Wednesday, December 08, 2010

India: Indian Mujahideen is active, but weaker

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The Indian Mujahideen is active, but weaker and its remnants, which have so far escaped detection and arrest by the police, have probably a reduced capability. That is the conclusion possible on the basis of the details available so far regarding the explosion in Varanasi, the Hindu holy city, on the evening ( shortly after 6 PM) of December 7,2010. The explosion itself caused the death of one child and injured five adults. About 20 others were injured in a stampede that followed. At least one foreign tourist was among the injured.

2. It has been reported that the improvised explosive device (IED) used in the incident was kept inside a container used for carrying milk. The terrorists wanted to register their presence and continued determination to keep launching terrorist attacks, but did not aim at large or mass casualties. If they had intended to organize a large or mass casualty attack they would have mixed the explosive material with projectiles such as nails, ball bearings etc and used a smaller container in which they would have tightly packed the explosive material and the projectiles. They had apparently not done so. Another improvised explosive device of low intensity was reportedly found in a nearby dustbin.

3. The IED, which exploded, had been planted at a place where about 5,000 Hindu devotees and tourists---Indian and foreign--- gather every evening to watch a well-choreographed religious function called “aarti” on the banks of the Ganges near the famous Kasi Vishwanath temple. The explosion took place on a Tuesday, which is an important day for the devotees of the Hindu God Hanuman. The two explosions of March 7,2006---one in a Hanuman temple and the other in the waiting room of a local railway station---also took place on a Tuesday. Those two of 2006 were intended to be large casualty attacks and resulted in the deaths of 28 persons. No foreign tourists were affected.

4.The investigation into the March 7,2006, explosions established the involvement of three Bangladeshi Muslims belonging to the Bangladesh branch of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI-B) and six Indian Muslims. The Indian Muslims were arrested and prosecuted, but the Bangladeshi Muslims, who had assembled the IEDs, managed to flee to Bangladesh. All the Indian Muslims involved had been trained by the Pakistan branch of the HUJI in its training camps in Pakistan.

5. Those involved in the March 7,2006, explosions had projected them as acts of reprisal against the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya on December 6,1992, and the anti-Muslim incidents in Gujarat in February,2002, following the cold-blooded massacre of a group of Hindu pilgrims traveling by train at the Godhra railway station in Gujarat. Since March,2006, Varanasi had been free of lethal terrorist attacks despite its high vulnerability.

6. The explosion of December 7,2010, has taken place a day after the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. An e-mailed message purporting to be from the Indian Mujahideen (IM)--- carrying the December 6 dateline, but sent on December 7--- has claimed responsibility for the attack. It has projected the attack as in reprisal against a recent court judgement relating to the ownership of the land on which the Babri Masjid stood. The Muslims felt aggrieved by the judgement which they see as based on Hindu religious beliefs and not on provable evidence. They have expressed their determination to have it set aside by a higher court. Incidents of violence were feared by the police on the day the judgement was delivered by the court, but nothing untoward happened. A delayed violent act of reprisal has now come on December 7,2010, from unidentified elements claiming to be from the IM. The message purporting to be from the IM expresses the determination of the IM to keep up its fight on the Babri Masjid issue.

7. The years 2007-2008 saw a series of high lethality explosions carried out by the IM in two cities of Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and New Delhi. A number of suspects from the IM were arrested by the police and are being prosecuted. Some members---including some leading brains--- of the IM have escaped arrest. They are believed to be either absconding somewhere in India or in Pakistan or the Gulf.

8. These arrests considerably weakened the terrorist infrastructure of the IM in Indian territory and there were no incidents involving the IM between September 2008, when the Delhi explosions took place, and February 2010. The IM was apparently regrouping and reorganizing itself during this period. There has been a revival of its activities since February,2010, as indicated by three attacks. In the first attack inside the so-called German bakery in Pune in February 2010, there were 17 deaths caused by an IED. In the second attack on September 19,2010, in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured, a hand-held gun was used by two terrorists on a motor-bike--- a new modus operandi (MO) not used by the IM before. An E-mailed message purporting to be from the IM had indirectly claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of more attacks during the Commonwealth Games in October. They were not able to carry out the warning due to tight security by the police and other security agencies.

9. In the third incident on December 7, the terrorists have reverted back to their old and preferred MO of using IEDs. The low casualties can be attributed to either the present low IED capability of the IM terrorists still at large or a desire to avoid large or mass casualties while remaining active. Preliminary details do not indicate the involvement of outside elements---either from Pakistan or from Bangladesh or both. (8-12-10)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.