Unreported identities

Three days into the crisis, the horrific terrorist attacks in India's financial capital continue to be unresolved. The focus of the reporting has been on the all-important details of where, what, and who has been hurt or killed.

Slowly, slowly, slowly details are emerging on the all important "why." Even a crucial part of the "who" question has been all but ignored in the coverage.

From the perspective of the Western media, a lot of the focus has been on the Westerners targeted in the attacks. That is not too surprising, but it's worth noting since that factor is likely part of the reason the terrorist targeted places that they knew would get the attention of people outside the region.

The one aspect of the story has received surprising little attention is who did this? Once the "who" is known, reporters can start focusing on the "why."

As mentioned above, determining who did this is difficult because the attacks and hostage situations are still being resolved. Also a factor is that this group of individuals -- the group that has tried to claim credit -- seems relatively obscure and difficult to pin down. Generally, eye-witness details on the attackers that would give clues as to their identity are missing from most news reports.

Here is the second paragraph of a New York Times report that follows the current popular wisdom that these attacks came from Pakistan and were intended to inflame military and diplomatic tensions between Pakistan and India:

MUMBAI, India -- The standoff in the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai narrowed to a final running battle between commandos and at least one gunman who was still roaming the charred corridors of a luxury hotel, the Taj Mahal, but the murderous assault on this city continued to shake the nation and ratcheted up tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group based in Kashmir, most likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the deadly attacks on Mumbai.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group based in Kashmir, most likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the deadly attacks on Mumbai.

After two days of fighting, Indian security forces killed the attackers in one luxury hotel in the city known as the Oberoi Trident, freeing civilians trapped inside, as well as gunmen occupying the headquarters of an Orthodox Jewish organization nearby, ending the conflicts there.

Needless to say, the identity of the attacks has not been the first item of attention in the coverage of this situation. The 45 minutes of CNN coverage I watched this morning was in full "BREAKING NEWS" mode, but little was said about the identity of the attackers. Plenty is said about the targets of the attacks, particularly the fact that a Jewish Center was the target of the attackers. That fact along with other bits of news, leads to insinuations in the news coverage that the groups are Islamic in one form or another, but few have been willing to say that.

Ten paragraphs into this International Herald Tribune article on the attack, we are given this insight:

With the situation seeming to come gradually under the authorities' control, attention was shifting to the identities of the attackers, several of whom were reported to be captured during the onslaught.

Was the identity of the perpetrators not on anyone's radar over the last three days?

The fact that the identity of the attackers has been generally buried raises questions about the media's coverage. Much criticism has been rightly directed at the media for over-using the term "Islamic terrorist" because in some situations that label is misleading. Terrorists who happen to be Muslim are not always motivated by their faith. In this situation most reports delicately state that there may be reason to believe that the attackers were of some sort of Pakistani origin.

Demonstrating how fast the news is changing in India, compare this Los Angles Times report from Thursday that places Al Qaeda's status as a suspect in this attack in the headline and this New York Times report from Friday, which relies on U.S. sources, that places blame for the attack on a Pakistani Group. Are the two possibilities mutually exclusive?

Please respect our Commenting Policy