Threats Posed by Suspected Sponsors of Mumbai Attackers
The surviving Mumbai attacker has claimed that the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT) provided him training and direction for the attack. The FBI assesses that LT, which is well known to the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), remains a threat to U.S. interests in South Asia and, to a lesser extent, the U.S. Homeland. We have no current intelligence indicating that there is an organized LT presence in the United States or that LT senior leadership is seeking to attack the U.S. Homeland. LT does maintain facilitation, procurement, fundraising, and recruitment activities worldwide, including in the United States. For example, in the last few years, US courts convicted several followers of the “Virginia Jihad” Network of providing material support to terrorism relating to their training at an LT-sponsored training camp in Pakistan, with the intention of fighting against Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. In addition, the FBI is investigating a limited number of individuals across the United States who are linked in some way to LT—primarily through witting or unwitting fundraising for the group, as well as the recruitment of individuals from the United States to attend LT camps abroad.
Lessons Learned from Mumbai Attacks
The principal lesson from the Mumbai attacks reinforces the notion that a small number of trained and determined attackers with relatively unsophisticated weapons can do a great deal of damage. Other terrorist groups, to include al-Qaida and its affiliates, will no doubt take note of the Mumbai attacks and attempt to emulate them. What this means for the FBI is that we must continue to maintain a high level of vigilance for all indications of developing terrorist activity. The planning for the Mumbai attacks probably unfolded over a fairly long period with careful surveillance of the target sites and transportation routes. The FBI must continue to work closely with its state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, especially in our Joint Terrorism Task Forces to follow up on indications of suspicious activity that could potentially be related to terrorism. Similarly, we must carefully monitor travel to participate in terrorist activities or fighting overseas, such as that recently reported by ethnic Somalis traveling to fight in Somalia. As the experience of the United Kingdom indicates, individuals who receive terrorist training or experience overseas clearly represent a threat. In addition, we need to continue to heighten the public’s awareness to the continued threat of terrorist attacks and the need to report suspicious incidents.
As an example of how we have already begun implementing these lessons learned, the FBI worked immediately after the attacks to identify any U.S. links to the planners and attackers. Whenever possible, all information was shared with the Indian government to aid in its investigation. The FBI disseminated more than 15 intelligence reports to the USIC based on information collected in Mumbai from both interviews and physical evidence. These classified reports are available to cleared state, local and tribal law enforcement personnel in Joint Terrorism Task Forces and in State and Local Fusion Centers. In addition, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly issued an unclassified alert about the attacks to state, local, and tribal officials on November 27, 2008. The FBI and DHS also issued an Intelligence Bulletin on December 3, 2008, to building owners and operators, as well as the U.S. law enforcement community, to alert them to preliminary findings regarding the techniques and tactics used by terrorists in the Mumbai attacks. The bulletin indicated that the FBI and DHS had no credible or specific information that terrorists were planning similar operations against similar buildings in the United States, but urged local authorities and building owners and operators to be aware of potential attack tactics .
Another lesson learned from the Mumbai attacks is that terrorist groups that appear to be primarily a threat to their surrounding localities can sometimes have broader aspirations. Although LT has historically focused its attacks against Indian forces in the Kashmir region, the Mumbai attacks reinforce the reality that LT has the capability to operate outside its home base. The group did so in 2001 with an attack on the Indian Parliament building in New Delhi and is suspected of having been involved in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings. These actions highlight the need to examine other groups that appear to be active only locally and determine whether they have the operational capability and strategic intention to undertake a more regional or global agenda.
A great deal of work by federal, state, and local governments has contributed to preventing another attack in the U.S. Homeland since 9/11, but the threat, while somewhat lessened as a result of the successes in the global war on terror, remains.