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Mumbai Serial Blasts Portend Dangerous Trends

Anil Kamboj was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • July 19, 2006

    As expected, a lesser-known terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the July 11 Mumbai blasts. After four days, the Lashkar-e-Qahhar claimed responsibility for the seven serial blasts that ripped through Mumbai commuter trains killing at least 228 and wounding approximately 900 people. It is believed that this is a sub-set of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). According to an email received by a TV channel, Lashkar-e-Qahhar has links with the LeT, which is an armed outfit of Markaz-Dawa Wal-Irshad, an Islamic fundamentalist organisation in Pakistan.

    Starting from March 12, 1993, there have been six terrorist attacks in Mumbai prior to the recent blasts. The 7/11 massacre cannot thus be seen in isolation but has to be placed in the context of other terrorist activities to arrive at an appropriate assessment. Moreover, in the last few months, Maharashtra has been gripped by several terrorism-related incidents - Aurangabad, Beed, Malegaon, Nagpur and Kolhapur. Police has confirmed the presence of terrorists 'sleeping cells' in Maharashtra and Gujarat. According to intelligence reports, about 200 youths from Maharashtra alone are undergoing terrorist training in different parts of the country. A new group, 'Ahl-e-Hadis,' which calls itself a part of Osama Bin Laden's 'Salfi' group has emerged in Aurangabad region. On May 10, 2006, the police seized arms, ammunition and 30 kgs of RDX in Aurangabad and arrested 11 persons belonging to Ahl-e-Hadis and the Student Islamist Movement of India (SIMI). The Aurangabad module was responsible for the planting of an explosive device in Karnavati Express (Mumbai-Ahmedabad Express) on February 19, 2006 at Mumbai Central Railway Station, which fortunately failed to explode either because of a faulty setting of time or due to a malfunction. The target in this attempt seems to have been Gujaratis, who became targets of radical Islamists in the wake of the victimisation of Muslims during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

    The seven trains targeted in Mumbai on 7/11 left Churchgate station and were proceeding towards Virar or towards Borivali. All the explosive devices were planted on the upper luggage space in first class coaches. First class compartments were chosen as targets because of a number of reasons. Firstly, senior executives of companies and of the stock exchange, businessman and traders travel by first class. They were targeted so as to hit at the commercial/business centre of Mumbai. In addition, a large number of these people were from Gujarat. Secondly, there is a sub-way on the northern side of the station, which is closest to the fourth coach of any train (the fourth coach is always a first class) standing on any of the four platforms. Hence it was easy for terrorists to board the train without being exposed for long on the platform and then make a clean getaway after planting the explosive device. Thirdly, first class compartments are not as crowded as the general ones and it is also easy to escape undetected given that passengers by first class are generally immersed in their own work and do not pay much attention to their fellow travellers.

    It appears that the operation was carried out after thorough reconnaissance, may be after a dry rehearsal by one module of the terrorist group involved. Different cells under this module may have executed the operation. The advantage of such an arrangement is that a member of one cell does not know his compatriots in other cells, so that even if one cell is neutralised the operation can still be carried out. The overall operation may have been controlled by one mastermind operating from Mumbai or from any other part of the world.

    Mumbai was chosen as the target because it is the financial capital of India and any disruption there would have an adverse impact on the Indian economy. It has also become a communally volatile city ever since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and a massive attack like the one carried out on 7/11 could well ignite communal violence. In addition, the city provides enough logistic support and safe houses for terrorists.

    The 7/11 terrorist attacks portend a dangerous future. Terrorists have been able to hit Mumbai at will. Their intent seems to be to incite communal violence as well as to derail the Indian economy. Given that the people of Mumbai have demonstrated great resilience and conducted themselves with admirable restraint in the wake of these attacks, frustration among terrorists may well mount leading to more such indiscriminate attacks in future. It is indeed a matter of great concern that the LeT has been able to recruit youths from the surrounding areas.

    Such linkages between foreign jihadi outfits and disaffected local youth would not only enlarge the area of operation of terrorist networks but also widen the local support base. This throws up a daunting challenge to the country. The first task at hand for the Indian government is to improve its counter-terrorism mechanisms. And hand in hand with this should go policies and programmes aimed at bringing to the mainstream marginalised communities and radicalised youth driven by grievances.