Gunmen in Mumbai attacks used Google Earth, probe reveals

The gunmen who attacked various locations in south Mumbai last week used digital maps from Google Earth to learn their way around, according to officials investigating the attacks.

Investigations by the Mumbai police, including the interrogation of one captured militant, suggest the gunmen were highly trained and used technologies such as satellite phones, and global positioning systems (GPS), according to police.

Google Earth has previously come in for criticism in India, including from the country’s former president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Kalam warned in a 2005 lecture that the easy availability online of detailed maps of countries from services such as Google Earth could be misused by terrorists.

Indian security agencies have complained that Google Earth exposed Indian defence and other sensitive installations. Other nations, including China, have made similar complaints regarding military locations.

However the places attacked by militants last week did not come under the category of defence or sensitive installations.

The information available to the gunmen on Google Earth about the locations they attacked is also available on printed tourism maps of Mumbai.

The locations included two hotels, a restaurant, a residential complex, and a railway station.

Will multinationals scale back operations?

Meanwhile, as Mumbai tries to limp back to normalcy after last week’s horrendous attacks, questions remain as to whether multinational companies and foreign nationals will continue to take the risk of doing business in the city and the rest of the country, which have faced repeated terrorist attacks in the past.

“This attack is bound to create doubts in people whether it is safe to continue to do business in India, and one of the businesses that may be affected may be outsourcing to India,” said Siddharth Pai, a partner at outsourcing consultancy firm, Technology Partners International.

Last week’s attacks in Mumbai targeted two high profile hotels and other targets in south Mumbai, the country’s financial hub.

A number of countries, including the U.S., U.K., and Australia, issued travel warnings after the attacks, and several companies, including Dell, have told employees to avoid Mumbai.

The U.S. State Department said the terrorists targeted locations frequented by Westerners and advised Americans traveling to or already in India to be vigilant.

In the short term, Pai and other analysts do not expect multinationals who outsource to India, or have development subsidiaries in India, to close operations.

Microsoft Research India, for example, said last week that it is committed to operating in India.

There is however concern among business executives that despite numerous terrorist attacks in the country, the Indian government does not have the political will to handle the terrorist threat.

“Another attack may not be far away,” said a businessman in Bangalore on condition of anonymity.

In India, businessmen and executives usually hesitate to criticize the government. It is one of the largest buyers of many products including IT. Indian businesses often need to lobby the government on a variety of issues from tax holidays to duty rate cuts, to changes in government policies.

Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, on Thursday however criticized the handling of the terrorist attack by the authorities.

“We should have learnt to get a crisis infrastructure in place that could snap to attention as soon as something happens,” he told reporters in Mumbai. “We still don’t have that in place.”

Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, one of the targets of the terrorists, is a business of the Tata group. India’s largest outsourcer, Tata Consultancy Services, is also part of the group.

“My message is that if we are living in this kind of environment, we need an infrastructure that will cope with this,” said Tata who added that the fatalities in the attack last week could have been minimized.

The government has responded so far to criticism from the public by accepting the resignation on Sunday of the country’s home minister, Shivraj Patil.

But it is being seen as too little, too late. Patil’s resignation has been repeatedly demanded after bombs planted by terrorists went off in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Bangalore earlier this year.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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