India blind to Hindu, Muslim terrorist threats from within the country

New York: Whenever Home Minister P Chidambaram gets defensive about the two most recent terrorist attacks within two months, he points out that the epicenter of terror is Afghanistan-Pakistan. And, four out of five major terrorist gr¬oups are based in Pakistan and three of them — Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat ul-Jihad-al-Islami — continue to target India.

The home minister is absolutely right, but perhaps he should also pay some attention to what the Americans are saying. US analysts are stepping up warnings that Indian authorities must look beyond the usual sources of terror, to threats from its own citizens. To avoid offending the Muslim and Hindu communities, India rarely gets into a discussion about Islamic radicalization and Hindu militancy but it is a growing threat, warned a report by the Congressional Research Service, an independent research wing of the US Congress.

India blind to Hindu, Muslim terrorist threats from within the country

Delhi Police personnels present suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) militant Shakir Nishar in New Delhi.AFP

"Despite New Delhi's reluctance to openly acknowledge the fact, India also has its own indigenous Islamist terrorism threat," said a report by the Congressional Research Service. “The newly emergent Indian Mujahedeen group, widely believed to be an offshoot or pseudonym of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), has been found complicit in a number of recent bombings, even as government leaders continue to name Pakistan as an abettor of such episodes."

US security consulting firm Stratfor speculates that the two most recent attacks in India, in Delhi on September 7 and in Mumbai on July 13, are probably the work of the Indian Mujahedeen, with some help from LeT. Both the Indian Mujahedeen and Harkat ul-Jihad-al-Islam claimed they carried out the Delhi High Court blast. Indian investigators have arrested a few men whom they believe sent emails after the attack claiming responsibility, but they have not traced the terrorists who planted the bombs.

After the Delhi High Court blast Chidambaram said that HUJI ,which has branches in India and Bangladesh, has been inactive in India for several years. But the Indian Mujahedeen made of Indian recruits has been rapidly expanding. The Mujahedeen does have support from jihadi networks operating in South Asia and the Persian Gulf.

On Thursday, the US blacklisted the Indian Mujahedeen and is taking the Indian terror group much more seriously as a threat. The US will be using its intelligence-gathering capabilities to help India trace the cross-border sources of the Indian Mujahedeen’s funding, organization and training.

There is no single reason people drift toward terrorism. Poverty, ignorance, discrimination and oppression may breed terrorists. Experts say it's normally a combination of psychology and people who, just for cultural reasons, gravitate to extremism. But the US report warned that India’s Muslim minority suffered “glaring social inequities” and this made some of them “vulnerable” to being recruited by the Indian Mujahedeen.

The Congressional report also pointed out that the dimensions of internal threats have diversified for India in recent times; “Even more recent are overt signs that India is home to militant Hindu nationalist groups intent on launching domestic terrorist attacks. In September 2008, seven people were killed by two bomb blasts in Maharashtra’s Malegaon, a hotbed of Hindu-Muslim communal strife.”

The report noted that by the year’s end, the police had arrested nine members of a “Hindu terrorist cell” in connection with the bombing, including an active Army lieutenant colonel and a Hindu woman with links to the main Opposition BJP. “Thus ‘Hindu terrorism’ became a new and highly controversial phrase in India’s national dialogue,” said the report.

“In late-2010, Hindutva extremist Swami Aseemanand confessed to involvement in a number of terrorist attacks previously blamed on Islamist militants, including the 2006 bombing of a Muslim cemetery in Malegaon that killed 37 people and the 2007 bombing of the trans-border Samjhauta Express, a train linking Delhi and Lahore that killed 68 people, most of them Pakistani civilians,” added the Congressional report.

US anti-terror experts say determining how quickly an ordinary citizen goes from adopting extremist rhetoric to becoming a suicide bomber is a major challenge. Some people never make that leap but others do it in a matter of months. Clearly, intelligence agencies will have to be better funded and resourced to keep people safe as Indian terrorists target their own people. It only makes matters terrifying for ordinary Indians that in addition to Islamic radicalization and Hindu militancy, Maoist rebels are fighting a brutal low-level war with the Indian state while Kashmir and the northeast have been a hotbed of discontent for decades, with long-running insurgencies

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Updated Date: Sep 17, 2011 14:54:17 IST

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