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Delhi car blast: Has Hezbollah found supporters in India?

Last updated on: February 14, 2012 15:14 IST

Delhi car blast: Has Hizbollah found supporters in India?

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The Hezbollah has neither operated in New Delhi in the past nor is it known to have sleeper cells in India, points out B Raman

The wife of the Israeli defence attache in New Delhi, her Indian driver and two bystanders were injured on February 13, when a suspected explosive-cum-incendiary device attached to the rear of her car exploded when the vehicle stopped or slowed down near a petrol service station about one km from the Israeli embassy.

The scene of the blast is located in a high-security area where the tightly-guarded house of the Indian prime minister is located. The car -- a sports utility vehicle -- was engulfed in flames, but did not explode into pieces, thereby indicating that the incendiary effect was more than the explosive effect.

Access control in front of the Israeli embassy is generally very tight. It would therefore be very difficult for a terrorist to approach the vicinity of the embassy and plant a bomb on a vehicle or otherwise cause an explosion. The wife of the defence attache is also a diplomatic member of the staff of the Israeli embassy. She was reportedly going to the American School to pick up her children when the explosion took place.

The police believe, on the basis of eye-witness accounts, that a motor-cycle borne terrorist neared the car as it stopped or slowed down, attached the improvised explosive device to the rear of the car and sped away before the explosion took place. As per indications till now, only one terrorist was involved.

Since the blast took place almost instantaneously after the terrorist attached the IED to the rear of the vehicle, the IED would appear to have been triggered off by a timer or a mobile phone.

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Image: Police and forensic officials examine the damaged Israeli embassy car in New Delhi
Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters

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This was not a mass fatality attack

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Neither did the car enjoy any protection nor was there an Israeli security guard inside the car. Since the driver was an Indian, it is unlikely that he was an Israeli security guard. In view of the tight security outside the Israeli embassy, it would have been difficult for the terrorist to have waited on his motor-cycle outside the embassy and then followed the car.

He must have waited at a point where he could not be observed by the Israeli security personnel posted outside the embassy and neared the rear of the car as it approached the scene where the blast took place.

The incident had not been planned as a mass fatality attack. It was more of a targeted attack to kill an Israeli diplomat. It is not clear whether the terrorist knew that the car belonged to the Israeli defence attache. It appears to have been a random attack on a car bearing the number plate of the Israeli embassy.

The attack coincided with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of a senior leader of the Hezbollah in Damacus and the first anniversary of the death of two Iranian nuclear scientists in Teheran due to a similar explosion caused by a sticky bomb. Iran had blamed the Israeli intelligence for these incidents and had threatened revenge.

A similar explosion due to an IED attached to the car of an employee of the Israeli embassy in Tibilisi, capital of Georgia, was averted the same day due to the timely detection and neutralisation of the IED.

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Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters

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No evidence of any plan by Hezbollah

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Israeli leaders and officials have blamed the Iranian intelligence and the Hezbollah for the successful attack in New Delhi and the attempted one in Tiblisi. They have claimed that these two incidents came in the wake of two other thwarted attempts a few days earlier in Bangkok and Buenon Aires. They have threatened reprisals against Iran and the Hizbollah.

The Hezbollah had operated in the 1990s in Bangkok and Buenos Aires and was known to have a local support base in Tibilisi. But it had neither operated in New Delhi in the past nor was it known to have sleeper cells in India.

Unless the terrorist involved is arrested and interrogated, it would be difficult to say whether he had come into India from outside to cause the blast or whether he was recruited by the Hezbollah for the attack.

In the 1990s, there were instances of Shia terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, but there has not  been an incident of Shia terrorism in Indian territory outside Kashmir in the past. In the past, there was no evidence of any plan by Hezbollah to attack Israeli nationals and interests in India, but Al Qaeda was known to have planned to carry out an attack on the Israeli embassy in New Delhi  before 9/11.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who had orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes for Osama, had reportedly told US interrogators that before 9/11, he had visited New Delhi to explore the possibility of attacking the Israeli embassy.

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Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters

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No Shia terrorist organisation in Indian territory

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The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba's attack on Nariman House in Mumbai, housing an Israeli religious-cum-cultural centre, during its terror strike on November 26, 2008, was the first instance of a terrorist attack on Israeli targets in Indian territory outside Kashmir. In the early 1990s, there was an attack on Israeli tourists in Srinagar by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front.

David Coleman Headley, who belongs to the Chicago-based secret cell of the LeT, reportedly told his US interrogators that at the instance of the LeT in Pakistan, he had visited Nariman House to collect operational intelligence to facilitate an attack. He also reportedly said that during a subsequent visit to India after 26/11, he had conducted a reconnaissance of other possible Israeli/Jewish targets in India for possible future attacks.

All such past evidence was attributable to the interest of Al Qaeda and the LeT, both Sunni organisations, to carry out terrorist strikes against Israeli/Jewish targets in India.

There had been no evidence in the past of similar interest of Shia elements in India in carrying out attacks on Israeli nationals and interests. There is no Shia terrorist organisation in Indian territory outside Kashmir. Even the one in Kashmir has been dormant for some years. It had never come to notice for any contact with the Hezbollah.

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Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters

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Intel agencies will have to focus on Hizbollah

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While there has been no Shia terrorism in Indian territory in recent years, it has been prevalent in Pakistani territory and carried out by organisations like Sipah Mohammad and by the Hezbollah in the Kurram agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas.

Kurram has had a history of violent incidents between Sunni terrorists supported by the Taliban and Shia terrorists allegedly supported by Iran. None of these groups had so far come to notice for any links to the Shia community in India.

In June 2010, there were unconfirmed reports attributed to Pakistani security agencies that Mohammadi Ali Hammedei, a Hezbollah terrorist who had spent some years in jail in Germany for his suspected involvement in a hijacking incident before he was released, was killed in a US drone strike in the FATA. However, the US did not confirm this incident. It was not clear whether he was living in Kurram or elsewhere in the FATA after his release from jail.

If it is finally established that Iran, through the Hezbollah, was involved in the terrorist attack of February 13, it would have two implications for India. Firstly, it will indicate that the Hezbollah probably now has elements which support it in India. Secondly, it will indicate the involvement of the Iranian intelligence in orchestrating terrorist attacks on Israeli targets in India.

Till now, the attention of Indian counter-terrorism agencies was mainly focussed on Pakistan-based Sunni terrorist organisations and their supporters in India and the Inter-Services Intelligence. Hereafter, they also have to focus on the Hezbollah and the Shia terrorist organisations of Pakistan and their contacts in the Shia community in India and the Iranian intelligence (mainly of the Revolutionary Guards) which possibly uses them.

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Image: People pass by the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi
Photographs: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

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