One year ago, 10 gunmen from Lashkar-i-Tayyiba (LT) laid siege to multiple targets in India’s financial capital of Mumbai over the course of three days. The group’s target selection revealed a desire to strike not only at India, but also at Western interests in the country. The coordinated attacks killed 166 people, including 28 foreign nationals, among them Americans and a Briton.[1] While a strong anti-Western element has always been present in LT’s ideology, the strikes represented the latest evolution of a peripheral jihad against Western interests.

LT’s peripheral jihad began soon after September 11, 2001, and has expanded in recent years. India remains the primary target for LT attacks, but the group now clearly threatens the West as well.

This article first examines the nature of LT attacks against India, and then assesses the threat it poses to Western targets in India and abroad.[2]

The Main Enemy: India

LT’s leadership remains committed to an India-first approach.[3] Peace with India is antithetical to the group’s ideology. It would also make LT irrelevant to Pakistan’s government and military, which have played a historical role in supporting the group’s operations. Evidence suggests the group is prepared to support attacks against the West, but not at the expense of its war against India. For example, David Headley (formerly known as Daood Gilani)—one of two Chicago men arrested in October 2009 on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks against the offices of Jyllands-Posten in Denmark—trained with LT and had worked for the group since at least 2006.[4] LT willingly coordinated with Headley on attacking Danish targets, but when the opportunity arose to use him to prepare new attacks in India, LT suggested he shift focus to South Asia. In other words, the group prioritized staging new attacks in India instead of following through with planned attacks in the West.[5] The 2008 Mumbai attacks, for example, achieved both objectives: attacking India while also striking against Westerners.

Since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, militant infiltrations across the Line of Control into Indian-controlled Kashmir have escalated.[6] According to Indian National Security Adviser Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, however, the real LT threat is to the Indian hinterland.[7] This threat is two-pronged, coming from LT-supported and LT-directed attacks. It is difficult, however, to make a definitive distinction between support and execution, since it is often unclear when LT was providing direction for attacks.[8] The group trained many of the Indian operatives responsible for attacks against India in recent years, directing some of them while only supporting others.[9] It is therefore more useful to look at the group’s capabilities and how it accomplishes them.

LT began building networks in India in the early 1990s to provide logistical support for sleeper cells, to recruit Indians for training in urban terrorism and to recruit local triggermen who could conduct attacks on their own.[10] It also constructed transnational networks—stretching from neighboring Bangladesh and Nepal to the Middle East, Europe and the United States—to support attacks inside India.[11] The result is that LT is able to bring Pakistani, Indian and transnational resources to bear to train and support Indian operatives who execute attacks as well as mine indigenous Indian resources to support Pakistani operatives who launch attacks in the Indian hinterland, as was the case with the Mumbai attacks in 2008.[12]

Recent history suggests LT is more likely to provide support to local actors for bombing attacks and to rely on support from local actors for fidayin[13] attacks perpetrated by LT operatives. The former are intended to bleed India through a consistent campaign of coercion, manifested in attacks designed to kill as many Indians as possible, whereas the latter are intended to be higher-profile operations, staged for maximum political effect.

A study by the Indian National Security Guard indicated that bombings in India increased in frequency and geographic spread after 2003.[14] Attacks were generally directed against soft targets such as trains, markets and, occasionally, tourist or religious sites. LT’s involvement is suspected in many of these attacks, primarily as a financier, trainer and logistical supplier for Indians who selected the targets and executed the attacks.[15] In contrast, LT does not “farm out” fidayin attacks to local triggermen, but dispatches its own highly trained operatives.[16]

LT continues to devote significant resources to the recruitment and support of local actors to strike targets of opportunity within India while plotting high-profile fidayin attacks of its own. Six known LT-driven terrorist plots were foiled between the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and July 2009, according to official Indian sources.[17] The recent arrests of David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana in Chicago appear to have disrupted a seventh. Among those arrested in India earlier this year is Abu Taher, an LT explosives expert. He allegedly was tasked with establishing a network in India’s northeast and in the districts of West Bengal that border Bangladesh, where LT is increasing its presence.[18] The group is also believed to retain strong networks in New Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat, Agra, Hyderabad and Uttar Pradesh. In short, the threat of LT-directed and LT-supported terrorism against India remains high.

The Peripheral Jihad: Western Interests

While LT’s leadership remains committed to an India-first approach, some elements within the group increasingly prioritize global jihadist objectives. One member of the LT’s above-ground wing, Jama`at-ud-Da`wa (JuD), admitted a number of cadres are motivated more by defending against what they see as a “Western war against Islam” than by the Kashmiri cause.[19] Other LT members insinuate that action against the United States and its allies is partly a consequence of perceived favoritism toward India. For them, India remains the primary enemy, but the United States is the primary impediment to waging LT’s jihad of choice.[20] In either case, the result is that LT has expanded its target set to include Westerners.

The question is not whether LT will be involved in attacks against the West, but rather the nature of that involvement. It is important to distinguish between operations such as the Mumbai attacks and those in which it plays a smaller or supporting role. LT recruited and trained operatives specifically for the Mumbai attacks, chose the targets, and deployed other operatives to undertake reconnaissance. It was responsible for every phase of the attack process and exerted control over all of the operatives involved. The group is less likely to be involved to this degree in an attack against a Western country and more likely to provide facilitation or support to other groups or semi-independent operators within its own networks.

This does not mean the threat of a purely LT-driven major terrorist attack in a Western country can be ruled out. Yet LT leaders operate out of Lahore and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, not from a hidden redoubt along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This lebensraum carries with it a number of benefits, but also serves as a leverage point. Due to the risks involved in prosecuting a major terrorist operation in the West, plausible deniability takes on greater importance. International pressure on Pakistan likely would have been far greater had LT launched the Mumbai attacks in a Western country.

LT appears more risk averse with regard to attacks in the West than in India. Indeed, David Headley expressed frustration in his e-mails to another operative about LT’s preoccupation with India at the expense of attacks in Denmark, accusing the group of having “rotten guts” and being too cautious when it came to Western targets.[21] It is too early to assess whether recent reports that LT operatives planned to attack the U.S. Embassy and Indian High Commission in Dhaka, Bangladesh are accurate.[22] Yet given the group’s targeting of Westerners inside India in the past, it is conceivable that they would strike Western targets in other South Asian countries as well.

In part, LT’s India-first focus stems from the fact that this cause remains popular with Pakistan’s military establishment. Unlike other groups that flaunt their relationship with al-Qa`ida and the Pakistani Taliban, LT avoids overt involvement even as it collaborates covertly. Although it has provided episodic support for operations in Pakistan to some of these outfits—mainly in the form of safe haven, reconnaissance and false identity papers—it remains one of the few groups that has not launched attacks in the country.[23] In exchange for retaining a primary focus on attacking India, being relatively inactive in Pakistan and keeping a historically lower-profile in al-Qa`ida’s global jihad, LT has been allowed to operate more openly than other militant groups.

The Pakistani security services have cracked down on LT to different degrees at different times, but as a means of controlling the group and not dismantling it. The degree to which such control still exists is hotly debated, but it is fair to say LT is neither completely under state control nor has it totally slipped the state’s reins. It will push the envelope to the degree possible, but appears to be more risk averse than other jihadist organizations in the country. This could change if LT’s leadership believes it is being pushed too far and has nothing left to lose. Alternatively, if the group believes it will suffer no consequences for its actions, this too could lead it to plot a terrorist attack in a Western country and dedicate the necessary resources for such an operation.

The capabilities exist for it to do so. LT has constructed transnational networks that enable reconnaissance as well as logistical and financial facilitation. It also clearly has foreign operatives prepared to undertake attacks in the West, as well as the capability to recruit and train more fighters.[24] Currently, LT may consider these operatives more valuable for the fundraising and logistical support they provide. This calculus could change, however.

Short-Term Threats to Western Interests

Despite these capabilities, in the short-term the more likely threats from LT terrorism to the West are two-fold: to Western targets in India where the group may fold them into terrorist attacks; and to Western countries where the group may facilitate or provide support for terrorist attacks.

The Threat to Western Targets in India

The 2008 Mumbai attacks represent the first instance in which LT successfully included Westerners and Jews in a terrorist attack in the Indian hinterland, but not the first time an LT-trained operative attempted to do so. For example, Riyazuddin Nasir (also known as Mohammed Ghouse), a resident of Hyderabad, trained with the LT for 12-18 months between October 2005 and July 2007.[25] Although he later broke contact with the group, Nasir claims that during his training he spoke with LT’s Operational Commander Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi about setting off a series of bombs targeting American and Israeli tourists on Goa’s crowded beaches over the Christmas-New Year period in 2007. Police arrested Nasir in the process of preparing the attacks.

According to the confession of Mohammed Ajmal Mohammed Amir Kasab, the lone surviving Mumbai gunman, the fidayin were told that India’s financial strength was in Mumbai, which was also a tourist destination. Hence it was imperative to target places frequented by foreigners to hurt India economically. In the same confession, Kasab asserted that they were also told American, British and Israeli citizens must pay for the Muslim suffering caused by their countries.

It is unclear at this time whether any elements within the Pakistan Army or ISI were involved in planning the Mumbai attacks and if so whether they were aware that LT was including Westerners in the target set. No definitive evidence has come to light suggesting such involvement. The attacks, however, clearly did not constitute a red line for Pakistan’s government or military since the group continues to operate. This does not mean every attack inside India will target Western interests, but the threat of such attacks must now be included within its wider targeting options. Furthermore, the recently disrupted plot in Bangladesh and the group’s presence in Afghanistan suggests this threat is regional.[28]

The Threat to Western Countries

Whereas LT is likely to be the lead agent in attacks that include foreign interests in the Indian hinterland, the greatest threat it poses to Western countries comes from the support it can provide to other actors both within Pakistan and internationally.

LT’s training infrastructure receives more scrutiny than in the past, but the group still operates more freely than other militant outfits in Pakistan. This makes it an appealing destination for Western militants. A number of foreigners known to have passed through LT’s camps received religious indoctrination and guerrilla warfare training, rather than instruction in urban terrorism; however, Western officials in Pakistan believe that there have been instances when LT did provide such instruction.[29] They also emphasize that LT trainers, similar to those from other groups, sometimes provide their expertise (mainly bomb-making) to potential terrorists for money.[30]

Western security officials continue to worry that LT serves as a gateway to al-Qa`ida or other actors actively seeking so-called “clean skins” from the West to train for terrorist attacks back home.[31] British Pakistanis remain particularly well placed to use what has been termed the “Kashmir Escalator” in which they employ familial connections in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to connect with LT or Jaysh-i-Muhammad. After procuring initial training, some of these men are introduced to al-Qa`ida operatives.[32] In 2009, British security officials estimated that approximately 4,000 people were trained in this way since 9/11 and accounted for three quarters of the serious terrorist plots faced by the United Kingdom.[33]

While LT has maintained some distance from the nexus of militant outfits waging war against the Pakistani state from the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, its collaboration with those actors has increased in recent years. Much of the cooperation focuses around recruiting, training and infiltrating militants into eastern Afghanistan to fight against coalition forces, but LT has also provided safe houses and other support within Pakistan. LT’s members are not portable to the same degree as militants from other outfits, but connections do exist with other groups at all organizational levels, which enable LT’s foreign operatives and trainees access to these groups.

Internationally, LT’s transnational networks make it an ideal global jihadist facilitator. LT operatives have been recruiting and fundraising in the Middle East and the United Kingdom since the 1990s.[34] It expanded these operations into Europe more recently, and has ties to the United States as well.[35] Some of its connections exist through Ahl-e-Hadith mosques as well as the expatriate Pakistani community, while others were formed through recruitment or the provision of training to foreigners. The result is that LT has operatives in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, North America, Europe and possibly Australia, who could be used to facilitate attacks in the West.

Circumstantial evidence suggests LT provided logistical and possibly financial support via its networks in Paris to Richard Reid, the al-Qa`ida-directed “shoebomber” who attempted to blow up American Airlines Flight #63 in 2001.[36] LT operatives are also suspected of providing some of the financing for the plot to blow up 12 transatlantic airplanes using liquid explosives in 2006 as well as facilitating access for some of the alleged bombers to Jundallah,[37] the group that brought them to FATA for training.[38] More recently, LT has increased its activity in Bangladesh, and there is concern its networks there could be used to move terrorists out of and into Europe.[39]

Nodes within LT networks often have multiple alliances, or at least connections to other groups. The overlapping nature of these networks—inside and outside of Pakistan—enables LT to threaten the West, but LT is unable to enforce definitive control over the breadth of its networks. Once again, the recent case of David Headley is illustrative of this phenomenon. Through an individual associated with LT and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (HuJI), Headley came in contact with Ilyas Kashmiri, a HuJI leader notoriously close to al-Qa`ida. When LT suggested prioritizing an attack against India, Headley simply began working more closely with Kashmiri to launch the attacks in Denmark against LT’s wishes.[40]


Since LT’s infrastructure is transnational, eradicating its presence on Pakistani soil will not nullify the threat entirely and must be done in a way that avoids unleashing additional master-less militants on the region. This is a cautionary note, however, and not an excuse to avoid dismantling the group’s military infrastructure. Unfortunately, there is little hope Pakistan will do so in the near-term since the group remains a potential asset to the state. LT has historically been Pakistan’s most reliable proxy against India and elements within the military clearly wish to maintain this capability.

The result is that one year after Mumbai, the group remains intact. As long as the LT’s military apparatus exists, so too does the threat that it will be used again.

Stephen Tankel is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) and a Ph.D. Candidate in War Studies at King’s College London. His Ph.D. research focuses on the evolution of jihadist groups at the strategic and operational levels. He is also the author of Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which will be published early next year.

[1] “Final Report: Mumbai Terror Attack Cases,” 37th Court, Mumbai, India, February 25, 2009.

[2]  This article’s focus is on the form and function of possible LT terrorist attacks and the different roles the group might play in them. Variables that could trigger short-term shifts in LT targeting priorities are not addressed, nor is the group’s participation in the Afghan insurgency. This article also does not cover in any depth LT’s increased collaboration in Pakistan’s tribal areas with militants attacking the Pakistani state.

[3]  Personal interview, member of JuD senior leadership, Lahore, Pakistan, May 8, 2009; Personal interview, high-ranking JuD official, Lahore, Pakistan, May 6, 2009;  Personal interview, member of LT, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, May 13, 2009; Personal interview, member of LT, Faisalabad, Pakistan, May 13, 2009.

[4]  Jyllands-Posten published editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

[5] U.S.A. v. David C. Headley, “Criminal Complaint,” Northern District of Illinois, 2009.

[6] U.S.A. v. David C. Headley, “Criminal Complaint,” Northern District of Illinois, 2009.

[7]  Siddharth Varadarajan, “Hafiz Saeed not ‘Litmus Test’ but Pakistan Action Important: NSA,” The Hindu, August 31, 2009.

[8]  Siddharth Varadarajan, “Hafiz Saeed not ‘Litmus Test’ but Pakistan Action Important: NSA,” The Hindu, August 31, 2009.

[9]  For example, some of those recruited and trained in LT’s camps went on to lead the Indian Mujahidin. For more, see Praveen Swami, “The Indian Mujahidin and Lashkar-i-Tayyiba’s Transnational Networks,” CTC Sentinel 2:6 (2009).

[10]  Personal interview, Rahul Bedi, journalist with Jane’s Intelligence Review, New Delhi, India, January 7, 2009; Personal interview, Praveen Swami, journalist with The Hindu, New Delhi, India, January 8, 2009

[11]  Stephen Tankel, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba (London and New York: Hurst and Columbia University Press, forthcoming).

[12]  According to Fahim Ansari’s interrogation report, a copy of which is in the author’s possession, two Indians, Sabahuddin Ahmed and Fahim Ansari, played a pivotal role in providing reconnaissance for the attacks. LT recruited both of them earlier in the decade and each had undergone training at LT camps in Pakistan. It is worth noting that Ansari joined the group while living in Dubai, and his route from there to an LT training camp in Pakistan involved transit through multiple countries. In an Indian interrogation report, Ansari admitted he met with LT commanders in Pakistan approximately a year before the Mumbai attacks, and they directed him to undertake reconnaissance. Initially, he was shown Google Earth maps of Mumbai and asked to note important places. In subsequent meetings, he was directed to return to Mumbai and was tasked with surveilling a number of targets, including several attacked by LT fidayin in November 2008. Ansari is believed to have given a video and a map of targets to Ahmed, who in turn passed the material to LT commanders in Pakistan. Separately, Indian officials are also investigating whether the two Chicago men recently arrested for plotting attacks in Denmark and India were also involved in providing reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks.

[13]  LT’s fidayin attacks involve small numbers of militants storming a target using small-arms and grenades. The aim is not to be martyred immediately. These battles often last many hours and sometimes more than a day. In some instances the attackers escape, whereas in others they do not. If the attacker dies during the operation, it is because he fought to the death rather than dying by his own hand, which LT maintains make these attacks distinct from suicide bombing operations.

[14]  Nishit Dholabhai, “New Bomber: Indian and Everywhere,” Telegraph, February 25, 2008.

[15]  Personal interview, Praveen Swami, journalist with The Hindu, New Delhi, India, January 8, 2009; Personal interview, Suba Chandran, deputy director at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, India, January 5, 2009.

[16]  Sabahuddin Ahmed became the first Indian national to command Pakistani fighters when he led a fidayin attack on the Central Reserve Police Force camp in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh in 2008. By this time, Ahmed had been involved with LT for a number of years, having spent two periods of time with the group in Pakistan (2002-2003 and then post-2006). Before his arrest, he also provided vital support for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

[17]  Kanchan Lakshman, “Cross-Border Terrorism: Pakistan’s Complicity Uninterrupted,” Political and Defence Weekly 7:43 (2009).

[18]  “LeT has Opened New Wing in N-E: Cop,” Times of India, March 8, 2009; “Police Verifying Reports on LeT’s New Wing,” The Hindu, March 9, 2009;  “Blast ‘Expert’ on Hire Drive,” Telegraph-Calcutta, March 9, 2009.

[19]  Personal interview, high-ranking JuD official, Lahore, Pakistan, May 6, 2009.

[20] Personal interview, member of JuD senior leadership, Lahore, Pakistan, May 8, 2009; Personal interview, high-ranking JuD official, Lahore, Pakistan, May 6, 2009; Personal interview, member of LT, Faisalabad, Pakistan, May 13, 2009.

[21]  U.S.A. v. David C. Headley.

[22]  “Bangladesh Police Arrest Three Pakistani Suspects,” Dawn, November 13, 2009.

[23]  Personal interview, senior official in Pakistan’s security services, Pakistan, May 2009; Personal interview, member of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism force, Pakistan, May 2009; Personal interview, senior Western diplomat, Islamabad, Pakistan, May 16, 2009.

[24]  In 2003, LT dispatched a Frenchman named Willie Brigitte, who trained in its camps, to Australia to assist local actors in attacking a number of targets. Brigitte later claimed there was an LT cell based in Sydney formed around Fahim Khalid Lodhi, who is also suspected of training with the group. Lodhi met Brigitte upon his arrival and remained in contact with him until his arrest and deportation to France. Lodhi was arrested as well and later convicted of plotting to blow up the Sydney electricity grid. See Liz Jackson, “Program Transcript: Willie Brigitte,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, February 9, 2004; Fahim Khalid Lodhi v. Regina, New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, 2007.

[25]  K. Srinivas Redd, “Islamist Terrorists Planned Blasts in Goa,” The Hindu, February 2, 2008; T.A. Johnson, “Muzammil, Lakhvi: Same Names, ISI Links in IISc Attack Probe,” Indian Express, December 8, 2008.

[26]  By the time of his arrest, Nasir was scared that LT had assassinated a fellow operative in Karachi and might come after him. He broke contact with the group, but carried ahead with the attack. Local police in Karnataka arrested Nasir and an accomplice while stealing motorcycles, which they planned to use as the delivery mechanism for improvised explosive devices. Believing them to be part of a motorcyle-theft ring, local authorities were about to release Nasir on bail when a member of Indian counterintelligence happened to see his name on the bail list while meeting a friend from the court for coffee. Personal interview, Praveen Swami, journalist with The Hindu, via phone, June 29, 2009.

[27]  Transcript of confession by Mohammed Ajmal Mohammed Amir Kasab before an Indian Magistrate, February 20-21, 2009, author in possession of hard copy.

[28] “Bangladesh Police Arrest Three Pakistani Suspects.”

[29]  For example, Omar Khyam, who spearheaded the fertilizer bomb plot in the United Kingdom, and Dhiren Barot, who became an international operative for al-Qa`ida, both trained with the group. David Headley (formerly known as Daood Gilani), who was arrested in October 2009 for planning terrorist attacks in Denmark, also appears to have entered the world of Pakistani militancy through the doors of an LT training camp.

[30] Personal interview, Western diplomat, Pakistan, December 29, 2009. Regarding LT’s willingness to train Westerners, also see Josh Meyer, “Extremist Group Works in the Open in Pakistan,” Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2007. Regarding the practice of hiring a trainer, see Peter Bergen, “Al Qaeda-on-Thames: UK Plotters Connected,” Washington Post, April 30, 2007.

[31] Personal interview, Western diplomat, Pakistan, December 29, 2009; Personal interview, senior Western diplomat, Islamabad, Pakistan, May 16, 2009; Personal interview, member of Special Branch at New Scotland Yard,  date and location withheld upon request.

[32]  Personal interview, Western diplomat, Pakistan, December 20, 2008.

[33]  In this case, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi was mentioned as the other group of primary concern, although British officials were also worried about Harkat-ul-Mujahidin and Jaysh-i-Muhammad. See Jeremy Page, “How Pakistan Can Help to Stop Terrorist Camps Training Britons,” Times of London, March 25, 2009.

[34] Tankel.

[35]  Ibid.

[36]  The LT operatives who are believed to have provided this assistance were associated with the mosque of the Chemin Droit Association, which is the “representative of the Jamiat al Hadith political party” in Paris, and were linked to channels for sending volunteers from France to training camps in Pakistan. This information is based on “Person’s Prosecuted: Ghulam Mustafa Ram, Hassan el Cheguar, Hakim Mokhfi, Kamel Lakhram,” a document from the Magistrate’s Court of Paris that is in the author’s possession.

[37]  This refers to a Pakistani jihadist group that previously fought in Indian-controlled Kashmir and is now close to al-Qa`ida. It should not be confused with the People’s Resistance Movement of Iran (PRMI), which is also known as Jundallah, and claims to fight on behalf of Sunni Muslims in Iran from its base in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province.

[38] Praveen Swami, “Evidence Mounts of Pakistan Links,” The Hindu, August 12, 2006; Dexter Filkins and Souad Mekhennet, “Pakistani Charity Under Scrutiny In Financing of Airline Bomb Plot,” New York Times, August 13, 2006; “UK Police Probe Terror Money Trail: Investigators Believe Alleged Plot Tied to Asian Quake Relief,” CNN, August 16, 2006.

[39]  Personal interview, senior Western diplomat, Islamabad, Pakistan, May 16, 2009.

[40]  U.S.A. v. David C. Headley.

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