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Why is Mumbai a tempting target?

August 26, 2003

Two explosions in quick succession in Mumbai on August 25, 2003, are estimated to have killed about 48 innocent civilians. One of these explosions took place near the Gateway of India in the vicinity of the Taj Hotel, a five-star hotel, which attracts many affluent foreign tourists from the world of business, from the West as well as the Gulf.

Many middle class families of the Gulf, who cannot afford a vacation in the West and hence prefer to come to India, also often prefer to stay in this hotel. The second explosion took place in the Zaveri Bazaar, an area with a concentration of jewellers, many of them Gujaratis.

Initial reports indicate that the explosives were probably kept concealed in hired taxis and detonated through timers. The explosives do not appear to have been of high quality. The devastating impact seem to have been achieved by using a large quantity of material commonly available such as ammonium nitrate, which had in the past been used in many of the explosions in different parts of the world in which Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda or the members of his International Islamic Front were found involved or suspected.

While explosives experts of the Government of India are reported to be examining the possibility of the use of high quality and difficult to detect explosives, the likelihood of their use is remote. For explosions in public places where the terrorists do not have to pass through security checks, difficult to detect high quality explosives are not necessary. One could achieve the desired effect by using material of everyday use which would not attract the suspicion of the security agencies. This has been the typical modus operandi of the jihadi terrorists ever since the New York World Centre explosion of February,1993.

This has been the fifth terrorist strike in Mumbai in recent months. The main targets appear to have been chosen for their economic significance -- such as means of transport, areas of prosperous economic activity or a very well-known hotel.

 Like New York in the US, Mumbai in India has been a tempting target for jihadi terrorists since 1993. It is the economic and financial capital of India. It is the base of India's off-shore oil industry. It is one city in India, which comes nearest to any Western city in its role as the engine of India's industrialisation and modernisation. It provides a vision of what the rest of India could be in the years to come if the modernisation and globalisation policies of the government continue to make progress. It is the home of India's largest share market. It is a major contributor of the tax revenue of the Government of India. Many multinational companies prefer to locate their corporate headquarters in Mumbai.

Though Mumbai is not India, many foreign investors tend to look at India through the prism of Mumbai. If internal security in Mumbai is good, they look at internal security in India as a whole as satisfactory. If it is bad in Mumbai, they tend to look upon security of life and property in the rest of India too as worrisome even if this is not necessarily so.

Mumbai is also a city of strategic significance for India. It was the initial nerve-centre of India's nuclear establishment. Though other nerve-centres have since come up, Mumbai's importance is undiminished.

In view of these factors, weakening the Indian economy by destabilising Mumbai has remained an important objective of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence since 1992. In the early 1990s, the ISI had asked some Sikh terrorists from Punjab trained by it to join the Mumbai Flying Club and crash a trainer plane on the off-shore oil installations. They did not do so since they did not believe in suicide terrorism.

It subsequently approached Dawood Ibrahim, the leader of a gang, who was then based in Dubai, for assistance. By taking advantage of the anger amongst some sections of the Muslim youth of Mumbai over the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and the subsequent communal riots in which many Muslims were allegedly killed, he recruited a number of angry Muslims, had them trained in Pakistan in the use of explosives and used them for carrying out the explosions of March 12, 1993, in Mumbai in which over 200 innocent civilians were killed. The targets chosen were of economic significance such as the Mumbai Stock Exchange building, the office of an airline, a hotel near the airport etc. The explosives supplied by Pakistan were kept in vehicles and detonated through chemical timers of US-origin.

After examination, US forensic science experts had confirmed that the timers used came from a stock issued by the US to Pakistan in the 1980s for use in Afghanistan. After the explosions, Ibrahim and some of the perpetrators managed to escape to Karachi, where they have been living now, even as reported by the Pakistani media. Ibrahim had played an important role in the past in Pakistan's clandestine procurement of nuclear and missile technology from abroad and in gratitude for this, Pakistan has given him and his associates Pakistani passports under different names and allowed them to operate from Karachi.

In response to India's repeated requests for their arrest and extradition, it has repeatedly taken up the stand that they were not in Pakistan. The arrests and prosecution of many of the others involved in the Mumbai blasts of 1993 brought down the activities of jihadi terrorist elements in Mumbai, but there were tell-tale indicators that the jihadis trained by the ISI had not given up their objective of making Mumbai an important base for their activities. Mumbai has not only been the gateway of India, but also the gateway of international terrorists and mafia members. Reports received in 1989 indicated that Carlos, the jackal, now in prison in Paris, used to come to Mumbai and Bangkok from Damascus, his then sanctuary, for his vacation without his arrival and presence in the city being detected by the local police.

Over the years, it has become the operational ground of some of the most notorious mafia groups of the region, the most infamous of them being the group led by Ibrahim. The Dawood Ibrahim group has penetrated into some sections of the local economic activity such as that of Mumbai's flourishing film industry.

Enquiries and investigations after the Mumbai blasts of 1993 brought out the links and influence in the political circles of not only Mumbai, but also other parts of India, which Ibrahim and other mafia leaders had managed to develop with their money power.

The 1993 Mumbai blasts brought out the ominous linkages which had started developing between the mafia leaders, many of them Muslims, and the jihadi terrorists. It was reported in 1999 that the terrorists of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a founding member of bin Laden's IIF, who had hijacked an aircraft of the Indian Airlines ftom Kathmandu to Kandahar, had allegedly made their plans for their operation from hideouts in Mumbai before moving over to Kathmandu.

For the last two years, there were reports that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, one of the Pakistani components of the IIF, which has been responsible for the majority of the terrorist incidents in Jammu & Kashmir since 1999, had burrowed into Mumbai by taking advantage of the conducive atmosphere in sections of the local Muslim community, particularly the youth, due to their anger over the Babri Masjid issue and the large-scale killing of Muslims in Gujarat last year following the massacre of a number of innocent Hindu pilgrims by some Muslims of Godhra in Gujarat in a train.

Amongst the Lashkar's local accomplices in Mumbai were allegedly cadres of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India). One or two of its cadres had gone to Pakistan for training in the 1980s long before the Babri Masjid was destroyed and some others from its ranks had been trained in J&K by the terrorist organisations operating there such as Hizbul Mujahideen. The Lashkar, like the other Pakistani components of the IIF, is a pan-Islamic organisation, which advocates the revival of the Islamic Caliphate system and claims to be fighting for an Islamic Caliphate in the Indian subcontinent. It has its headquarters in Pakistan, but also has an active coordination centre in Saudi Arabia, which coordinates its activities in Mumbai, South India and the Eastern province of Sri Lanka.

The links of many of the jihadi terrorists arrested in recent months in Mumbai, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu were reportedly traced to this coordination centre in Saudi Arabia. Even though the Lashkar has recently emerged as the standard-bearer of Al Qaeda and the IIF, the Saudi authorities have not acted against it.

No action has been taken against Lashkar activities in the other countries of the Gulf either. The Mumbai blasts of August 25, which have come in the wake of four other blasts with less casualty earlier, would show that the security agencies have so far not been able to identify and neutralise all the sleeper agents of the Lashkar who have burrowed into not only Mumbai, but also Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Many undetected networks continue to operate and the August 25 blasts are strong evidence of this. While the continuing anger over the Babri Masjid issue and the killing of a large number of Muslims in Gujarat last year would have definitely helped in motivating some of the local Muslim youth to help the Lashkar, it would be incorrect to see the blasts merely as an act of reprisal for the Gujarat riots. They have to be seen as part of the larger plan drawn up by the ISI in 1992 to weaken the Indian economy by destabilising Mumbai.

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