Groups of gunmen carried out spectacularly brazen coordinated attacks on at least 10 sites in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, killing at least 101 people and wounding more than 300. The gunmen took dozens of hostages and, according to witnesses, singled out American and British citizens. The full scope of the attacks is still unclear. Early morning wire reports reveal hostages have been rescued from one of the luxury hotels, but the standoff with the militants continues, and there appear to still be hostages in other locations. A cargo vessel that recently arrived in Mumbai from Pakistan and could be tied to the attacks is being searched by the Indian navy today, according to the Associated Press. Starting at about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the attack’s targets included at least two luxury hotels and a restaurant popular with foreigners, a hospital, the city’s largest train station, a movie theater, and a Jewish center.
India is no stranger to terrorist attacks, which have been on the rise this year, but previous incidents usually involved bombs left in public areas. “Even by the standards of terrorism in India … the assaults were particularly brazen in scale and execution,” declares the New York Times. Indeed, the Los Angeles Timessays the assaults “required a previously unseen degree of reconnaissance and planning” that some experts said suggested “the likely involvement of experienced commanders,” possibly from abroad. A previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujaheddin claimed responsibility in e-mails to local news media, but no one knows if there’s any truth to the claim. The Washington Postsays the preliminary assumption of U.S. intelligence officials is that the attacks were at least connected to Muslim extremists, but they were careful to emphasize that doesn’t necessarily mean al-Qaida or other well-known groups were involved. “The sophistication of the attacks and the choice of targets put Islamic extremists at the top of the list,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. “They are the most natural suspects.”
The LAT points out that the victims included the city’s anti-terrorism chief and two of his senior deputies, which complicated the government’s response efforts. “We want all mujahedeen held in India released, and only after that we will release the people,” a militant who was hidden at one of the luxury hotels told India TV this morning. The WP notes that in September, an e-mail sent to newspapers warned that the Indian mujahideen would be taking revenge for anti-terrorism raids that have been carried out in the city.
Witnesses described the attackers as casually dressed young men who wielded their weapons out in the open and fired randomly. The LAT points out that the fact that the attackers didn’t make an effort to hide who they were “signaled a readiness to die.” Indeed, the WP notes that one of the ways in which the attacks differed from others that have taken place in India recently is that the militants “were essentially on suicide missions.” The witnesses also said that the gunmen who stormed the hotels seemed focused on identifying Americans and Britons, although it’s far from clear whether that means they were separated from the rest or if the militants managed to get very far in their efforts amidst the chaos. It’s not clear whether any Americans were among the dead. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting that an Israeli rabbi is among the three people being held at the Mumbai office of the Orthodox Jewish group Chabad Lubavitch, and another “five or six” Israelis are among the hostages in one of the hotels.
In a separate story inside, the LAT notes that while the attacks had several characteristics of al-Qaida-affiliated groups, experts cautioned that a number of other organizations have launched attacks in India in the past and may have played a role. “As a coordinated strike with multiple targets, it has all the fingerprints of an Al Qaeda-linked attack,” one expert tells the LAT. But al-Qaida’s “trademark” is bombings, not hostage situations. Terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 2,300 people in India last year, “making it perhaps the country most affected by terrorism in the world,” says the LAT. Experts note it’s particularly significant that the militants focused on Americans and Britons because the victims of previous attacks have been Indians. One expert tells the WP that as opposed to previous attacks, this one seemed designed to spread fear among foreign tourists and businesspeople in order to hit “India’s economic lifelines.”
The city formerly known as Bombay suffered its worst attack in 1993, when 257 people were killed. More recently, more than 200 people were killed in July 2006 when a series of bombs exploded in trains and commuter railway stations.
In other news, the LAT manages to include a wire story in its inside pages reporting on the suicide car bomber that exploded about 200 yards outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The bomber was targeting an American convoy but killed at least four Afghan bystanders. No U.S. Embassy personnel were killed or injured in the attack.
In a front-page piece, the LAT points out that President-elect Barack Obama is making a concerted effort to reach out to lawmakers. In marked contrast to recent Democratic administrations, Obama’s team includes several Capitol Hill insiders, including Rahm Emanuel and Tom Daschle, who are using their connections and reputations “to help build sturdy bridges between the White House and Congress.” That effort could go a long way to help Obama’s oft-stated goal to “hit the ground running,” and Democrats may try to pass an economic stimulus bill in early January and have it ready for the president’s signature when he takes office later that month. The NYT also takes a look at the Capitol Hill connections in Obama’s team and warns that “such close relationships do not mean that tension between Congress and the White House will not break out.” There already appear to be some disagreements among Democrats on how big the stimulus package should be.
As part of Obama’s effort to put together “the best minds in America” to deal with the current economic crisis, the president-elect appointed former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as chairman of his new Economic Recovery Advisory Board. This means there will be five different Washington entities trying to come up with solutions to the crisis. It’s already well-known that Obama likes to be surrounded by expert advisers, but in a front-page piece, the WP says that putting so many head-strong people together will test the president-elect’s crisis-management skills. Obama has to make sure that “his surplus of smarts does not become too much of a good thing,” as the Post puts it, because having too many people battling for a chance to get their views across to the president could create a management nightmare.
The NYT and LAT front news that a federal jury in Los Angeles convicted a woman in Missouri of three misdemeanor computer crimes after she set up a fictitious MySpace account in the name of a 16-year-old boy and used it to communicate with a 13-year-old girl. The girl committed suicide two years ago after the “boy” sent her a message saying, “The world would be a better place without you.” The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on the main charge of conspiracy so she now faces a possible three-year sentence. The NYT says that regardless of how much time she spends behind bars, the conviction is important because it’s the first time that a “federal statute designed to combat computer crimes was used to prosecute what were essentially abuses of a user agreement on a social networking site.” The LAT cites experts saying that the verdict makes social-networking sites responsible for monitoring users more closely. Some are worried the verdict could have far-reaching effects. “[I]t is now a crime to ‘obtain information’ from a Web site in violation of its terms of service,” a former federal prosecutor tells the NYT. “This cannot be what Congress meant when it enacted the law, but now you have it.”
The WP’s David Ignatius reveals that the Bush administration’s plan to open an interests section in Tehran has been scrapped. The announcement was planned for this month, but was pulled a few weeks ago when officials worried it would be seen as a concession at a time of growing concern over Iranian influence in the discussions with Iraq about the status-of-forces agreement. “We ran out of time,” one administration official said. “It’s the most frustrating and dangerous bit of unfinished business the new administration will inherit,” declares Ignatius.
In a candid op-ed piece, the WP’s David Broder admits that he is often “stumped” when trying to follow serious discussions over the latest decisions from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. “The sums are so staggering, the vocabulary so unfamiliar, the experience so uninformative that I have not a clue whether Bernanke, Paulson and Co. are on top of the situation or are inadvertently making things worse.” While the smartest people don’t always make the best presidents, the nation should be thankful that at this point in history “the president-elect is a super-smart person like Barack Obama.”
A fight has broken out between Axl Rose and Dr Pepper, reports the NYT. Earlier this year, Dr Pepper got some free publicity out of a marketing gimmick that had the manufacturer promising to give out free cans of its soft drink if the album Chinese Democracy came out before the end of the year. When the album was released, Dr Pepper allowed fans to go to its Web site for 24 hours to get a coupon. Demand was so great that the site crashed. Axl Rose’s lawyers sent the manufacturer a strongly worded letter that complained about the company’s “appalling failure to make good on a promise it made to the American public.”