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The July 2008 Terrorist Attacks in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad

T. Khurshchev Singh was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • August 12, 2008

    Two co-ordinated strikes on July 25 and 26, 2008 in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad killed 54 people and injured nearly 200. In the next few days, 28 bombs including two car bombs were found in Surat, which possibly did not explode due to faulty mechanism. This set of incidents seems to mark a new terrorist tactic – the targeting of important cities to cause significant casualties. Serial blasts of this kind began in India with the October 2005 co-ordinated strikes in New Delhi. Since then, there have been 65 terrorist bombings in 15 different incidents killing about 536 civilians and injuring 1,368 in the Indian hinterland.

    Both Surat and Bengaluru were in the news for terror developments only a month earlier. There was a low intensity blast at Honey Park in Surat on June 1, 2008. Investigators found shrapnel at the spot and devices similar to the one used in the Jaipur blasts (May 2008). In another incident, on June 8, 2008, Karnataka Police in the course of a raid on two premises unearthed a large haul of explosives. The material confiscated included seven tonnes of ammonium nitrate in 40 bags, around 40 to 50 gelatin sticks and 100 detonators. Bengaluru Rural District Superintendent of Police (DSP) Vikas Kumar stated that this raised suspicions about their possible use in Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In fact, earlier, on May 10, 2008, the use of ammonium nitrate as an explosive was detected in the Judicial Magistrate First Class court blast in Hubli, the second largest city in Karnataka. This bomb was allegedly triggered by the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The court had been trying some of its activists who were arrested in the Dandeli jungles between Hubli and the coastal city of Karwar, bordering Goa, early this year. The targeting of cities such as Hubli and Surat indicates the possibility of terrorists focusing on similar cities in other states as well especially given that state capitals are now under high security vigilance.

    Another noteworthy development is the increasing use by terrorists of ammonium nitrate. Though ammonium nitrate is normally used as fertilizer, it can also be used as a low intensity explosive. And if used in combination with other combustible material like cooking gas and diesel it can produce greater impact. One reason why terrorists in India seem to be opting for ammonium nitrate is that unlike RDX it is easily available in the open market. Nearly 12 million tons of ammonium nitrate is used as fertilizer by Indian farmers every year. Another probable reason could be to provide ‘deniability’ to Pakistan and its Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), who are known for supplying RDX and other material to terrorist groups operating in India. However, the use of ammonium nitrate has decreased the lethality of terrorist bombs. Consequently, terrorists are seeking targets that will lead to the maximum number of casualties. It is for this reason that two of the bombs were placed in hospital premises in Ahmedabad designed to go off when people affected by other blasts start streaming into these hospitals for treatment.

    The perpetrators of the Ahmedabad blasts were well-trained in the use of explosives. It is also apparent that nearly 100 people were involved in transporting, laying and triggering the bombs. A key finding is the use for the first time of Integrated Chips (IC) in India. Such chips were earlier used by Jemmah Islamiyah cadres in Indonesia and the Philippines successfully. It is possible that terrorists from India might have gone to these countries through Bangladesh for training in bomb assembly. The bombs that exploded in Bengaluru and the ones found in Surat were of similar type, indicating the possibility of their assembly by a common expert. The tactic of triggering explosions on three consecutive days (July 25, 26 and 27) in Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Surat also points to their ability of co-ordination.

    This is the third time that the Indian Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for sequential blasts. It had claimed responsibility for the earlier serial blasts in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi (November 23, 2007) and Jaipur (May 13, 2008). So far, investigating agencies have not been able to gather any clue about this outfit. They believe that it could be a bogus organisation meant to divert investigations.

    In fact, several unknown outfits have claimed responsibility for certain blasts in the past. The Bombay serial blasts on local trains on December 6, 1993 were claimed by an unidentified outfit by the name of Mujahideen-Islam-e-Hind (MIeH); the infamous attack of 7/11 in Mumbai was claimed by a new group called Lashkar-e-Qahar; the October 2005 Delhi serial blasts were owned up by an unknown organisation, Inquilabi (Revolutionary) Group; the Varanasi terrorist attack on January 7, 2006 was claimed by a fictitious group called Lashkar-e-Qaharby; the attack on Akshardham temple, Ahmedabad on September 24, 2002 was claimed by an unknown outfit called Tehriq-e-Qasas.

    But some speculate that the Indian Mujahideen is an outfit formed by a combination of HuJI-B and SIMI activists (but excluding LeT and JeM). Moreover, the outfit’s repeated claims for attacks and reports trickling in about ISI attempts to create a new, completely Indian, terrorist outfit strengthen the argument for the Indian Mujahideen’s existence.

    Urban terrorism is on the rise in India and it is high time the Indian security establishment took note of this emerging threat.