Case study: Analysing 26/11 with reference to Alex Schmid’s principles of terrorism

By Anirudh Ramakrishna Phadke


The 2008 Mumbai terror attack, as the name suggests is a kind of terrorist attack on Indian soil in November 2008. It was a series of a killing spree by a group comprising 10 Pakistani men linked with the terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. In a four day violent attack by them (from 26th till 29th November 2008), nearly 175 people were killed and 300 more people were wounded. Nearly eight locations in Mumbai were under attack such as Chhatrapathi Shivaji Terminus, The Oberoi Trident, Mumbai Chabad House, Cama Hospital, etc. The incident is also known as 26/11.

(This article is originally published in “The Shatrujeet”, a strategic national security research initiative. Also read it from here).

The objective of the Case Study:

(Note: This research is done by the author as a part of his curriculum in Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies from Universiteit Leiden, the Netherlands).

The domain of terrorism is dynamic. From the start of the history of terrorism until today nature, goals, behavior, patterns, etc of terrorism have been constantly changing due to these elements. As a result, scholars had a tough time in framing a definition of terrorism. In today’s scenario, the most widely accepted definition of terrorism was put forth by Alex Schmid, A well known predominant Dutch author in the domain of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies.

During the tenure of my studying this course, I was startled when Professor Edwin Bakker quoted the following line “One Man’s Terrorist is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter”. The Europol designated the military wing of Hezbollah in their terrorist watch list. Do really Hezbollah a militant wing? One does not agree with it easily. Alex Schmid’s Definition of terrorism has 12 core principles that lay the foundation for comparison ground for deciding whether or not organizations, incidents, and activities can be classified as terrorism. The purpose of this study is to find how we can correlate these 12 core principles with the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The case study is split into two parts.

The Case Study:

The very first question was:

What was the verdict of the judge: Where the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ used with regard to the perpetrator and the incident?

Apart from the verdict of the judge, one can rightly say that this incident is certainly an act of terrorism. The motive behind this was to inculcate fear in Mumbai and to show their (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba) supremacy towards the Indian Government. The aftermath of the attacks man named Ajmal Kasab was the only one to remain alive while other nine of his team-mates being dead during the security forces cross shootouts. The verdict was a very long process and took nearly 4 years to pass the judgment. In the year 2012, the month of May the verdict was passed. It clearly stated that Kasab was found guilty of a total of 86 charges.

It included Murder and waging war against the Indian Government which carried the death penalty according to the Indian Penal Code. Various pieces of evidence supported the statement including 650 witnesses, camera footage from the train station, and his confessions that he was linked with Lashkar-e-Tayybia. Finally, he was sentenced to death. Though the exact term of terrorism was not used, still shreds of evidence and the motive behind these attacks clearly state that this incident was a planned one to inflict damage purposefully in foreign soil and Ajmal Kasab was a terrorist whose motive was to carry out the plan.

Now coming to the mainframe of the study, the question was:

Do you think this incident should be labeled terrorism when looking at the Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism by Alex Schmid? Write down which elements of the Academic Consensus Definition you think are most relevant and which ones do not correspond to your chosen event at all.

(Note: For a better understanding of the article you can view the Alex Schmid’s definition of terrorism here which contains the 12 core principles).

The answer is Yes. The 2008 Mumbai terror attacks rightly fall under the category of terrorism concerning the Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism by Alex Schmid. The definition gives reference to coercive political violence, the conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilians and non-combatants which in turn can be crystal linked with this incident. Now comparing the elements of the definition with that of the incident:

1. “….Should say something about doctrine”:

Yes, the element is relevant. The organization behind the attack (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba) followed the doctrine of Salafi.

2. “….Should contain physical violence, or threat thereof”:

This element is highly relevant. Nearly 175 people were killed and many security officers were martyred in 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

3. “…..Should mention Fear, Panic, and Dread, etc”:

Yes, this element is relevant to the incident. The attack instilled deadly fear and chaos among the people of Mumbai and the shook the whole nation.

4. “….Should say something about the direct victims”:

This element can be considered relevant upon deep analysis. A documentary in the Discovery channel stated the incident survivors. The terrorists asked them about the whereabouts of foreigners in Mumbai’s hotels. Also in a conversation intercepted by Indian security forces, a terrorist said to his team-mate to kill all the hostages.

5. “……Should say something about the perpetrators”:

The confession of Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist captured alive said the whole story and his link with Lekshar-e-tayyiba, throws much light on the perpetrators thus making this element true.

6. “…..Should mention that terrorism is predominantly political”:

The organization Lekshar-e-Tayyiba, challenged India’s sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir through this attack, thus making the statement true.

7. “…..Should contain motivations to engage in terrorism”:

The terrorists had a clear radical Islamic motivation to perform the act. This shows the element is relevant.

8. “…..Should refer to the context in which terrorism is employed as a tactic”:

: This particular element is partly relevant. India and Pakistan are unofficially always at conflict in the region of Kashmir forcing Pakistan to employ terrorism as a means of aggression’.

9. “…..Threat based Communication process”:

No real or absolute threat made by the terrorists to the Indian government during the process. So this element does not hold for this incident.

10. “….Should point out that victims are not the ultimate target”:

I can say that this element is partly relevant. The plan was to instill deadly fear and chaos among the people, government, and (international) media. They did this only through killing people, although it was not their primary objective. (At this juncture I would like to quote this saying “Not all terrorists want people dead, but some want them to drown in fear”).

11. “….Intent of Terrorism”:

This element holds concerning the incident. The primary objective of the terrorists was to create panic among the people and the government. This frames the intent to perform the act of terrorism.

12. “….Should mention terrorism acts as a part of the campaign of violence”:

The terrorists attacked at more than five locations in Mumbai for nearly four days, which is none other than a part of the campaign of violence. Moreover, Indian intelligence authorities were able to tap the calls between these terrorists, and their handlers indicate they’re part of the campaign.


The above analysis indicates that the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks as one of the finest examples of a deadly terrorism act. 

(Note: The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s. It does not reflect our stand on it. Rebuttals with proper facts and figures are accepted. You can send it via or

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Published by The Viyug

Th Viyug (A Strategic & Defence Research Publication) is an digital and print media publication producing cutting edge analytical research papers, opinions, rebuttals and other forms of writings on various disciplines of international affairs.

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