Saturday, November 29, 2008

the world's deadliest novel strikes again

Quite a score for our reader "Ajay", who I think is the first to spot that the Mumbai terrorist attack bears a very close resemblance to the coup plot in Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War, which makes it the third and possibly fourth case of someone actually using Forsyth's book as a practical handbook. The exact number depends on whether you believe the story that Forsyth actually took part in planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea in 1977 which didn't go ahead, and recycled the work he did on it as a novel. Forsyth now semi-confesses to this, but this may be self-publicity from a man who was, after all, sacked from the BBC for making up the news.

Certainly, however, the so-called "Wonga Coup" team in Equatorial Guinea read the book, Mike Hoare's "Froth Blowers' Society" attack on the Seychelles apparently issued a copy to every participant, and now this. How does, say, Curzio Malaparte's Theory of the Coup d'Etat compare to that? Forsyth can probably claim that more people have died as a direct result of his book than any other book not written by an economist.

In fact it's closer than you might think; the Grauniad, whose coverage of the whole incident was excellent, has a neat map you might want to consult. Apparently, two of the Zodiacs used were found at the north end of Back Bay, on the west/left hand side of the map; this suggests the attack plan was very close indeed to Forsyth's. There are two groups of targets, and each group is fairly close to a beach on that side of the peninsula, even though some of them are closer to the east (harbour) side. But doing it this way saves navigating around the headland and keeps away from the main port, where you could expect a police presence.

View Larger Map

Very roughly, it's about 2,050 feet from each of two landing spots near the targets to a point exactly half-way across the entrance of the bay, so you'd know when to set course - this is exactly how the mercenaries in TDOW set up their attack, launching further out to sea in a big group and using the ship as a mark to lay their course to the jumping-off point, which they identify by a transit between two landmarks. Of course, there are plenty of buildings they could line up to identify this waypoint laterally (the Wankhede Stadium looks like a candidate).

Politically, this implies that the "Deccan Mujahideen" weren't from Deccan at all - otherwise, as someone pointed out, they'd just have taken the train in. Clearly they needed to cross a border, or else the ship and the Zodiacs would have been just more moving parts. This also suggests that they couldn't rely on getting arms in India. I wonder what they did with the ship? One option would be to have her sink; another for her to sail quietly on, although the chances of getting away wouldn't be great.

There was worrying reporting that a Pakistani merchant ship had been stopped by the Indian navy but fortunately, if you like your Ganges without plutonium, a search of the ship revealed nothing suspicious.

There's another question - this wasn't designed as a suicide attack. Suicide attackers have no need of false papers, cash, and certainly not credit cards:
A bag found in the Taj Mahal hotel contained 400 rounds of ammunition, grenades, identity cards, rations, $1,000 (£650) in cash and international credit cards, indicating a meticulously planned operation.
That certainly sounds like the equipment of someone who at least wanted to keep the option of escape open, and of course we have little idea how many people landed. It was quite possibly a suicidal mission, but that's not the same thing. The special horror here was that the violence was dispersed and prolonged; it happened all over the place, and it kept happening.

This of course carries some information as to what kind of group carried it out. Clearly, they weren't the sort of people who you recruit because all you need is someone to carry the bomb. They had to take independent action, and they had to sustain their will over an extended period of time. Good relations between India and Pakistan don't really provide much net information; when things are bad, you'd expect terrorism, and when things are good there are people who want them to be bad again.

Meanwhile, the Dogs of War parallel holds in another way - the mercenaries' exit strategy is the weakest bit of the plot, and had it been put into action the endgame would probably have been a lot like the last day or so in Mumbai, with the coupsters being gradually picked off around the presidential palace as they ran out of time, ammunition and ideas.


John B said...

"Suicide attackers have no need of false papers, cash, and certainly not credit cards"

They do need all the above if they want to check into 5* hotels, though...

Alex said...

Hey, they're Indians, not Austrians.

Anonymous said...

Why would they take the bother or risk of using any sort of clever navigation when GPSs are so cheap?

John B said...

Pakistanis, surely? Although I suppose that depends on your view of the nationality of the people of Kashmir.

Ed also has a fair point.

Alex said...

I wouldn't recommend navigating a small boat solely by looking heads-down at a screen with a limited refresh rate. Or planning a terrorist attack that won't work if someone drops their phone over the side.

Anonymous said...

John B: Did they check in? I thought they just walked in and opened fire.

Or are you referring to the possibility that they might have cached ammunition in a hotel room in advance? Personally, I find that pretty tricky to believe. Huge risk of compromise - from the cleaners, apart from anything else.

Thanks for the hat tip...

John B said...

"Did they check in? I thought they just walked in and opened fire."

The hotel attacks featured serious, complicated planning (the police have said that the terrorists knew the hotel internal layouts better than they did, implying some inside connection). While obviously we don't yet know exactly how it all went down, I'd be surprised if at least some of the terrorists weren't already in the hotels as paying guests, staff, or both.

neil craig said...

It does seem that all parties are agreeing that there were only 10 terrorist. On the other hand they have reason to do so. It may well be that there were over 20 & most of them dropped their weapons & bought tickets out.

In any case with one captured & metaphorically spilling his guts & 9 bodies which cann be tested both by DNA & isotopic analysis of teeth it should become clear if they are all Pakistanis.

I must admot I am surprised no mother ship has been found. It is about 500 miles from Pakistan to Mumbai, which requires a ship, though possibly not bigger than a fishing boat.

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