Today's Papers

Piecing Together the Mumbai Puzzle

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journallead with detailed accounts revealing how a small group of gunmen was able to terrorize India’s financial capital for three days. The lack of security along Mumbai’s coastline was key, as it allowed the militants to enter the city undetected by authorities. They were then able to carry out an indiscriminate shooting rampage virtually undisturbed by the police, who were highly unprepared to deal with an attack of such magnitude. The New York Timesalso leads with a piece on Mumbai and highlights the resignation of the home minister, who said he was taking “moral responsibility” for failing to stop the attacks. While Indian officials continue to insist that the attacks were carried out by only 10 men, the NYT points out that there are new clues that others might have been involved “and that the attackers had at least some accomplices pre-positioned on the ground.”

USA Todayleads with, and the NYT fronts, news that, contrary to what many were expecting, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season was strong. From Black Friday through Sunday, approximately 173 million people shopped (a 17 percent increase from last year) and spent, on average, $372.57 (a 7.2 percent increase). But some warn that the discounts motivating consumers to shop were so steep that they could end up hurting retailers down the road. The Los Angeles Timesleads with an apparent consensus among disparate interest groups about how the nation’s health care system should be reformed. Although there are still many details to be worked out—details that could easily derail the process—there’s a general agreement that the government needs to get involved to make sure that everyone is protected while preserving the employer-based insurance system.

The total death toll from the Mumbai attacks remains fluid. Almost all the papers say the attack left at least 174 people dead, including the nine terrorists. The WSJ and LAT helpfully explain that the death toll was revised down from 195, which many of the papers were reporting yesterday, after it was determined that some bodies had been double-counted. But the NYT says at least 188 people died in the attacks.

Regardless of the exact numbers, everyone agrees the Indian police struggled to respond to the attackers—even when the officers came face to face with the terrorists. The WSJ describes how the gunmen were met with “virtually no resistance” as they approached Mumbai’s main train station, where there are usually “several dozen” police officers. Witnesses say the police officers just ran away, and the WP talks to one photographer who says armed police officers at the station didn’t shoot back even as the carnage continued. Officials insist some officers did try to fight but that most were powerless to do anything because they were unarmed, like most police officers throughout India. The WSJ highlights this as a problem in the locations that came under attack.

It’s also clear the gunmen were very familiar with the layout of the hotels. That was hardly the case with the Marine commandos who were called to help at the Taj Mahal Palace and “struggled to figure out the entrances and exits in the hotel,” as the WSJ puts it. That has led to suspicions that the attackers had help from the inside. The NYT talks to one Anti-Terror Squad officer who says investigators believe the attackers had accomplices who may have left weapons at the hotel. The officer also disputed claims that all the attackers were Pakistani and said they were from many nationalities. The LAT fronts a look at public anger in India at the authorities’ failure to respond properly to the attacks. The government has vowed to improve anti-terrorism measures, but many doubt whether anything can really be done. “I’ll be surprised if this is a wake-up call,” one analyst tells the LAT. “The government has proven quite adept at making statements after every act of terror and going back to business as usual.”

Very little is known about the assailants. The only gunman who was captured is a 21-year-old Pakistani who apparently told the police he was a member of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistani-based militant group. While the WSJ warns that Indian claims of Pakistani involvement should be taken with a grain of salt, the paper talks to a U.S. counterterrorism official who says all evidence does seem to point that way, “even if you still don’t have a final definitive conclusion being drawn.” Still, the NYT points out that Indian authorities have not allowed foreigners to question the prisoner. The WP has a good piece inside that explains how Lashkar has been able to expand and continues to run training camps even though it was banned by Pakistan soon after the United States declared that it was a terrorist organization in December 2001. To continue operating, Lashkar renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group that operates openly as a charitable organization. The U.S. government has classified Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist group, but Pakistan hasn’t and allows the group to continue working. Lashkar has denied involvement in the attacks.

In other news, the WP fronts word that the Pentagon is planning to delve deeper into homeland security with 20,000 specially trained troops who will be stationed inside the United States by 2011 to help government officials respond to a terrorist attack “or other domestic catastrophe.” While many have been pushing for the shift for some time, it is closer to becoming a reality now that there appear to be funding and troop commitments behind it. Still, many are opposed to the plan—both because it could strain the military in a time of need and out of fear that it would undermine the federal law severely limiting the number of uniformed troops that can be used for law enforcement.

President-elect Barack Obama will formally announce his national-security team today. The NYT fronts a piece saying that although three of the top members of this new team might have different backgrounds and ideologies, they have all expressed support for shifting national-security priorities away from combat operations. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who will be Obama’s secretary of state, Gen. James Jones, his national security adviser, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have all said the country should increase the number of diplomats and aid workers it sends out into the world to prevent conflicts and help rebuild failed states. Despite this broad agreement, it’s still unclear where the money would come from for this expansion and whether Obama would be able to carry out this shift successfully while increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan.

In a separate story, the NYT takes a look at Obama’s choice for ambassador the United Nations, Susan Rice, highlighting that she has strongly advocated for the United States to get involved in order to prevent genocide. As a sign of the way Obama intends to work closely with the United Nations, the ambassador post will have a Cabinet rank, as it did during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The LAT fronts a look at how jurors at the murder retrial of Phil Spector are getting “an ugly portrait” of the legendary music producer. Surprisingly, much of it is coming from Spector’s own lawyer. By painting such an uncensored picture of Spector, his lawyer wants the jury to believe that his client didn’t just terrorize women but that, rather, he was an equal-opportunity offender who didn’t hesitate to pull out a gun if anyone bothered him. “The expletives and the gun-waving are like conversational exclamation points for emphasis, but not intended to do harm,” his lawyer said. “The point is he has never fired a gun at a living being.”