A previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen has claimed responsibility for the horrific attacks in Mumbai.  While these attacks came during a period when Western intelligence chiefs were “expecting an al Qaeda spectacular terrorist attack” and came just hours after the FBI warned that al Qaeda may be “targetting New York’s subways and railroads,” the best guess of terrorism experts is that the Mumbai attacks were the work of local groups.

The Indian Muhajedeen has commited numerous acts of violence already this year and had previously threatened escalation.

[O]n Sept. 15, an e-mail published in Indian newspapers and said to have been sent by representatives of Indian Muhajedeen threatened potential “deadly attacks” in Mumbai. The message warned counter-terrorism officials in the city that “you are already on our hit-list and this time very, very seriously.”

Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims and not linked to Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, another violent South Asian terrorist group. “There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it,” she said of the attack. “Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage-taking and they don’t do grenades.”

[Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the author of the book Inside Terrorism] agreed that the assault was “not exactly Al Qaeda’s modus operandi, which is suicide attacks.” But he said the attacks, which he called “tactical, sophisticated and coordinated,” perhaps pointed to a broader organization behind the perpetrators.

Indian officials are casting blame on Lashkar-e-Taiba, “a guerrilla group run by Pakistani intelligence for the war against India in the disputed territory of Kashmir.”  Writing at Counterterrorism Blog, Animesh Roul, executive director of New Delhi’s Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, notes that, “The incidents took place one day after the reported arrest of Lashkar -e-Toiba linked Raheel Sheikh by the Interpol in London. Raheel is one of the alleged masterminds of the conspiracy and was involved in the funding of the July 11, 2006, Mumbai serial train blasts that killed nearly 200 commuters and wounded over 500 people on that fateful day.”  

Then again, this is quite likely coincidental; attacks of that scale tend not to be planned and executed in one day’s time. And, as we saw after the Madrid bombings, it’s wise to be cautious of government officials’ casting of blame on convenient enemies.

POSTSCRIPT:   It’s worth noting, too, that the tactic of targeting posh hotels frequented by Westerners was also employed two months ago with the Islamabad Marriott bombing.  Making wealthy tourists and business travelers think twice about visiting the country is a shrewd, if twisted, strategy. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

Related Experts: James Joyner