Foreign Companies Review Security after Mumbai Attacks

December 5, 2008

Foreign companies in India are reassessing their security to cope with changing threats after the three-day rampage and siege by Islamist militants in Mumbai last week, risk consultants said on Friday.

Foreigners appear to have been a target for 10 Islamist militants who attacked two luxury hotels and other landmarks in the financial hub, killing 171 people including six Americans.

India was seen as a relatively safe place to do business until last week, risk consultants said, despite a slew of bomb attacks on Indian cities in 2008 that killed hundreds.

The assault on two five-star hotels, usually seen as among the most secure places to stay, has thrown the usual security equation into disarray, analysts said. “These attacks have dumbfounded everyone,” said Steven Dunn, director of Dynamiq, an Australian-owned security and risk firm.

As fear spreads in the aftermath of the attacks, foreign companies are hastily upgrading security, with measures ranging from hiring more security personnel, beefing up surveillance and moving their employees to lower-profile locations.

Militants short-list targets which are easiest to strike, and no company wants to be an easy target, said Dunn, who served in the Australian SAS for 15 years.

“People are still reacting to the panic and the paranoia of multinationals and their employees,” said Robert Grenier, the chairman for global security consulting at Kroll.

Hundreds of people, many of them Western businessmen and tourists, were trapped or taken hostage by gunmen inside the 105-year-old Taj Mahal hotel and the Trident-Oberoi hotel. “These occurrences haven’t taken place for many years,” Dunn said.
The attacks in the city of 18 million echo those of the mid-1980s, when suicide blasts were rarer and counter terrorism forces mostly focused on hostage crises, he noted.

Security has been not been a high enough priority for most multinationals in India, and their security staff were not always trained enough to deal with a militant attack, Grenier said. “Unless you can present a very clear and present threat, it’s hard to convince the managers to invest more in it.”

Security in Mumbai is being stepped up, with hotels and shops installing closed-circuit TV and scanners, though experts say the city’s security infrastructure is in desperate need of overhaul.

India remains tense, with the country’s new home minister admitting on Friday there had been security lapses last week, and experts say the government is bracing itself for more militancy.

(Editing by Bryson Hull and Sanjeev Miglani)

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