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Mumbai Attackers Made Sophisticated Use of Technology

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Security cameras at a train station in Mumbai, India catch gunmen wielding weapons, terrorizing travelers and shopkeepers in the station. Video by AP

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Security experts also say the attacks represented an alarm bell for India's intelligence agencies, which in the past have complained that Google Earth images contained too much detail about military sites and other defense installations.

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"Where in the rule book does it say that terrorists are not allowed to use technology that is readily available to almost anyone?" said Ajay Sahni, executive director of New Delhi's Institute for Conflict Management. "The only people out of the loop seem to be the Indian security forces. They are a generation behind in understanding the technology that the terrorists used."

The security forces on the ground, including the country's elite special forces unit popularly known as the Black Cats, had little access to night-vision goggles or thermal-imaging capability to help pinpoint where people were located in the two hotels under siege, he said. The elite 7,400-member National Security Guard -- whose commandos arrived in Mumbai at least eight hours after the attackers struck to dislodge them from the hotels -- does not have its own aircraft, Sahni said.

"When they finally got there, they had no floor layouts of the hotel, let alone high-tech devices," he added.

Investigators and eyewitnesses have reported that the assailants had TVs on, tuned to live broadcasts of the assault, as the commandos prepared to storm the hotels.

When TV stations showed every twist and turn of the masked Black Cat commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters to rooftops near a Jewish center called the Chabad House, the Mumbai government shut down news channels, taking live coverage off the air for 45 minutes, fearing that the attackers were monitoring the screens, ruining the commandos' crucial element of surprise.

Several TV stations, including the national news station Times Now, told their anchors to stop reporting on the positions of commandos. "The fact is, there was a live encounter going on," said Arnab Goswami, chief editor of Times Now. "If there was even a slight possibility that these terrorists could use television to get play-by-play news of the enemy, then we have to stand down. There should not be a scoop mentality when the nation is on the edge."

When the coverage was cut, residents panicked. Goswami said he received a thousand text messages within that period to get the news back on the air, forcing him to decide whether providing information to the public would jeopardize the lives of the security forces.

"I was immediately on the phone speaking to a lot of senior politicians in Delhi. The public needed it put back on. But we also had to be restrained," Goswami said, adding that his station refused to show photographs of bodies being brought out at captured sites, which could have boosted the morale of the attackers. He will participate in a summit of television stations Thursday to study their role in the crisis.

The Mumbai attacks also lit up the blogosphere, and Web sites such as YouTube and Twitter kept the data going without interruptions or blackouts. Some of the young backpackers living near the Chabad House, also known as Nariman House, said they used Twitter to send minute-by-minute updates of what was happening to relatives and friends. Across the globe, in Brooklyn, N.Y., some Hasidic Jews used Twitter to track the fate of a rabbi held hostage in the building.

For residents of Mumbai, TV coverage was riveting. Madhuri Raghuveer said her family could not get enough of it. "We practically felt like TV was our air. We couldn't breathe without it," she said. "But it also terrified us." They watched the siege as a family. Raghuveer's son, 6, and daughter, 9, were told to stay inside, where they tended to gravitate toward the images constantly flickering on the screen.

On Sunday, Raghuveer took them to see the Oberoi Trident hotel, site of one of the attacks, to show them the siege was over. Outside the hotel, the windows of a Jimmy Choo shoe store were pierced with bullet holes. But work crews had begun to tape up the cracked glass. "I wanted to show them that now everything is safe," she said, pulling her pigtailed daughter to her side. "They have been sleeping in our bed since this happened. They say, 'Mama, I can't go to the bathroom without you. I am afraid.' "

Days later, with Indian news stations repeatedly replaying scenes from the attacks, her husband, who goes by the initials H.R., cut off the cable. He said it just got to be too much.

Correspondent Rama Lakshmi in Mumbai contributed to this report.


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