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Questions & answers on the Mumbai blasts

By B Raman
July 17, 2006 15:32 IST
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Anti-terrorism expert B Raman responds to questions on the Mumbai serial blasts:

Why were trains targeted?

We had the first attacks on trains in India in December 1993, by the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). It was not well organised and the casualties were small.

Random explosions in railway trains now and then, here and there keep taking place. They do not make much of an impact.

The Mumbai blasts of 11/7 made an impact because the blasts were multiple, well-synchronised and took place one after the other in quick succession. And the fatalities were large (184).

Terrorists like to attack railways because they will always be soft targets whatever be the physical security. Successful attacks on trains dramatically demonstrate to the ordinary people the inability of the State to protect them. The intimidatory effect on the general population is more than in the case of attacks on civil aviation. Planes are used mostly by the moneyed elite.

Terrorism as a means of waging a war has four objectives -- to intimidate the state and the civil population; to demonstrate the inability of the State to protect its civilian population; to generate pressure on the State from its population to settle with the terrorists; and to create feelings of battle fatigue in the State as well as its population.

In the calculation of the terrorists, all these objectives are facilitated by successful attacks on mass transport systems -- trains, buses or ferries. Terrorists have convinced themselves that it was their successful strike on trains in Madrid in March 2004, which forced the Spanish government to withdraw its troops from Iraq and that it was their attacks on the transport system in London in July last year that set in motion the political weakening of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mumbai was a copy cat of Madrid, but on a larger scale. There were only four explosions in Madrid, but seven in Mumbai.There could be copycats elsewhere too -- in India as well as abroad. In 1967-1968, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation took to hijacking planes, there were copycat emulations all over the world by different terrorist groups for nearly a decade. Concerted measures to tighten civil aviation security brought this to an end.

Such concerted measures are difficult in the case of mass transit systems, but one has to find ways of making terrorist attacks on trains more and more difficult.

Mass casualty attacks on trains has been mainly the defining characteristic of jihadi terrorist organisations which specialise in the use of explosives. Any nation which has jihadi terrorists with expertise in the use of explosives becomes vulnerable to Madrid and Mumbai style attacks. Preventive security measures would entail large expenditure, and countries in Asia and Africa may not be able to make that kind of investment. Hence, they are more vulnerable than Western countries.

Why have terrorists been repeatedly attacking Mumbai since March,1993?

Mumbai is India's New York and Chicago (of the 1920s and the 1930s) rolled into one. It is the economic capital of India. Many foreign multinationals have their corporate headquarters in Mumbai. It contributes more to the Indian exchequer than any other city. It is also the mafia capital of India. Many mafia groups of South Asia have their active presence in Mumbai. One finds the nexus between terrorism and organised crime most vividly demonstrated in Mumbai.

Mumbai is India's economic nerve-centre. If it decays, India decays. Anybody, who wishes ill of India and wants to prevent it from emerging as a major economic power -- whether it is Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or Al Qaeda or the Pakistani jihadi organizations -- would target Mumbai.

To strike successfully, terrorists need money, sanctuaries, arms, ammunition, explosives, logistical support, and alienated pockets of the population wanting to give vent to their anger etc. All of them are available in plenty in Mumbai. There has been a deterioration of the quality of urban policing in India. Nowhere has this deterioration been more disturbing than in Mumbai.

When did the ISI develop an interest in targeting Mumbai?

In the early 1990s. An arrested Khalistani terrorist told the police during his interrogation that during his training in Pakistan, the ISI had asked him to join the Mumbai Flying Club, take a plane up on a solo flight and crash it on the Bombay High offshore oil installations. He said he did not do it because the Khalistani terrorists were against suicide terrorism.

When Dawood Ibrahim, the fugitive gangster, and his men sought training and arms assistance from the ISI for the blasts of March 1993, it was the ISI, which gave them a list of carefully selected economic targets to be attacked. Recent reports speak of an ISI interest in attacks on economic targets in Bangalore.

Why do the Pakistani jihadi organisations, which are members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front, try to repeatedly attack Mumbai?

It is the ISI, which insists on their attacking targets in Mumbai in return for its assistance.

What has been the history of Pakistan-sponsored jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory outside Jammu and Kashmir?

It started after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by a Hindu mob in December 1992. There were three attacks of jihadi terrorism in 1993/1994 -- the serial blasts in Mumbai organised by the Dawood Ibrahim gang, the explosion outside the office of a Hindutva organisation in Chennai organised by Al Ummah, an organisation of Tamil Nadu with close links with SIMI, and the explosions in railway trains organised by SIMI in north India.

There was a lull from 1995 to 1997. Jihadi terrorist attacks in Indian territory outside J&K resumed again after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to power in 1998. These attacks have continued off and on since then. There was again a lull between September 2003 and July 2005. Since July 2005, these attacks have been resumed with increasing lethality.

Would it be correct to say that there would have been no jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory outside J&K if the Babri Masjid had not been demolished?

No. Pakistan's plans for spreading jihadi terrorism to other parts of India had been drawn up in the 1980s when General Zia-ul Haq was in power. A small group of SIMI had gone to Pakistan clandestinely and Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami arranged for its training by contacting the ISI. After they returned to India, they had difficulty in organising acts of terrorism for want of support from the local Muslim community. This support started coming in after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

What has been the role of Indian and Pakistani Muslims in jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory outside J&K?

In the initial wave of anger after the Babri Masjid demolition, all the terrorist strikes of 1993-1994 were carried out by some Indian Muslims trained and armed by Pakistan. From 1994, jihadi terrorism by sections of Indian Muslims declined. The ISI asked the Pakistani jihadi organisations, which had started operating in J&K from 1993 onwards, to spread out to other parts of India and take over the leadership of the jihadi terrorist movement there. This started happening from 1998.

The serial blasts in Coimbatore on February 14, 1998, were the last attack planned and executed exclusively by a group of Indian Muslim youth belonging to Al Ummah.

In all subsequent jihadi strikes in the Indian territory outside J&K, the leadership role was exercised by Pakistani organisations, with participation by recruits from the Indian Muslim community in India and the Gulf.

What has been the role of Al Qaeda in India?

The Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which are active in J&K since 1993 and in other parts of India thereafter, are members of bin Laden's International Islamic Front formed in February 1998. Al Qaeda, as an organisation , has reportedly no presence in India, but it operates through its Pakistani surrogates.

Since 9/11, there have been three indicators of possible Al Qaeda links with elements in India. After the arrest of Abu Zubaidah, the then No 3 of Al Qaeda at Faislabad in Pakistan in March 2002, sections of the Pakistani media had reported that he had done a course in computer training at Pune in India before crossing over to Pakistan and joining Al Qaeda.

The report of the US National Commission, which enquired into the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, refers to a visit to India by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was believed to have orchestrated the 9/11 strikes in the US, but it does not give any other details. It also refers to the use made by Al Qaeda of the services of one al-Hindi (Bilal al-Hindi) for collecting target information from New York.

Subsequent reports from American and British investigators identified him as a Hindu convert to Islam, whose Gujarati family had migrated to the UK from East Africa. It was also reported that he had been visiting J&K.

One does not know whether these indicators were thoroughly followed up by Indian investigators in order to build a full picture of any Al Qaeda cells in India. At present, the presumption is Al Qaeda has no cell in India. This may be wrong.

What has been the attitude of Al Qaeda to India?

Before 1993, bin Laden and Al Qaeda used to criticise the US for allegedly supporting India on the Kashmir issue. There was no criticism of India itself. From 1993 onwards, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's No 2, started referring to India and the Hindus in the context of his attacks on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. He accused Musharraf of paving the way for the takeover of Pakistan by the Hindus.

Since President Bush's visit to India in March last, bin Laden himself has started criticising India. He and Al Qaeda have started speaking of a Crusader-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy against Islam. Al Qaeda has also been accusing India of using Bush to exercise pressure on Musharraf to stop supporting the 'freedom struggle' in J&K. Now whenever Al Qaeda talks of the global jihad, it refers to Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Darfur in the Sudan, J&K and Chechnya.

What has been the attitude of Indian Muslims to Al Qaeda and bin Laden?

Kashmiri jihadi Muslims, who look upon the US as their objective ally, have been keeping away from them lest their support for Al Qaeda be misunderstood by the US. They have, however, been totally supporting Pakistani jihadi organisations, which are members of the IIF.

Support for bin Laden among non-Kashmiri Muslims has been increasing, though it is still small. While very few Kashmiri Muslims joined the anti-Bush demonstrations in March last, a large number of non-Kashmiri Muslims joined.

Some of these non-Kashmiri Muslims even shouted pro-Al Qaeda and pro-bin Laden slogans, particularly in Mumbai.

Is there any likelihood of any convergence of interest between the ISI and Al Qaeda in India?

Both are concerned over the growing strategic relations between India and the US -- each for its own reason. Pakistan is peeved at the India-US deal for cooperation in the development of civilian nuclear power and is annoyed at the US refusal to sign a similar agreement with Pakistan. It is upset over the US efforts to build up India as an Asian power on par with China.

Al Qaeda's objection is more ideological. It looks upon anyone having having close relations with the US and Israel as its adversary. The ISI and Al Qaeda would like to hamper, if not disrupt, this growth. Al Qaeda attacks on US nationals and interests in India at the instigation or with the complicity of the ISI, is therefore a possibility.

Are there any other factors requiring attention?

The dubious role of Iranian intelligence agencies. There were some indications that the Iranians played a role in instigating the anti-Bush demonstrations -- particularly in Lucknow and Hyderabad, which have a large Shia population. Iranian intelligence has been trying to create difficulties for the UK-led NATO forces in Afghanistan by assisting in the resurgence of the Taliban. It has also kept Iraq boiling. The Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon has been targeting Israel.

One has to pay greater attention to any clandestine activities involving Iran in India. The ISI, Iranian intelligence and Al Qaeda might find a convergence of interest in disrupting India-US relations.

The Mumbai Blasts: Complete coverage

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B Raman