Homeland Security

Terrorist Tentacles in India
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Issue Vol 21.2 Apr-Jun2006 | Date : 03 Nov , 2010

Investigations into the recent terrorist attacks and the subsequent chain of arrests and seizures in different parts of India, particularly rural Maharashtra, have revealed a growing alliance between jehadi groups operating from Pakistan and Bangladesh with ideologically extreme groups in India.

This development signals a new phase of terrorism within India where international terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul- Jehadi al Islami (HuJI) (and through them al Qaida) are likely to exert influence over a small and diffused group of individuals to take up arms against the State in the name of religion.

SIMI had begun as a student wing of Jamat-e-Islami, a moderate religious organisation, but under the influence of Wahabbis (Saudi Arabia,  the source of generous funds), the group adopted an extremist ideology  and broke away from the parent organisation. Today, its icon is Osama bin Laden.

The threat is these small groups can cause immense damage to the country, its economy, its image, its pluralist character by calculated terrorist attacks in specific centres. Terror is not the only agenda these groups profess. As revealed in attacks in market places in Delhi, Varanasi, Ayodhya and Jama Masjid, the primary objective has been to trigger communal riots and widen the historical divide and suspicion which has existed, at subliminal level, between Hindus and Muslims.

There are quite a few other conclusions which can be safely drawn from the recent terrorist incidents and arrests. First and foremost is that various terrorist elements have been successful in creating a network of terrorist brotherhood in India. Second, such a network of different terrorist groups cannot be possible without a mastermind. In this case, it is clear that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), working on this strategy since the early 90s (Operation K2), has managed to bring together terrorist and extremist groups with different ideologies for a common cause.

Two such groups which the ISI is today using are LeT and HuJI, both have abiding linkages with al Qaida. Of the several Indian  groups which the Pakistani agency has tapped, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), banned in several States, is the most resourceful. Almost all the recent arrested terrorists and their sympathisers have links with SIMI, an organisation set up in the late 70s in Aligarh Muslim University to counter  the rising Hindu chauvinism, represented in large measure by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its various off-shoots.

SIMI had begun as a student wing of Jamat-e-Islami, a moderate religious organisation, but under the influence of Wahabbis (Saudi Arabia,  the source of generous funds), the group adopted an extremist ideology  and broke away from the parent organisation. Today, its icon is Osama bin Laden. Before its ban, the group had an active membership of 10,000 in different parts of India, particularly Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala and  Gujarat.

 Islamic terrorism will no longer be confined to Kashmir as has been the case since the early 90s. It is likely to be a major internal security challenge in different parts of the country, particularly west and south India

Its support base, according to  intelligence reports, was almost 100,000, a base which became dormant after the Indian government ordered a crack down following the Mumbai blasts. Recent events, however, reveal that at least some sections of this support base are being revived by terrorist groups operating from Pakistan to carry out the next phase of proxy war.

This leads to the third conclusion. Islamic terrorism will no longer be confined to Kashmir as has been the case since the early 90s. It is likely to be a major internal security challenge in different parts of the country, particularly west and south India. North and north-east are already afflicted with terrorism. In all likelihood, north-east, especially Assam, will increasingly come under an additional threat from Islamic terrorists operating out of Bangladesh. Fourth point is the profile of the new set of terrorists. They are not exactly bearded, madarsa educated jehadis.

A sizeable number of them are well-educated, doctors and engineers, and adept in exploiting latest communication technologies like internet, email and sat phones. This means, and this is the fifth point, these are groups which can tap into the worldwide web of terror which has not only become a virtual university of jehad but also an overarching umbrella of faith, bringing all the faithful together on a single cyber platform. It is ironical that a faith, which is deeply suspicious of technology, especially western, has its share of proponents who are joined together in their mission of destruction and terror by this web of servers and protocols developed by ‘infidels‘.

Sixth, a large number of local recruits are influenced not by any ideology as such but by, what they perceive as, communal hatred and injustice inflicted by certain sections of the society. Although India has witnessed communal riots since Independence, it was the demolition of the disputed mosque in Ayodhya which drove a deep cleave between the two communities, bringing to the fore, perhaps for the first time since the Partition, the clash between the Majority Community and the  Minority Community on a pan-India scale.

For the Muslim community as a whole, this incident raised the spectre of being totally subjugated in a nation of their choice. Riding on this communal frenzy and hatred, groups like SIMI stoked the fire, supported in no less measure by the ISI and different groups in West Asia, creating the first group of home-grown jehadis who wanted to avenge the demolition of the mosque by inflicting death and pain on the majority community, on the State perceived as a Hindu state.

A large number of the local terrorists who were arrested, or being hunted, for the attacks were influenced by, and incensed at, the failure of the State to protect Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

It can be worthwhile to look at how the first group of home grown jehadis came into existence. A group of angry Muslim young men, some owing allegiance to Ahl-e-Hadis, an Islamic school of thought which aims to cleanse the religion of all its external influences, especially Hindu, and SIMI, met at a  mosque in Mominpura, Mumbai, to form Tanzim Islahul Muslimeen (TIM) in 1993. Formed primarily to counter the growing communal posturings of extremist groups like the RSS and Shiv Sena, the group’s cadre adopted the training doctrines (morning cane drills)  of the Hindu groups. Among those who attended the meeting were Azam Ghouri, Abdul Karim Tunda and Dr Jalees Ansari, a Maharashtra government doctor. The leader of the group was Ghouri who hailed from Hanmajjpet in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh and was a member of the outlawed People’s War Group (naxal) almost a decade ago. One of Ghauri’s close associate was Abdul Karim Tunda.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Wilson John

Wilson John is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.

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