Similarities between Paris attacks and Mumbai 26/11

Sandeep Unnithan
Sandeep UnnithanNov 14, 2015 | 12:24

Similarities between Paris attacks and Mumbai 26/11

Suicide assailants in both cities hit public places frequented by civilians

In the concluding lines of my book ‘Black Tornado: the three sieges of Mumbai’ I wrote how, at a time when terrorist groups like ISIS had demonstrated their ability to capture and hold territory and attract global recruits, swarm attacks like those in Mumbai could prove to be their weapon of choice to inflict global terror.’

I could not have imagined how horribly prophetic those words would prove to be. This morning as I woke to news of the terrible tragedy in Paris. At least 153 people are believed killed in a series of bomb and gun attacks late on the night of Friday November 13, in what are now being referred to as the Paris attacks.

Haversack of one of the Mumbai attackers recovered from the Taj. Bullets and anti-personnel grenades meant to cause maximum civilian casualties, AK-47 magazines taped together to enable rapid reloads. 

Two bombs were detonated in the Stade de France soccer stadium during the game being witnessed by, among others, French President Francois Hollande. At least eight terrorists are believed to be involved in this multi-stage terrorist attack. The first attacks were carried out in two restaurants on Rue Bichat—the La Petit Cambodge and the Le Carillon. Finally, at least three terrorists took over 100 people hostage in a concert hall, Bataclan, where a rock concert was in progress. Here they randomly executed their hostages, which newspaper reports say, they reloaded their assault rifles at least three times. At least seven of the eight attackers detonated suicide vests. No terrorist outfit has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet but the needle of suspicion points towards ISIS.

These attacks are the deadliest terrorist attacks on European soil since the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004. Far more lethal than the January 7, 2015 Paris shooting at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo which killed 12 people. In their sheer complexity and brutality, the Paris attacks are near-identical to the savage attacks on Mumbai on the night of November 26, 2008 carried out by gunmen from the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba which killed 166 persons. Look at the similarities.


The ten Mumbai ‘26/11’ attackers landed by sea in a hijacked fishing trawler. They split into five ‘buddy pairs’ and swarmed through a tight three square km box in the heart of India’s financial capital. Mumbai was the world’s first ‘hybrid terrorist attack’ because it combined all the elements of modern terrorism—stealthy cross-border infiltration by suicide attackers who used random active-shooter attacks on civilians, car bombs and hostage taking.

They struck at crowded railway stations, restaurants and a hospital before holding security forces off in multiple prolonged sieges in two prominent five star hotels and a Jewish centre. The terrorists used simple improvisations to enable mass killing—each AK-47 they carried had two magazines bound together with duct tape to enable rapid reloads; the terrorists carried hundreds of spare bullets in their haversacks with which they reloaded the magazines, they flung anti-personnel grenades meant to maim and kill. Each pair of terrorists had a 5-kg Improvised Explosive Device.

'I finished two-and-a-half magazines. Don't know how many I killed. I Just kept firing. Zakki (LeT military chief Lakhvi) had told us to keep killing till we were alive,' the sole surviving gunman Ajmal Kasab told the Mumbai police.


The 26/11 military masterminds including Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi continuously directed the attacks from a command and control room set up in the port city of Karachi.

The blueprint for the Mumbai 26/11 attack came from two sources—the March 1975 seaborne landing on Tel Aviv beach and the capture of the Savoy Hotel by Palestianian terrorists and the ‘Landmarks’ plot foiled by the FBI in June 1993. Eight Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists planned to storm several hotels and landmarks like the UN building in Manhattan, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnels and the George Washington Bridge. The logic was simple. Swarm attacks carried out by multiple mobile gunmen complicated the response of security forces who would be forced to scatter their forces.

Al Qaeda chose the suicide bomber over the gunman as it embarked on a series of ‘terrorist acts of the deed’ like the 9/11 attacks. Nineteenth century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin described the terrorist act of the deed, "the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda.”

Strikes could also inflict economic blows on host nations to portray them as being unsafe—France for instance attracted 83.7 million tourists last year to emerge the world’s number one tourist destination. They also serve as huge recruitment tools for terrorist organisations particularly the ISIS which has attracted close to 20,000 foreign fighters in the past few years.

The successful deployment of swarm attacks in Mumbai and Paris mean terrorist groups have abandoned the classic hostage situation like the two-day siege in Munich, 1972 or the three-day siege of the Moscow theatre in 2002. Long sieges give states the time to deploy the full might of their resources and even impose media blackouts that could starve terrorists of their oxygen of media publicity.

The new terrorist blueprint has arrived. Tried in Mumbai, perfected in Paris. The swarm attack executed by foot soldiers is the new act of the deed. Kill as many civilians and then kill yourself.

Last updated: May 13, 2018 | 14:10
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