Retired Professor Emeritus in the mathematics department of Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, M C Puri, was killed and four serving scientists were injured when an unidentified gunman opened fire indiscriminately on a group of scientists as they were coming out of a conference hall in the prestigious Indian Institute of Science campus in Bangalore on Wednesday.
The victims -- largely Indian with some foreigners -- who were attending an international conference on research relating to infrastructure, were reportedly walking to an adjacent building for dinner at the end of the day's proceedings.
The person or persons responsible for the attack have not so far been arrested or identified. The incident has coincided with the reported shifting of Abu Salem, a member of the mafia group headed by the Karachi-based Dawood Ibrahim, to Bangalore to undergo a lie detector and other forensic tests in connection with the investigation into his alleged involvement in the serial Mumbai blasts of March 1993, in which nearly 250 innocent civilians were killed.
The explosions were carried out by Dawood Ibrahim, then based in Dubai, with the help of some Mumbai-based Muslims, who were taken to Pakistan via Dubai and got trained and armed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.
Abu Salem, who was arrested by the Portuguese authorities, was recently extradited by them to India after he and Monica Bedi, a woman companion of his, had completed a prison sentence in Portugal after having been convicted on charges of entering Portugal with false travel documents. There is so far no evidence to connect the shooting incident with the shifting of Abu Salem.
Sleeper cells of pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist organisations of Pakistan and Bangladesh operating in South India have come to the notice of the police from time to time.
The most active in South India has been the Lashkar e Tayiba followed by the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami.
Occasionally, there have also been reports of the presence and activities of other Pakistan-based organisations such as the Hizbul Mujahideen -- an indigenous Kashmiri organisation whose Amir, Syed Salahuddin, operates from Pakistan -- and the Jaish e Mohammad, a Pakistani organisation like the LeT and the HUJI.
Of these organisations, the LeT has been the most active.
While its activities in Jammu and Kashmir and other north Indian states are controlled from its headquarters at Muridke, near Lahore, in Pakistan, its activities in western and southern India are controlled by its headquarters in Saudi Arabia and occasionally from Dubai.
Its sleeper cells in South India operate either under the name of the LeT or under other names such as the Muslim Defence Force in Tamil Nadu. While the activities of the HUJI in J&K and other parts of North India are controlled by its headquarters in Pakistan, its activities in southern Thailand, Myanmar, and East and South India are believed to be controlled by its branch office in Bangladesh.
The LeT, the HUJI and the JeM -- all of whom are members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People -- look upon J&K, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Junagadh in Gujarat as rightfully belonging to Pakistan.
They want to 'liberate' them from Indian control as a first step in their plan to 'liberate' the Muslims of North and South India and incorporate their 'homelands' in the so-called Islamic Caliphate advocated by bin Laden.
They also similarly want to 'liberate' the Muslim majority areas of Sri Lanka's Eastern Province.
In addition to such political and religious reasons, their focus on South India has also a strongly economic angle. That is the large concentration of information technology and outsourcing companies -- Indian as well as foreign -- in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.
A defining characteristic of the post-9/11 terrorist strikes of al Qaeda and the IIF has been to step up acts of economic terrorism. The terrorist strikes in Bali, Mombasa in Kenya, on the French oil tanker Limburg, Casablanca in Morocco, Istanbul in Turkey, and Egypt had a strong economic motivation.
Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai, in the calculation of the terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan, are attractive targets for acts of economic terrorism.
They believe successful acts of economic terrorism there could affect an important source of India's foreign exchange earnings, keep foreign information technology companies away from India and affect India's stock market, which attracts a large volume of foreign institutional investment based on the value of the shares of the IT companies.
Since General Pervez Musharraf seized power in Pakistan in October 1999, he has embarked on a programme for the diversification of the Pakistani economy, which is now mainly dependent on the export of textiles, sports and leather goods. In this connection, considerable attention is being paid, with Chinese assistance, to develop Pakistan's IT capability and attract foreign software and outsourcing companies to Pakistan.
The ISI too calculates that uncertainties in the minds of foreign IT and outsourcing companies about security conditions in South India could benefit Pakistan.
After the neutralisation of a sleeper cell of the LeT in Delhi in March, the Delhi police had repeatedly been sounding wake-up calls about the plans of jihadi terrorists to target IT companies in Bangalore.
Media reports have also been speaking of a number of hoax threats addressed to IT companies in Bangalore since March. The recent hoax message of an attempt by the Al Qaeda to blow up the Indian Parliament had also reportedly originated from Thirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, a hotbed of the activities of the Al Ummah, which had organised a number of serial blasts at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu in February 1998.
All these were not hoax calls from pranksters trying to create a sensation. These were probably hoax messages of suspected jihadi terrorists, apparently trying to test the reflexes of the security authorities and create in their mind a hoax fatigue.
Why did the persons responsible for Wednesday's incident target the scientists attending an international conference? It does not appear to have been a targeted attempt to kill any particular scientist though media reports speak of the presence of some space scientists in the conference.
South India in general and Bangalore in particular not only have a large concentration of IT experts, but also famous scientists. How to strengthen physical security in South India without creating unnecessary alarm and nervousness, which could economically prove counter-productive?
This is a question that needs urgent attention from the Government of India and the four state governments.