/ 8 December 2008

US ‘warned India of attack’

The United States warned India last month of a pending raid by a Pakistan-based militant group, it emerged this week, a revelation that will add to public anger over apparent security lapses and missed chances to stop the attack on Mumbai.

Although the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined on Tuesday to comment on intelligence shared with allies around the world, a serving intelligence source confirmed to The Mail & Guardian that a warning had been passed to Indian counterparts.

ABC News also quoted a US intelligence officer saying the warning had been specific, of a potential attack ”from the sea against hotels and business centres in Mumbai”. The terrorists used boats to land on Mumbai’s waterfront before attacking multiple targets which killed 183 people and led India to endure a four-day national nightmare.

Indian intelligence sources told NDTV news this week they had issued several warnings about a strike against Mumbai. The latest was issued eight days before the attack, warning that the ”sea wing” of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based group accused by India of being behind the attack, was planning to target Mumbai.

India’s navy said a ”systemic failure” of security and intelligence services led to the attacks in Mumbai, the Press Trust of India reported.

”There is perhaps a [gap] that exists and we will work to sort this out. There is a systemic failure which needs to be taken stock of,” said Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

Fishermen’s groups have also claimed their warnings four months ago about militants using sea routes to land RDX explosives in Mumbai, assisted by gangsters, was ignored by the Indian authorities.

Since al-Qaeda’s attacks of September 11 2001, almost every attack against the West has led to revelations of missed opportunities and intelligence blunders. The Bush administration was accused of missing opportunities to stop the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the Spanish government was accused of blunders over the Madrid train station bombings and the British government is accused of missing chances to stop the July 7 2005 bombing of London’s transport network.

But Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA head of counter-terrorism, said this week that the information passed on by the US was not specific. ”They provided some sketchy intelligence in October that Lashkar-e-Taiba was getting ready to increase anti-Indian activity. Mumbai was mentioned because hotels kept coming up,” he said.

Hasan Gafoor, Mumbai’s police commissioner, echoed Cannistraro, saying: ”There was no specific intelligence.”

Disclosure of the US warning came as Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, arrived in Delhi to try to reduce tension between India and Pakistan.

The Pakistan government was this week deciding how to react to India’s demand that it hand over 20 people linked to terrorism as the two countries fight a battle for world opinion after the attacks on Mumbai. Delhi handed over the list after summoning Pakistan’s high commissioner to its foreign ministry.

India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said military action was not being considered which was taken as meaning Delhi would concentrate on diplomatic means to press Pakistan to act against militants whom it claims were linked to the attacks. But he appeared to backtrack later, saying: ”I am neither making any comment on military options. What I am saying­ is every sovereign country has its right to protect its territorial integrity and take appropriate action as and when it feels necessary.”

Amid widespread anger at the political class, Mukherjee publicly confirmed the first concrete demand aimed at Pakistan after the attacks: ”We have in our demarche [diplomatic protest] asked for the arrest and handover of those persons who are settled in Pakistan and who are fugitive of Indian law,” he said.

In Mumbai both hotels turned into killing grounds have started repairs as they race to reopen. This week the Oberoi Trident hotel said it hoped to start accepting guests in a fortnight.

”Guests will come back to the hotel they knew,” Ketaki Narain, a spokeswoman for the Oberoi group said.

The Taj Mahal Palace hotel has appointed a team led by a structural engineer to help restore the hotel.

The hotel’s lobby features paintings by the renowned Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain which were damaged in the shoot-out.

Indian media quoted Husain as announcing he would paint again: ”I have decided to paint a series of paintings condemning the attack. I am sure some day the Taj will regain its glory and I hope to show these paintings there,” he said. —