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Mumbai Bombing: Men Behind the Massacre

T. Khurshchev Singh was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 18, 2006

    The July 11 bombing in Mumbai, which left 200 dead and 700 injured, is the deadliest terrorist attack in India this year. It was a systematic and well planned attack engineered between 6.24 pm and 6.35 pm on the Western Railway line during peak-hour when office-goers were returning home.

    The last few months had shown enough signs that Maharashtra was likely to experience a terrorist attack. Terrorist plans to target the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Headquarters on June 1 in Nagpur and the biggest ever seizure of explosives and arms (30 kg of RDX, 10 AK-47 rifles, 2,000 bullets and 40 magazines) from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives in Aurangabad on May 9 gave adequate warnings that something big might happen. In addition, cases of arms and RDX (two boxes containing RDX and an AK-47 rifle) were seized from Ankai fort of Manmad area of Nashik district on May 13. And subsequently, on May 14, the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) seized five boxes containing 13 kgs of RDX, five AK-47 rifles, 1,000 live cartridges, 20 magazines and 50 hand grenades from an electronic shop at Azad Nagar in Malegaon. It is believed that these weapons and explosives were meant for distribution in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra to be used in carrying out various acts of terrorism.

    Mumbai has so far witnessed several terrorist attacks since 1993. A series of bomb blasts ripped through 13 different places in the city on March 12, 1993, killing 257 people and injuring 713. These were the first blasts in which RDX was used and the explosions are understood to have been carried out by Dawood Ibrahim. After nearly a decade, on December 2, 2002, two persons were killed and 31 injured when a powerful bomb exploded in a municipal bus outside Ghatkopar suburban railway station. A few days later, 25 people were injured when a bomb, planted in an air-conditioning duct, exploded in a food plaza at Bombay Central railway station. In 2003, terrorists triggered three bomb blasts in Mumbai. The first was at a shopping complex outside Vile Parle railway station on January 27, 2003, in which 33 people were injured when a crude bomb planted in a bicycle exploded. The second attack occurred on March 13, in which 11 people were killed and 65 injured, in a 'ladies special' train when it was entering Mulund railway station during peak hours. The third was on August 25, when two successive blasts occurred at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar, killing 46 people and injuring more than 160. RDX was planted in taxis parked at both these places.

    The security and intelligence community are still clueless and have failed to identify the miscreants responsible for last Tuesday's terror. Three days after the attacks, the media reported that a man claiming to represent Al Qaeda, and identifying himself as Abu al-Hadeed, stated that "whoever has carried out the attacks in Bombay, we express our gratitude and happiness". But it is not as yet clear whether Al Qaeda was indeed responsible for the attack. The next day saw another claim being made via email by a new group with links to the LeT called Lashkar-e-Qahar, which claimed that the attack was in retaliation to the situation in Kashmir and the Gujarat communal riots of 2002.

    The Maharashtra state police, Railway Police and Mumbai's Anti-Terrorist Squad are handling the investigations. So far no authentic group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicions and speculation have centred on the LeT and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI, a banned organisation since 2001, has a strong network across India and is a principal ally of almost all major Islamist terrorist groups. In fact, it played a key role in several major terror strikes like the July 28, 2005 bombing of the Shramjeevi Express at Jaunpur, and the Varanasi serial bombings of March 7, 2006. In addition, several of the 11 LeT operatives arrested from the Aurangabad area in May 2006, while attempting to move a shipment of explosives, assault rifles, and grenades into Gujarat, had worked for SIMI before it was proscribed.

    LeT, an Islamist militant group, formed in 1990 in Afghanistan, and banned by India, Pakistan and the United States, is one of the most active groups waging jihad against India. It has denied involvement in the latest Mumbai attacks and its spokesman Abdullah Ghaznavi has condemned it as an inhumane and barbaric act. Ghaznavi also said that Islam does not permit the killing of innocent persons and that his outfit does not believe in killing innocent civilians. He further added that blaming the LeT for such an inhumane act is an attempt by the Indian security agencies to defame the freedom struggle in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the fact remains that the outfit has in the past justified many of its violent terrorist attacks as part of its political struggle.

    Whether it is the LeT or some other group that has carried out the latest Mumbai massacre, the fact remains that a new trend in terrorist activities in India has emerged. This pertains to groups either denying their involvement or alternately creating fake outfits to hide their real identity. For example, the very next day after the October 29, 2005 terrorist attacks in Delhi, a hitherto unknown outfit, Inquilabi (Revolutionary) Group, claimed responsibility and said that more such attacks would occur in future unless India stopped its "oppressive and hideous measures" in J&K. But when Delhi Police arrested the actual attackers, it turned out that they were LeT members. This pattern was repeated again in early January 2006, when the Jaish-e-Mohammad attempted to throw sleuths off its trail by arranging for a fictitious group, Lashkar-e-Qaharby, to claim responsibility for the January 7 terrorist attack in Varanasi. Delhi Police and intelligence agencies subsequently disproved this claim by tracing calls made by Jaish members.

    Another pattern that is becoming evident now is the help being offered by locals to terrorists operating in metropolises. Last Tuesday's bombings in Mumbai might also involve Maharashtra-based SIMI activists. Indian intelligence agencies believe that the LeT has drawn many of its operatives from the large pool of SIMI activists who were radicalised by anti-Muslim riots in Bombay in the 1990s and in Gujarat in 2002. For instance, two months after the Delhi serial blasts on October 29, 2005, Delhi police arrested two terrorists named Saidul and Sohed in the capital who were in regular touch with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). They were being sheltered by a Bangladeshi national, Mohammad Saidul, who is a scrap dealer based near Ghaddewali masjid in Usmanpur. Similarly, after the Jama Masjid blasts on July 14, 2006, Delhi Police Commissioner said that there was 'strong local support' in the Walled City for the suspects.

    Most of the attacks in Indian metropolises, like the terrorist attack on the IISc campus in Bangalore on December 28, 2005, have been carried out by the LeT. Recently, on February 1, 2006, a LeT module was busted in Kolkata. It was planning a possible strike in the city. An analysis of the available facts leads one to the conclusion that the LeT has a wide network in Indian metropolises and big cities, including in Maharashtra. And it is highly likely that one of its terror modules perpetrated the Mumbai massacre on July 11.