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Tragic tale of two cities: are #ParisAttacks France's 26/11?

Emmanuel Derville | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 8:51 IST

Seven years ago this month, 10 Laskhar-e-Tayyaba terrorists came by the Arabian sea and sneaked into Mumbai. They split into five pairs and went to attack six places in the city. The attack lasted nearly three days, and left 166 people dead.

It could well have been a rehearsal for the Paris attacks.

Striking with precision

As in Mumbai, the attacks in the French capital began almost simultaneously, with a suicide bombing outside Stade de France and shooting in the tenth district at 9.25 pm local time.

A second shooting broke out a few minutes later in the same district, while two suicide bombers blew themselves up near Stade de France shortly after 10 pm. A few minutes after that, four gunmen stormed the Bataclan theater, again in the tenth district.

Immigrants in Paris_EMBED2_Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

In Mumbai, one pair of terrorists had opened fire at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and another inside Leopold Cafe at almost the same time. Two other teams had stormed Taj and Oberoi hotels just as the fifth pair was rounding up hostages in the city's Chabad House.

The nature of the targets was similar as well. Symbolical landmarks -- Stade de France is France's biggest sports stadium while the Taj is a Mumbai icon. And crowded places where they could kill as many people as possible - the train station in Mumbai and Bataclan in Paris where 1,500 people had gathered for a rock concert.

And just like at Bataclan, the terrorists in Mumbai had taken hostages whom they later executed.

The similarities don't end there. The Lashkar terrorists kept moving as they killed. Ajmal Kasab's team went to attack a hospital after massacring 52 people at the railway station. In Paris, the attackers went through the tenth and eleventh districts for half an hour shooting at bars and restaurants before storming Bataclan.

Method in madness

The French authorities were hardly oblivious to how the Mumbai attacks were executed. Since early 2011, the Secretariat General for National Defence and Security, which is part of the French prime minister's office, had begun preparing for just such an eventuality.

And in June 2011, the ministry of interior conducted a drill in and outside Paris to repel Mumbai-style attacks. They staged multiple bombings and recreated two hostage situations simultaneously.

In 2011, bombings & hostage situations were staged in Paris as a drill to repel 26/11-style attacks

Whether the preparations helped the French security agencies prevent potentially greater carnage is too early to tell.

It's too early also to say whether the Paris attackers used 26/11 as a blueprint. But the similarities between the two can help understand how such attacks are planned.

The Mumbai attacks took two years of planning from late 2006 to September 2008. The Lashkar had sent David Headley, an American of Pakistani origin, to scout the targets in the city.

Headley was arrested in the US in 2009 and recounted to the FBI how he visited Mumbai five times to take pictures and videos of potential targets. He passed the images to his Lashkar handler Sajid Mir and ISI handler Major Iqbal. Those who planned the attacks used this material to pick the targets and to guide the attackers.

Seven of the 10 Mumbai attackers were trained in handling weapons in two Lashkar camps in Mansehra and Muzaffarabad for over three months. Kasab later recounted his training to Indian interrogators. Asked who he was meant to kill, he replied, "Whoever was there."

Asked who he was meant to kill, Kasab said, 'Whoever was there'. That's what the Paris attackers did

That is exactly what the Paris attackers did.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

First published: 15 November 2015, 2:01 IST
Emmanuel Derville

Emmanuel Derville is a French freelance journalist covering South Asia