Up There! A Bird? A Plane? A Terrorist!

Over the weekend broke the superficially comical news that Pakistani terrorists are planning attacks in India with the aid of paragliders. There are several things about this which I think beg questions from the analytically-minded…

U. K. Bansal, an Indian Home Ministry official, told reporters that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba faction was thought to have acquired a number of the gliding parachutes.

“We have intelligence reports that LeT has purchased 50 paragliding kits from Europe with an intention to launch attacks on India,? he said

This is a very interesting statement. Paragliding is not particularly popular in the Indian subcontinent – hence the supposed purchases from Europe – and nobody seems to be mentioning how or where the terrorists are supposed to be receiving training in the sport.

This is also the sort of carefully-considered (or so one hopes!) statement designed in part to leave the subject – in this case, the LeT terrorists – looking over their shoulders. “We know what you purchased”, India is in effect saying, “we know where you purchased them, and we know why”. Assuming the intel is good, this is a pretty audacious bit of saber-rattling by India.

Is it carefully considered? Is the intel good? It’s hard to say, but:

“The Mumbai attack [where ten LeT gunmen sailed to Mumbai from Karachi, murdering the crew of a fishing boat en route], was the group’s first act of sea-borne terrorism,? said B. Raman, a former counter-terrorism chief in the Indian foreign intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing.

“It would be natural for them to plan another spectacular attack from the air. The warning has to be taken seriously.?

…this sort of thing doesn’t really inspire confidence. They committed one (quite spectacular) act of terror with the almost tangenital aid of a small boat, so it’s “natural” that they’d now attack from the air? That really doesn’t parse, for me.

LeT probably won’t try another seaborne attack, because like all modern Islamist terrorists they seem to have this bizarre drive to never do the same thing twice. They were quite successful in Mumbai, where they came ashore from a boat – so, because it worked well, they’ll never try it again. (In a certain twisted way, I kind of hope some Islamist militant group sets off a dirty bomb, somewhere, simply because that basically means that the world can then stop worrying about that particular oh-so-scary-sounding threat. With the intent to be sarcastic quite implicit, is the illness of a few thousand not worth the peace of mind of millions? No? Nevermind, then.)

(I’ve thought about this, and I’ve discussed it with people, and I still really can’t fathom this “it worked great, so let’s never do it again” terrorist mentality. Nor do I get why terrorist groups keep coming up with these grandiose plots involving lots of people and lots of room for human error. Look at the Mumbai massacre – ten guys, all kind of shenanigans, 300-something dead after several hours’ effort. Not that it wasn’t horrible and gruesome, but they could have achieved that in five minutes with three guys, a lorry, and a mortar. Line up on a long, straight street during a crowded rush hour, and start dropping a mix of explosive and incendiary rounds every hundred yards or so… but I digress.)

But their use of boats once doesn’t mean that using paragliders is a logical or “natural” inference to make. How would a paraglider attack work, exactly? I understand that in the past there have been concerns involving paragliders and ultralight aircraft and so on theoretically being used for either aerial surveillance (has nobody heard of Google Earth?) or to get people inside “secure” locations, like military bases and power plants and so on. It all seems very romantic and James Bond-ish, but, come on… what are LeT supposed to do, float around above a cricket match or something, firing Kalashnikovs at the people on the ground? Float over a – what, power plant or something? – and somehow manage to drop explosives down a chimney or smokestack or something?

I just don’t buy it. Even though LeT are one of the more competent terrorist organizations out there – by the standards of these groups, anyway – I just don’t see them getting fifty volunteers for a suicide mission (martyrdom is sexy; being captured and tortured… isn’t) trained as competent paraglider pilots. 9/11 was the only modern Islamist terror attack that required any degree of serious skill on the part of recruits, and it was very much the exception to the rule. 50 paragliders and associated equipment is also a relatively expensive outlay, by terrorist standards. (A single paraglider and harness runs upwards of 750 USD, and it’s probably more like 1000 USD once you add in the bare-essential bits and bobs. $50,000+ is one hell of an outlay for equipment for a hare-brained terrorist plot in that part of the world.)

So, you know, that really makes one wonder just what’s going on here. Only time will tell, if we’re lucky.

Published in: General | on January 25th, 2010| 1 Comment »

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  1. On 1/27/2010 at 4:16 am Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake Said:

    Perhaps a “Paraglide the Karakorum” tourist attraction? It’d be quite lovely, and charmingly anti-climactic.