The terrorists launched a sophisticated, multi-pronged attack into a city of 18 million residents. This requires planning, training, funding, and detailed reconnaissance. The targets were chosen carefully to achieve maximum effect. The terrorists hit hotels, a train station, a movie house, a residential complex, and a hospital--all soft targets. They also were able to plant bombs in taxis as well as capture a police van, which was then used in a drive-by shooting spree.Times Online has a timeline of the attacks, and BarcePundit provides extensive, ongoing roundup of news and reports.
The assault teams--there is no other way to describe them--coordinated and synchronized their attacks to overwhelm Mumbai security. The terrorists were able to take a significant number of hostages. They knew where to find foreigners and wealthy Indians--at the five star hotels.
Past attacks in Indian cities and in other parts of the world may have had higher death tolls, but they failed to achieve the results of Mumbai. The city has been completely shut down for two days, while the Hindustan Times said the country is gripped by a "fear psychosis." India's government has long treated the terrorist problem as a secondary issue. This will change.
The United States stepped up security as well, after the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security released "a plausible but unsubstantiated report indicating that Al Qaeda terrorists in late September may have discussed targeting transit systems in and around New York City."
In Clear and Present Danger (Long War Journal November 22, 2008), Thomas Jocelyn notes that as Barack Obama prepares to take office,
"the new administration will soon discover from its review of the Guantánamo files what motivated its predecessor: The scope of the terrorist threat was far greater than anyone knew on September 11, 2001. But for the Bush administration's efforts, many more Americans surely would have perished.Whether from an international network like Al Qaeda or a local "homegrown" variety, one thing is clear: the threat of militant Islamicism is global and pervasive, and if citizens of United States have escaped the fate of Mumbai, it is not for want of trying.