The number of fatalities in the serial explosions in Assam on October 30, has gone up to 75, with the death of some of the injured in the hospitals. Another about 300 persons are undergoing treatment in the hospitals and some of them are stated to be in a serious condition.
According to the police, there was a total of nine blasts timed to take place in four different cities or towns in the state between 11 and 11.30 am. The most devastating in terms of casualties (35 killed), property damage and psychological effect on the people were the three in Guwahati, the capital. In all these three cases, the improvised explosive device (IED) was kept in the boot of cars. The use of the boot for keeping the explosives enabled the perpetrators to keep more explosive material than one could in a bicycle or in a tiffin box. In the Ahmedabad blasts of July 26, the explosive device was kept in a car near a local hospital.
Motor-vehicle- borne IEDs also cause more casualties due to the splinter effect and large fires, which have a traumatic effect on the local population. Many who rang me up after the Guwahati explosions remarked that the scene with cars burning reminded them of what they had been seeing on the TV about similar incidents in Baghdad. This kind of trauma one did not witness during the earlier serial explosions in three towns of Uttar Pradesh in November last year, in Jaipur in May, in Bangalore and Ahmedabad in July, in New Delhi in September and in Agartala in October.
The three cars had been kept parked with the IED near a vegetable and fruit market at Ganeshguri below a fly-over, in front of the office of the Kamrup Deputy Commissioner, and near a police station in the Fancy Bazaar.The Ganeshguri area is near the high security complex of the capital.
There were three explosions in the town of Kokrajhar in which 21 persons were killed. The IEDs were kept inside bags. A bag left in a local fish market seemed to have caused the largest number of casualties. Kokrajhar is the town headquarters of the Bodoland Territorial Council. There were recently violent attacks on illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by sections of the Bodo tribals. Eleven persons were killed in two explosions in the Barpeta area. There was one explosion in the Bongaigon area, which does not appear to have caused any fatality. According to one report, the IED left in the Bongaigon area, which initially failed to explode, exploded after the police found it and were trying to defuse it. Ten persons were injured.
Forensic experts have not yet identified the explosives used, but the local police have been suspecting that the perpetrators had probably used a mix of the RDX and TNT. If they had used a high-power explosive like RDX and kept it in the boot of a car, the number of instant fatalities must have been more. Anyhow, one has to await the forensic report.
The traumatic nature of the explosions, the like of which Assam -- particularly Guwahati--- had not seen before caused an outburst of public anger against the authorities for failing to prevent the explosions. This necessitated the imposition of a curfew in some parts of the capital.
While Assam has been seeing for some years well synchronised serial blasts -- either in different places in the same town or in different towns simultaneously -- those blasts were carried out with low-intensity explosives with low lethality. The synchronisation, the lethality and the expertise in assembling the IEDs exhibited in the October 30 blasts show the availability of lethal explosives and better expertise in using them.
It is the assessment of the local police officers that the United Liberation Front of Assam, the ethnic terrorist group which has been fighting for an independent Assam, does not have the kind of material and expertise used on October 30. Only jihadi organisations -- of local as well as Bangladeshi origin -- have such material and expertise. Among such organisations are the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Bangladesh known as HUJI-B to distinguish it from the HUJI of Pakistan and the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, which had carried out nearly 450 synchronised explosions of low intensity IEDs in different places in Bangladesh on August 17, 2005.
The JUM's activities in Bangladesh are in a state of disarray following the arrest, trial and execution of some of its principal leaders by the Bangladesh authorities last year. While the Bangladesh authorities have been able to neutralise its top leadership, its middle-level leadership, infrastructure and trained cadres are still intact. Its capability for carrying out serial blasts of the nature seen on October 30 is unimpaired. The leadership, infrastructure and trained cadres of the HUJI-B are also intact.
The Assamese police authorities, therefore, suspect that the explosions were more likely to have been carried out by one of these organisations or both, with the role of the ULFA, if at all there was any, limited to providing local logistics.
The ULFA itself, through a spokesman based in Assam, has strongly denied that it had organised the explosions. The denial might have been motivated by the strong public anger over the blasts.
An organisation identifying itself by the abbreviation ISF-IM has claimed responsibility for the blasts in a text message sent to a local TV channel in Guwahati. The authorities think that these abbreviations stand for Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahideen. A local jihadi organisation by the name Islamic Security Force had come to notice in 2002, but it had not indulged in such activities so far. The text message might have been sent from a stolen mobile. Before the recent Olympics in Beijing, there was an explosion in a bus in Kunming. The perpetrator of that blast had also claimed responsibility in a text message sent from a cell phone. He could not be traced by local authorities.
Before the visit of Bharatiya Janata Party L K Advani to Shillong on September 28 and 29, the local police and media reportedly received two e-mail messages holding out threats against him. One of these messages was from a local law student named Mominul Haque. He was identified as the suspected originator of this message and arrested. The second message purported to be from what was described as the north-east branch of the IM. It was reportedly received by a local media house on September 25. The originator of the message gave his name as Ali Hussain Badr, field commander of the IM in the north-east. The message said: "Our main objective is to blow Advani to pieces. Our suicide bombers are ready for this prestigious assignment. Advani's Hindutva demand seems to push India into a fascist mould and, as is well known, the proclaimed and identified main enemy of the architects of Hindutva (are) the Muslims and the Christians. Apart from the Babri Masjid demolition to the Gujarat massacre and the recent attacks on churches in Orissa, Karnataka, and some parts of Madhya Pradesh, Advani has always tried to portray the Muslims and Christians as inveterate enemies of the Hindus. This will be history in the making in the state of Meghalaya when our suicide bombers will rock Shillong. Stop us if you can. We have already set our foot in Shillong to kill Advani."
The Shillong police took added precautions and no terrorist strike took place during Advani's visit. The serial blasts in Agartala took place two days after his visit to Shillong.
It is difficult to comment on the authenticity of these messages sent in the name of the IM because the originators had not given any indicator of authenticity. After the Jaipur and Ahmedabad blasts, the originators had given such indicators in the form of pictures of the IEDs at the spot where they were left.
For the present, I am inclined to agree with the assessment of the local police that there is a greater evidence of jihadi involvement than ULFA involvement. The ULFA, being an ethnic terrorist organisation, generally takes care to target mainly non-Assamese from other parts of India working and living in Assam. It avoids indiscriminate placing of the IEDs which might kill Assamese as well as non-Assamese Indian nationals. The jihadis kill indiscriminately. The October 30 killings appear to have been indiscriminate
If one carefully analyses the various serial blasts which have taken place in different parts of India since November 2007, one could notice an organic, mushroom-like growth of jihadi terrorist cells in different parts of India -- self-radicalised, self-motivated, self-organised with self-planning and self-execution of the strikes -- with each cell motivated by its own local grievances, but with all these cells having an as yet invisible connectivity with a single brain and a single source of inspiration orchestrating them.
The police of Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai have been able to identify and arrest the individual perpetrators, but they still do not have an idea of the brain and the command and control of these perpetrators.
The intelligence agencies and the police have been repeatedly taken by surprise and there are many inadequacies in their performance. But I find it cruel to keep criticising them all the time because they can be effective only if the political leadership allows them to be effective.
Despite the wave of serial blasts and mass casualties caused by the jihadis, the present political leadership in the government of India and the Congress continues to be in a denial mode. For them, the Muslim votes in the forthcoming elections are more important than the lives of innocent men, women and children. They are not prepared to admit that some Muslim youth have taken to jihadi terrorism of the al Qaeda kind. To admit that would amount to admitting that their policy of mollycoddling the Muslims has proved counterproductive and is threatening the unity of the country and its well-being. One can see evidence of this disturbing mindset in the case of the Assam blasts of October 30 too. While the professionals have been saying that the jihadis have done it, the political leadership is not mentally prepared to blame the Indian jihadis.
In the face of the inaction by the government, the Indian Mujahideen is growing, like the Internet, organically -- with nobody knowing where is the beginning of this Jihadi Net, where is its end, how the various jihadi cells are connected with each other and who is facilitating their connectivity. It is a frightening scenario.