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The Indian Mujahideen is active but weaker

December 08, 2010 11:32 IST

As the Indian Mujahideen resurfaces after a brief hiatus, security expert B Raman analyses the rebirth of this terror outfit

The Indian Mujahideen is active but weaker and its remnants, which have so far escaped detection and arrest by the police, probably have a reduced capability. That is the conclusion possible on the basis of the details available so far regarding the explosion in Varanasi on Tuesday. The explosion caused the death of one child and injured five adults. About 20 others were injured in a stampede that followed. At least one foreign tourist was among those injured.

It has been reported that the improvised explosive device used in the incident was kept inside a container used to carry milk. The terrorists wanted to register their presence and continued determination to keep launching terror attacks, but did not aim at a large number of casualties.

If they had intended to organise a large or mass casualty attack they would have mixed the explosives with shrapnel like nails or ball bearings and used a smaller, tightly packed container. Another improvised explosive device of low intensity was reportedly found in a nearby dustbin.

The IED, which exploded, had been planted at a place where about 5,000 Hindu devotees and tourists -- Indian and foreign --gather every evening to watch a well-choreographed "aarti" on the banks of the Ganga near the famous Kasi Vishwanath temple.

The explosion took place on a Tuesday, which is an important day for the devotees of Hanuman. The two explosions of March 7, 2006 -- one in a Hanuman temple and the other in the waiting room of a local railway station -- also took place on a Tuesday. Those two blasts in 2006 were intended to be major attacks and resulted in the deaths of 28 persons.

The investigation into the March  2006 explosions established the involvement of three Bangladeshi Muslims belonging to the Bangladesh branch of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and six Indian Muslims. The Indian Muslims were arrested and prosecuted, but the Bangladeshi Muslims, who had assembled the IEDs managed to flee to. All the Indian Muslims involved had been trained by the Pakistan branch of the HuJI in its training camps in Pakistan.

Those involved in the March 7, 2006, explosions had projected them as acts of reprisal against the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the anti-Muslim incidents in Gujarat in February 2002. Since March 2006, Varanasi had been free of lethal terrorist attacks despite its high vulnerability.

Tuesday's explosion came a day after the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. An e-mailed message purporting to be from the Indian Mujahideen -- carrying the December 6 dateline, but sent on December 7 -- has claimed responsibility for the attack.

It has projected the attack as a reprisal against a recent Allahabad high court judgment on Ayodhya. The Muslims felt aggrieved by the judgment which they see as based on Hindu religious beliefs and not on proven evidence. They have expressed their determination to have it set aside by a higher court. Incidents of violence were feared by the police on the day the judgment was delivered by the court, but nothing untoward happened. A delayed violent act of reprisal has now come on December 7, from unidentified elements claiming to be from the IM. The message purporting to be from the IM expresses its determination to keep up its fight on the Babri Masjid issue.

The years 2007-08 saw a series of highly lethal explosions carried out by the IM in two cities in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and New Delhi. A number of suspects from the IM were arrested by the police and are being prosecuted. Some members -- including some leading brains --- of the IM have escaped arrest. They are believed to be absconding in India, Pakistan or the Gulf.

These arrests considerably weakened the IM's terrorist infrastructure in Indian territory and there were no incidents involving the IM between September 2008, when the Delhi explosions took place, and February 2010. The IM was apparently regrouping and reorganising itself during this period. There has been a revival of its activities since February 2010, as indicated by three attacks.

In the first attack inside Pune's German Bakery in February 2010, there were 17 deaths caused by an IED. In the second attack in New Delhi on September 19, 2010, in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured, a hand gun was used by two terrorists on a motorbike -- a new modus operandi not used by the IM before.

An e-mailed message purporting to be from the IM had indirectly claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of more attacks during the Commonwealth Games in October. They were not able to carry out the warning due to tight security by the police and other security agencies.

In the third incident on Tuesday, the terrorists have reverted to their old and preferred MO of using IEDs. The low casualties can be attributed to either the present low IED capability of the IM terrorists still at large or a desire to avoid large or mass casualties while remaining active. Preliminary details do not indicate the involvement of outside elements -- either from Pakistan or from Bangladesh.

B Raman