumbai

This past weekend, in the United States, was Thanksgiving, traditionally celebrated with turkey and stuffing, time off from work, and department-store holiday sales.

The real news over this weekend, however, was the horrifying drawn-out drama of hostage-taking in Mumbai, India.

Personally, I find it horrifying on several levels. Out of a city of 20 million people, the terrorists chose a Chabad House as one of their three targets; this tells us clearly who the terrorists are, and what they want. (The Jews of the world remain the canary in the coal mine. As history has repeatedly shown, a group that doesn't care about the civil rights of Jews will, soon enough, not care about civil rights at all. And if you make a list of terror organizations and state sponsors of international terrorism, you will find that antisemitism is one of the few threads common to them all.)

As if it wasn't horrifying enough that well-organized terrorists, rampaging in India, zeroed in on one of the very few Jewish targets available there -- well, there's this:
Asked what was different about the victims of the incident, another doctor said: "It was very strange. I have seen so many dead bodies in my life, and was yet traumatised. A bomb blast victim's body might have been torn apart and could be a very disturbing sight. But the bodies of the victims in this attack bore such signs about the kind of violence of urban warfare that I am still unable to put my thoughts to words," he said.

Asked specifically if he was talking of torture marks, he said: "It was apparent that most of the dead were tortured. What shocked me were the telltale signs showing clearly how the hostages were executed in cold blood," one doctor said.

The other doctor, who had also conducted the post-mortem of the victims, said: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again," he said.

Corroborating the doctors' claims about torture was the information that the Intelligence Bureau had about the terror plan. "During his interrogation, Ajmal Kamal said they were specifically asked to target the foreigners, especially the Israelis," an IB source said.
How badly were the hostages tortured? No doubt information will come out eventually. If it's enough to horrify emergency-room doctors, it must be very bad indeed.

And please note that the hostages were killed early on; the terrorists were not interested in trading them for demands. They wanted to torture their victims and then kill them.

This tragedy has been referred to as "India's 9/11", and in this respect, the analogy is apt. Before we have always assumed that terrorists taking hostages will have demands, which must be met for the hostages to be released alive. No more. Henceforth, the victims of a Mumbai-style attack must assume that they are already as good as dead, and that they have nothing whatever to lose.

We can hope that Indian security forces, among others, will therefore be less cautious about their work. Of course, it's terrible when a hostage dies, particularly when the death is attributed to the forces supposed to be rescuing them; but "friendly fire" accidents are well known, and are a part of combat. Far better to run the risk of accidentally injuring a noncombatant, I think, than to have armed policemen hiding and refusing to shoot back.

Perhaps the Indians have learned that lesson. From the link above:
On the other hand, there is enough to suggest that the terrorists also did not meet a clean, death.

The doctors who conducted the post mortem said the bodies of the terrorists were beyond recognition. "Their faces were beyond recognition."

There was no way of identifying them," he said. Asked how, if this is the case, they knew the bodies were indeed those of the terrorists, he said: "The security forces that brought the bodies told us that those were the bodies of the terrorists," he said, adding there was no other way they could have identified the bodies.

An intelligence agency source added: "One of the terrorists was shot through either eye."

A senior National Security Guard officer, who had earlier explained the operation in detail to, said the commandos went all out after they ascertained that there were no more hostages left. When asked if the commandos attempted to capture them alive at that stage, he replied:
"Unko bachana kaun chahega (Who will want to save them)?"
That's not the mark of a professional soldier, in my opinion. On the other hand, it does tend to indicate that, once it was all over, the Indian security forces finally understood what they were up against.

As Mark Steyn points out, this opens a new chapter in the history of asymmetrical warfare -- and, sadly, this will no doubt be seen as a victory by the terrorists (even though they apparently planned to kill 5,000 or more). So we can expect more of this. And, with a new President about to start work in late January, we can expect the terrorists to test his reactions, too -- against American interests at home and abroad.

In other words, there's never been a better time to watch your back.

Advocates of an armed citizenry will find their suspicions confirmed by Mumbai, because India has very strict gun-control laws:
I guess the point [...] is that when the law abiding are completely unarmed, the lawless will always have the upper hand. If anything, they are emboldened because they know they face no resistance.
Indeed. And those who, like me, are used to being horrified at press coverage of terror incidents, will find no surprises here:
A South Wales couple caught in the Mumbai terror attacks claimed last night that CNN put their lives at risk by broadcasting where they were.
I remember this clearly from 1991, when Saddam Hussein was flinging Scud missiles at Israel with carefree abandon. Israel had to explain to incredulous journalists that, yes, the exact locations of missile landings was classified. Worse, at least a few journalists assumed that the regulations made no sense and ignored them... thereby volunteering as unpaid spotters for Saddam, helping to make his missiles more accurate. And we saw the same thing in 1972, when television crews broadcast live coverage of the hostage crisis in Munich, including of the commando team trying to take the terrorists by surprise... with disastrous results.

It's getting scary out there, folks. And we must take note, not just of the wolves, the sheep, and the sheepdogs, but of the wolves' unwitting allies: those who make it more dangerous for the rest of us, even though they too are targets, because they can't think of a good reason not to do so -- or because they think something else is more important.

Call them Crazy Eddies. They always do the wrong thing for excellent reasons, and it always leads to disaster, and they never learn. They are the journalists who insist that "the people have a right to know" what their military is doing, even when it compromises a military rescue mission. They are the anti-gun activists who insist that we have far more to fear from an armed (and trained) population than we do from armed terrorists facing a crowd of the disarmed. They are the unarmed security forces, and the armed security forces fearful of taking a shot, and the politicians who think that this time, perhaps, appeasement will work.

It's getting scary out there, folks.

UPDATE: Some are now casting doubt on whether the Jewish hostages were tortured. Follow the link for details.

I think we need to treat this as a developing story. However, given the Jewish custom of burying the dead as quickly as possible, we may soon learn all we're going to learn about the victims at Chabad House.


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