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Tuesday, December 2

Mumbai 9/11: Name that terrorist

Indian forces mutilated beyond recognition the faces of the slain terrorists. Why?

A reader has questioned an observation I made in the Unko bachana kuan chahega? post of yesterday, which was cross-posted at both Uppity Woman and RBO.

The reader's comment, posted at Uppity's blog, questions my observation that one of the Mumbai terrorists "does not look Pakistani to my eyes. The photograph is fuzzy but he looks as if he could be from India's northeast, maybe Assam state."

The reader states:
For the most part, Indians and Pakistanis don’t look very, if at all, different. Really a common people, sometimes divided by their respective religions but mostly always by their respective governments. (The exception tends to be people in the northwest of Pakistan, the Pathans, who look more like the Afghanis.) In the case of the guy referred to in the blog, he could certainly be from Pakistan. He looks like hundreds of guys I saw growing up in Pak.
I am glad Uppity's reader raised the question because it prodded me to clarify my statement and explain the reasoning behind it.

As I mentioned in the last post I do not publish photographs, but RBO has published this post along with the photograph in question. (And added links about Mongoloid and Assamese ethnic types -- thanks, RBO!) Or go to this report and scroll to the second-to-last photograph. Now to my reply:

Because of countless mass migrations and invasions over millennia the Indian subcontinent is a melting pot. Indo-Iranians, Dravidians, Arabs, Turkish peoples, Polynesian peoples -- the list goes on and on. But as you move toward the northeast in India you are leaving South Asia and heading toward South East Asia, where you find peoples whose looks are more East Asian. Or what used be called Mongoloid -- a term that has been virtually banned from anthropology, but still helpful for my purposes if it calls up an image of physical features that are, to a greater or lessor extent, Mongolian.

Can you find people with somewhat East Asian features in Pakistan? Yes; as the reader indicated, the ethnic boundaries between Pakistanis and Indians are the invention of governments.

However comma, the terrorist on the left-hand side of the photograph, the shorter man, would be easily recognizable as a Pakistani. Yet that man could not pass for a South East Asian to save his life. The man standing next to him could; in fact, he looks more South East Asian to my eyes than anything else.

Granted, I'm working from a very poor photograph shot in poor light -- probably from a cell phone -- in which the eye area of both men is cast in shadow. And of course the camera angle can greatly distort.

With all that said, the head shape of the man on the right, his facial bone structure and shape of his eye sockets, calls up -- for me -- more of an East Asian look than any other race/ethnicity commonly found in South Asia.

I am well aware that such identifications are extremely subjective, and that a forensic anthropologist might tell me I'm wrong. However, given the extreme gravity of the question, I went out on a limb to raise it.

If that man is South East Asian, then we could be looking at a different situation than the one that Indian authorities quickly settled on; i.e., that all the terrorists who attacked in Mumbai were connected with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

And, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, it just so happens that the faces of all the dead terrorists were mutilated beyond recognition by the Indian security forces. So all we have right now by way of identifying that one man is the photograph and the account of the lone surviving terrorist, who transformed himself into a fountain of information after he was apprehended. He has named the nine dead terrorists and claims that they're all Pakistani. (If I recall he only supplied last names for a few or a couple of the men.)

He might be giving good information, or lying, or simply passing along what he was told by his handlers. But again, considering the gravity of the issue, every attempt should be made to get a better look at that particular terrorist's face and positively identify him. Of course, it would also be vital to positively identify all the dead terrorists.)

A computer program could erase the shadows in the photograph and any distortions, and of course enlarge the photograph. And the face that emerged on the computer screen could be rotated, so that a forensic anthropologist could take an educated guess at identifying the man's ethnicity.

Also, the genetic markers in the terrorist's DNA should be studied for clues to his ethnicity -- if he is dead, that is. There is no way of knowing at this point whether that terrorist is among the nine dead, which is all the more reason to take DNA samples from the dead terrorists. I hope that has been done; if it hasn't, if the bodies have already been buried without that test, they should be exhumed. (If I were in charge of the investigation, I would even bring in a forensic modeler to 'reconstruct' the mutilated faces of the dead terrorists.)

Why did I fix on Assamese as my guess for the man's ethnicity? Because my first guess, "Burmese," didn't fit the situation even though he looked as if he could be Burmese. While anything is possible in this world of grievances, and hit-men for hire, I couldn't see a Burmese having a big axe to grind in India.

My second guess, Chechen -- because I've seen Chechens who look like that man even though they're not South East Asian -- also seemed like a stretch. I was looking for an Indian nationality.

"Assamese" was the next guess that popped into my mind. When I mentioned the guess to a correspondent he asked if I knew that there had been terrorist attacks in Assam this year. To the best of my recollection I hadn't heard that news. But once hearing, I decided that as long as I was shooting blindfolded in the dark, I might as well stick with Assamese.

Thus ends my attempt to play amateur forensic anthropologist. Could I have done better by simply hauling out the Ouija board? Well, I was driving at a general point, not trying to hit a place on map. I thought the terrorist looked as if he might hail from somewhere near Burma on the Indian side, rather than the Pakistan side.

The Assamese region is itself a mish-mash of ethnicities; according to Wikipedia:
The roots go back to three thousand years when the first assimilation took place between the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman cultures. ... Assam is surrounded by the rest of the Seven Sister States: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. These states are connected to the rest of India via a narrow strip in West Bengal called the Siliguri Corridor or "Chicken's Neck". Assam also shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh; and cultures, peoples and climate with South-East Asia—important elements in India’s “Look East” Policy. Assam became a part of India after the British occupied the region following the Treaty of Yandaboo of 1826.
And from my brief readings on the terrorist attacks there seem to be a number of Assamese who still consider their land occupied, and who are very insistent about wanting the Indian government to take a hike.

I will not inflict on you the alphabet soup of Assam's extremist and separatist groups and their histories but from what I read, it seems to me that some might be willing to hook up with LeT, if that afforded them a chance to strike a hard blow against New Delhi.

I was struck by this statement about Rajan Daimary, the founder-chief of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), who reportedly executed the order for the October 30 serial bombings in Assam:
Daimary has a long history of sanctioning brutal attacks against civilians. In October, 2004, at least 12 people were killed in attacks on targets that included crowded markets in the towns of Dhekiajhuli, Gouripur and Bijni.
The report goes on to note:
Some in India’s intelligence services believe the NDFB executed the bombings on behalf of Islamists in Bangladesh. ... Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi appeared to endorse that perception, describing Bangladesh as “our biggest threat.”

“Assam is the most vulnerable State”, Mr. Gogoi said, “in regard to terror attacks from Bangladeshi soil. It is the main problem as a large number of terrorist groups there help our local outfits.”
I could be right about the terrorist's ethnicity without his having been involved with an Assamese terror/separatist group, or without any such group working in coordination with LeT. But the rush to identify all the terrorists as Pakistanis and LeT could put blinders on the Indian government's approach to dealing with terrorism on Indian soil, which is coming from several quarters.

In his 11/29 Mumbai TV WMD post John Batchelor wrote that one of his sources described the terrorists as a "multinational force of attackers: Britons, Pakistanis, Kashmiris, Hyderabad Indians."

A multinational force would be one thing; a mastermind who is actually a coalition of terrorist/separatist organizations that have grievances with the Indian government would be quite another. The latter would call for a different approach than one directed solely at LeT or Pakistan's government.
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