You are here

A Pattern of Terrorist Strikes on Places of Worship

T. Khurshchev Singh was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Banglore, India. Prior to this he was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • October 15, 2007

    A new trend in terrorism has emerged in India involving the targeting of places of worship. Fifteen such incidents have occurred across the country between 2000 and 2007, resulting in the deaths of about 130 people and injury to several hundreds more. The October 11, 2007 terrorist bombing of the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer in Rajasthan is the latest incident in this pattern. Initial reports suggested that at least two worshippers died in the attack while some 20 others were wounded. The bomb was timed to go off at a time when some 5,000 people had assembled at the shrine to break fast during the holy month of Ramzan.

    No terrorist group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, though media reports point to similarities with the attack on May 18, 2007 against the 400-year old Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. The bombing of the Mecca Masjid had resulted in the death of some eleven people apart from wounding tens of others. Some 10,000 people were offering Friday prayers at the mosque when the bomb went off. A cell phone had been used as a trigger to detonate the Royal Demolition eXplosive (RDX) and the Trinitrotoluene (TNT) composite bomb at the Mecca Masjid. Two other unexploded bombs that were later found at the site were also similarly rigged, indicating that the perpetrators had planned to trigger the bombs serially one after another.

    Since the year 2000, religious places across India have become soft targets for terrorist groups, with 2002 and 2006 recording the highest number of incidents and casualties. In 2006 alone, there were four such incidents – two each against mosques and temples. In 2002, all the three major attacks were against temples. Below is a list of prominent incidents of attacks on places of worships in the last few years across the country:

    • October 11, 2007: bomb explosion at the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer in Rajasthan.
    • May 18, 2007: three bombs were emplaced at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad though fortunately only one exploded.
    • September 8, 2006: the Nurani Masjid at Malegaon in Maharashtra was targeted with three bombs; 40 people were killed and about 100 others were injured.
    • August 16, 2006: unidentified terrorists lobbed a grenade into a large crowd of devotees celebrating Janmashtami at the ISKCON temple complex in Imphal, resulting in the death of five people and injury to 50 others.
    • April 14, 2006: two explosions ripped through the Jama Masjid in Delhi, injuring fourteen people.
    • March 7, 2006: a bomb exploded at the Sankat Mochan temple at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, killing ten people.
    • July 5, 2005: six militants made an attempt to storm the makeshift Ram temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
    • May 9, 2005: a group of terrorists opened fire on people coming out of a mosque after evening prayers at Chakka village in Bhaderwah area of Doda district. Three people died in the incident.
    • January 9, 2004: two Chinese-made grenades were lobbed at the Al-Hadis mosque located in the heart of Jammu city, injuring 18 people.
    • November 24, 2002: a fidayeen attack was launched against the Raghunath temple in Jammu. Eleven persons, plus a militant and a soldier were killed and several others were wounded in this attack.
    • September 24, 2002: heavily armed terrorists stormed the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Some 30 persons were killed and about 100 were injured in this terrorist attack.
    • March 30, 2002: a fidayeen attack occurred on the Raghunath temple in Jammu. Seven people, including three security forces personnel were killed and more than 25 others were injured in this incident.
    • June 8, 2001: Unidentified terrorists threw a grenade at the shrine of Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani in the premises of the Charar-e-Sharief mosque in central Kashmir. Four women were killed and 60 others were wounded in this incident.
    • December 8, 2000: worshippers coming out of the Jama Masjid at Shopian in Pulwama district were attacked by unidentified terrorists resulting in injury to 42 civilians and three policemen.

    Significantly, the attacks in the last two years have been carried out on ‘holy’ days or as in the case of the attack two days ago at Ajmer during a ‘holy’ period. The Ajmer Sharif darga has been attacked during the Ramzan period, and two days before Eid-ul-Fitr. The terrorist attacks in Hyderabad, Malegaon and New Delhi, all took place on Fridays; the bombing of the ISKCON temple in Imphal occurred on Janmashtami; and the attack on the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi took place on a day considered important for devotees of Lord Hanuman. Each of these targets was teeming with devotees at the time of attack, suggesting that the perpetrators wished to cause maximum casualties. Another pattern visible in these attacks is the fact that each of these targets is located in a communally sensitive locale, suggesting that the intent was to trigger communal violence.

    Investigators have thus far hinted that foreign terrorist groups are behind these incidents and point towards the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). They also suggest that these foreign groups have been given assistance by local agents. For instance, those who bombed the Nurani Masjid at Malegaon are believed to be fanatic locals with links to foreign terrorist outfits. Again, it is believed that the blast at the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi was also planned and executed by elements that have links with the HuJI and the JeM. The needle of suspicion in the case of the bombing of the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad points towards the HuJI.

    The Government of India seems to have recognised this pattern of terrorists targeting places of worship. Only last week, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil had warned the country’s top police officers that terrorist groups are likely to target religious institutions in an effort to provoke communal conflict. Along with this recognition of the problem, two things need to be done. Firstly, prominent places of worship need to secure themselves against such attacks by putting in place modern security systems like closed circuit cameras as well as by adopting procedures like frisking visitors and scanning their belongings. And secondly, the state and central governments need to strengthen their police and intelligence agencies to take on the arduous task of counter-terrorism.