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Why Mumbai? Why Now?

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • July 27, 2011

    Mumbai has been targeted by terror outfits nearly fourteen times since 1993. The July 13 bombings appear to be the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen (IM). The IM is being suspected because of the use of ammonium nitrate based Improvised Explosive Devices (IMDs). The July 13 blasts raise three critical questions. Who are the IM? Why Mumbai has been attacked? And, why now?

    According to Indian intelligence, the IM is not a well knit organization with a hierarchical structure like other more established terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Rather, it is a loose network, which includes former members of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), individuals from the state of Uttar Pradesh who are allegedly linked with the Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), and the criminal cartel run by Aftab Ansari. Key former SIMI members like Qayamuddin Kapadia, Usman Agarbattiwala and Sajid Mansuri have supported the IM, which has been in existence since 2005; some 50 SIMI cadres reportedly participated in a jihadi training camp in Aluva, Kerala in December 2007. The present leadership of the IM is mainly traced to Abdul Subhan Usman Qureshi, code name “Kasimö or “al-arbiö, who signed the email manifestos sent by the IM claiming responsibility after the multiple blasts in 2008. Qureshi’s background refutes the theory that most IM cadres come from deprived backgrounds or are schooled in radical madrassas. He studied at the Antonio DeSouza High School run by a Christian missionary in Byculla, Mumbai and came from an economically privileged background.

    The reasons for the formation of the IM are many. First, the personal experiences of its cadres during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Second, young men especially from UP appear to be tempted by the easy availability of money in terrorism. Another reason could be the abundant availability of funds for such activities in an underground network of global terror financiers and outfits.

    The connections between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the IM became evident after the arrest in 2005 of Sami Ahmad who revealed that he had established contact between UP-based IM cadre Fahim Ansari (arrested in February 2008) and the LeT. Ansari’s narrative is revealing. He reached Pakistan via Dubai in 2005 and at the LeT’s Muzzafarabad base was put under the charge of Muzammil, the LeT commander in charge of operations in India. He went through a 21-day Daura Aam (basic combat course), followed by a rigorous three-month advanced Daura Khaas (specialized guerrilla tactics). After arriving in India, from November 28 to December 10, 2007 he stayed at the Sunlight Guest House in Mumbai, photographing and mapping the targets he had been shown in the LeT base for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, prominent amongst them being the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus and the Taj Mahal Hotel. IM-LeT linkages are also evident from what has been termed as the “Karachi project”, which was conceived jointly by elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and the LeT in 2003. The idea behind the project was to utilize Pakistan-trained Indian operatives to carry out terror attacks in Indian cities. The details of this project came to light in 2009 when the Pakistani American David Coleman Headley revealed to the FBI that the founders of the IM, the Bhatkal brothers, Riyaz and Iqbal, were being sheltered at Karachi by the LeT.

    Why Mumbai? Why now? First, attacking Mumbai increases the credibility and visibility of the terror outfit concerned. Second, it exposes the inability and weaknesses of Indian security agencies. Third, attacking Mumbai, India’s financial capital, brings global attention on India as an unsafe place for investment and tourism.

    As for the timing of the attacks, several plausible explanations stand out. It could have been an attempt to derail the India-Pakistan foreign minister’s meeting held in Delhi this week. Alternately, at the tactical level, the monsoons and the difficulties it creates for Mumbai’s communication network enable terrorists to set off multiple blasts and make a quick getaway. While these two possibilities cannot be ruled out altogether, it is more likely that the July 13 blasts were carried out for two other reasons. Firstly, three years of lull in terror attacks in metropolitan cities like Mumbai had instilled a sense of complacency amongst the police, thus offering the perfect setting to any terror outfit to strike. And second, the IM’s ability to carry out terror strikes adds to its credibility in the global world of terror financiers. While the impact of the blasts in terms of civilian killings has been kept low, the IM’s desire for visibility incentivizes ‘costly-signalling’ on its part through successful terror strikes to convey to its target audience that it means business.

    Though the IM cadres mostly come from India, their linkages with global jihad are worrisome. Links with the LeT and the HuJi also point to the fact that cross border movement of cadres and arms appears easy with the help of false names and passports mostly of Pakistani origin. Ansari, for instance, entered India in 2007 from Nepal with a false Pakistani passport issued in Pakistan. The connection to HuJI is also alarming given the porous nature of India’s borders with Bangladesh. Another disturbing new fact that has emerged is the IM establishing linkages with the Taliban, as has been revealed to the police by a key arrested IM cadre, Danish Riyaz in June. India has to therefore not only remain vigilant with regard to internal policing but also external border control. The IM will target more Indian cities in the future, the most vulnerable being those in the north and the west. Hence, an efficient state counter-terror mechanism is the need of the hour.