The Black Friday Web

The January 2023 Tarqeq Quarterly Report uses a quantitative network-analytic approach to investigate the 1993 Mumbai bombings

The bombings of 12 March 1993 remain the worst terrorist attack on mainland India. In the span of a single day, a group of gangsters-turned-terrorists killed 257 people by attacking key facilities and installations in Mumbai (then, Bombay) through 12 separate yet coordinated attacks. Had it not been for the ineptness of some of the perpetrators, the damage would have been much graver. The 1993 Mumbai attacks also saw sophisticated firearms as well as plastic explosives being used in a densely populated urban environment against civilians in face of ill-prepared police and state machinery. In many ways, the 1993 “Black Friday,” as the day is remembered in India, brought the global problems of the early 21st century to India a decade early.

Yet, the details of the attack remain a mystery. The media and state were quick to lay the blame for the attacks on a notorious Dubai- and Pakistan-based gangster who was involved in a variety of illicit activities in Mumbai, ranging from extortion and smuggling to narcotics trafficking.

The gangster, Dawood Ibrahim, would rise to global notoriety following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, as evidence of his involvement with the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Pakistan-based Islamist groups mounted. While the media and the police are aware that it was another gangster, Tiger Memon, and his associates and close family members who were the key operational leaders behind the attack, the stylized story about the 1993 attacks has always revolved around Ibrahim and the help he allegedly received from the Pakistani deep state, the country’s feared and reviled Inter-Services Intelligence in particular.

The danger with this stylized narrative is that it obscures much of a highly elaborate conspiracy spanning hundreds of individuals across several Indian states and neighboring countries. While rightly emphasizing the involvement of Pakistan, it fails to emphasize the serious role played by dozens of Indians, many of whom are now untraceable. Most seriously, it fails to get to the bottom of why would a group of gangsters–not particularly pious by any account–one day decide to wage religious war against the Indian state, jeopardizing their lucrative business interests in Mumbai and elsewhere. The conventional narrative–that the attacks were meant to avenge the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992–fails to explain the scale, breadth, and depth of planning.

The search for answers to these and related questions must start with an extremely granular investigation of the network of perpetrators: who they were, how they were linked within their respective groups as well as with others, and the cliques and communities that they were part of. In other words, we must first–both literally and figuratively–visualize the network behind the 1993 Mumbai attacks. This is the goal the current Tarqeq Quarterly Report achieves.

By combing thousands of newspaper articles, we obtained around 700 relevant articles related to the attacks that allowed us to construct a database of 220 individuals who Indian law enforcement had–at various points–charged with involvement in the attacks. Our in-house database also contains more than 1370 distinct links between these individuals, which we reduce to 605 key ones using a specific procedure.

Together with the individuals and the links between them, we obtain a weighted, undirected network, and apply computational network-analytic tools using open-source software Gephi to identify key nodes and their relative positions in the network. Given that the 1993 Mumbai attacks are still a matter of ongoing investigation by Indian law enforcement and security agencies, we hope our work will assist them in bringing the remaining perpetrators to justice.

While the current Report remains a historical exercise, its power lies in simple assumptions that make the approach adopted amenable to “live” investigations.

  1. Note that we do not start with any assumptions about nodes/individuals. Rather, we adopt a “relational approach,” and look at the activities of pairs of individuals to understand the significance (or lack thereof!) of the nodes involved. So, as an example, we do not à priori start with, say Dawood Ibrahim, as a leading node. Rather, his connections with other actors through various activities and preexisting ties make him assume the significance he does in the network. How “big” or “small” a node is, or how important or unimportant, is a matter of standard network-analytic computation.
  2. The only subjective assumption we made in course of our entire research was assigning a set of scores to certain types of activities between pairs of individuals. The conclusions drawn are a matter of routine computation once one admits this set of scores.

Among the Report’s conclusions:

  1. Dawood Ibrahim, while extremely important as an actor, dwarves in comparison to another gangster, Tiger Memon, who emerges as the key planner and executioner of the attacks. Like Ibrahim, Memon is suspected to be currently based in Pakistan.
  2. Despite sympathy from certain quarters, media included, Memon’s brother Yakub–who was hanged on 30 July 2015 for his involvement in the 1993 attacks–was a key node in the network according to several centrality measures we have computed.
  3. Another gangster, currently in Indian custody, Abu Salem, was also an important node, serving as one of the key “bridges” between the Gujarat cluster of actors and other participants. Related, the Gujarat cluster deserves much greater scrutiny from Indian law enforcement and security agencies.
  4. Mohammed Dossa, a leading actor whose current whereabouts remain unknown, also deserves much greater attention. Dossa’s network was–and perhaps, is–wide, and bringing him to justice remains key in understanding how the different clusters of actors involved in the 1993 attacks were linked.
  5. Another actor–currently believed to be living in Pakistan–who also played a vital role in the 1993 attacks is Dawood’s brother, Anees. Media reports suggest he is one of the front-runners to succeed the aging Dawood. Anees, like Salem and Dawood, remains a vital link between the Mumbai-focused D-company and organized crime networks operating in the wider Western coast of India.

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