Dazed & Confused. Again

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Misguided focus. Sloppy intelligence inputs. Ashish Khetan runs through a history of recent blasts to expose both the alarming chaos and difficulties faced by India’s anti-terror establishment

Clue hunters: NIA sleuths outside the Delhi High Court
Clue hunters: NIA sleuths outside the Delhi High Court, Photo: Vijay Pandey

“Riaz of Karachi made a telephonic call to a Zafar in Srinagar. Zafar was told to deliver some money to a Sunny of Jammu, who in turn would deliver the money to Suraj in Delhi to carry out some violent activity. Please take necessary action at your end.” (Excerpt from an Intelligence Bureau alert sent to different anti-terror and law enforcement agencies on 3 September. The names have been changed to ensure that no ongoing operation is affected)

Taking stock: Chidambaram visits the Delhi High Court blast site
Taking stock: Chidambaram visits the Delhi High Court blast site, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

“WHAT AM I supposed to do with this piece of so-called intelligence?” asks a senior law enforcement officer with exasperation, placing the IB note before this correspondent. “There is no address, no telephone number, no specific identification of the suspects provided in this alert. Where am I supposed to go and look for them? Would you classify this as intelligence?”

On 7 September, within hours of the terrible blast at the Delhi High Court, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told Parliament that the Delhi Police had been sent intelligence alerts in July about an impending blast. To an ordinary listener, this would seem to exonerate the minister and the country’s intelligence agencies to some degree from the repeated terror attacks India suffers from. But if one knows the almost ludicrous nature of most intelligence inputs received by security personnel or counter- terrorism groups, the assurance becomes much less credible.

Sample this: “This is in continuation of my earlier communication regarding the possibility of LeT operatives using forged documents and IDs to gain access to the cricket World Cup final. According to latest information, there is a likelihood that forged documents and ID cards of organisations such as cricket associations, press clubs, media outfits, PAN cards, bank employee ID cards, voter cards, ration cards and employee cards of infrastructure entities such as telecom, electricity, etc, may be used to obtain regular passes from the agencies to gain access into the stadium. In this background, inquiries may please be made to authenticate the genuineness of the enclosed documents and feedback may please be given to us.” (An IB alert sent to Mumbai Police on 30 March)

Foreign hand?: The German Bakery attack in Pune was later claimed by al Qaeda,
Foreign hand?: The German Bakery attack in Pune was later claimed by al Qaeda, Photo: Deepak Salvi

“Enhanced vigil be maintained on movements of Sikh extremists, Kashmiri militants, Muslim militants, left-wing extremists, LTTE cadres/sympathisers, northeast insurgent groups and ISI-backed elements. A watch (sic) be kept on the movement and activities of the AISS (all India security suspects) and traced writers of threatening letters/e-mails in areas under your jurisdiction, particularly in state capitals.” (An IB advisory sent on 30 June to different state and central police and intelligence agencies)

THESE ARE just some of the intelligence inputs generated and disseminated in recent months by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the country’s premier intelligence-gathering agency. The first input quoted above was generated just four days before the high court blast, which besides snuffing out a dozen innocent lives and creating a crater 5 feet deep at the blast site, also blew a big hole in the self-esteem and meticulously crafted image of Chidambaram.

Just like the 3 September input, the bulk of intelligence inputs churned out every day and wired across the intelligence grid are completely generic, theoretical and hence unactionable.

The aftershocks: Scenes after blasts at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru
The aftershocks: Scenes after blasts at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, Photo: AFP

The alerts and advisories are worded such that every conceivable security threat under the sun is covered in the note. Advisories are sent routinely asking state police agencies to keep an increased vigil during important days such as 15 August or 26 January or on the occasion of some festival and to be alert to the possibility of an impending attack. Often no specific location of the place under threat or specific date or name of any individual or group to be tracked or tailed are available. The cumulative result is that the agencies don’t take these advisories seriously.

“One can always be on high alert. But it’s not possible to police every man on the street or every nook and cranny of high-risk targets like the Gateway of India or Juhu beach 24×7, 365 days a year,” says a senior Mumbai ATS official.

The Delhi Police is also not amused. “The intelligence shared was extremely generic in nature,” says a senior officer in the Delhi Police special cell. “We were told to be on high alert as there was a possibility of a terror strike. A terror operative from Pakistan was suspected to have entered the city. But that was all. No name, no location. The fact that the Delhi High Court could be a target was not mentioned.”

Delhi Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna also went on record contesting Chidambaram’s assertion. “I get my information from the Delhi Police. In fact, they told me over the past few weeks there were only general inputs. To my mind, it wasn’t specific,” he told a news channel.

The aftershocks: Scenes outside the Jama Masjid Police Station in Delhi
The aftershocks: Scenes outside the Jama Masjid Police Station in Delhi, Photo: AFP

Could such generic and vague theories really be termed ‘intelligence’? Isn’t Chidambaram’s insistent denials after the 13 July Mumbai blasts and the high court blast that there was no intelligence failure a sleight of hand?

The high court was not even considered to be a potential high-risk target that would necessitate full CCTV coverage. A small explosion on 13 May was dismissed by our security establishment as a stray incident.

Immediately after the 13 July blasts, Chidambaram asserted at a press meet that since 26/11, the country has seen just two terror strikes — the German Bakery blast in Pune and the triple bomb strike in Mumbai. But he was being more than just economical with the truth. As narrated below, there have been as many as seven major terror strikes since 26/11, (the number was six when Chidambaram held the presser).

And the fact that four of these seven strikes resulted in very few casualties (and thus were dismissed by him as non-events) is not because of the pro-active intervention or pre-emptive action on the part of our mammoth security set-up. It was a combination of providence and shoddy execution on the part of terrorists that saved hundreds of lives. It was either because of malfunctioning IEDs or bad placement of bombs that prevented heavy fatalities.

If the occurrence of seven terror strikes in one-and-a-half years is not intelligence failure then one wonders what more will it take before the home minister admits a complete systemic failure?

By the Ganga: A girl died and dozens were injured in the Varanasi blast of December 2010
By the Ganga: A girl died and dozens were injured in the Varanasi blast of December 2010, Photo: Pramod Adhikari

AFTER TAKING over the baton from his disgraced predecessor Shivraj Patil, Chidambaram has indisputably tried his best to infuse new life in the comatose internal security apparatus. From the officers of the ATS in Uttar Pradesh to intelligence sleuths in Mumbai, all would vouch for the fact that there is now greater co-ordination between different state and Central intelligence agencies than ever before.

Chidambaram’s big-ticket structural strengthening initiatives like setting up of regional hubs of National Security Guards (NSG), creation of a federal entity called the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and creation of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), a network of around two dozen disparate databases of different agencies aimed at generating real-time actionable intelligence, have all taken off. Four NSG hubs at Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata have already been inaugurated and the NATGRID got the much-awaited Cabinet approval this July. The strength of NIA has been substantially increased with the inauguration of a branch in Hyderabad. Besides, annual grants of hundreds of crores of rupees have been disbursed by the Centre to different state police forces to enhance their investigation and combat capabilities after 26/11. But despite all the money spent and new entities being floated, the country’s internal security scenario is as grim as it was on the night of 26/11.

Maximum impact : The multiple blasts in Mumbai on 13 July snuffed out 21 lives,
Maximum impact : The multiple blasts in Mumbai on 13 July snuffed out 21 lives, Photo: Deepak Salvi

The problem is that the war on terror can’t be Chidambaram’s alone. No minister, no matter how efficient or hard a taskmaster, could single-handedly spearhead the mammoth security set-up. While Chidambaram may be driven and meticulous, the war on terror could only be won if the beat constable on the street is also equally dedicated to his job.

His focus has been more on a top-down approach. While the setting up of NATGRID, NSG regional hubs and NIA and modernisation of police weaponry are important initiatives and need to be applauded, the fact remains that very little has been done to improve the working conditions of lower- level police, both in terms of specialised training or human resource interventions. We can’t expect our police to display the same competence and calibre as that of the FBI and MI5, while we continue to provide them third-world salaries and inhuman working conditions.

Both the making and unravelling of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) should yield important lessons for fighting terrorism. IMwas founded and run by semi-educated Muslim youth from small mofussil towns such as Azamgarh, Bhatkal and Yavatmaal, who migrated to Pune, Mumbai and Delhi and set up their bases in heavily populated Muslim localities like Jamia Nagar in Delhi and Cheetah Camp in Mumbai. (Though there were couple of trained engineers also among the IM cadre, they were not part of the core team). They planned and executed terror strikes while carrying on with their regular day jobs. As a precaution they never discussed their plans over phone, which they knew could be tapped or tracked. As a result, for over five years, the IM successfully operated under the security radar.

First warning: The IED explosion at the Delhi HC on 13 May was possibly a dry run
First warning: The IED explosion at the Delhi HC on 13 May was possibly a dry run, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

But at the same time, these IM operatives regularly visited neighbourhood mosques and religious institutions and came in touch with many people outside their circle of extremist cadres. Many times, their activities did lead to some suspicion among neighbours and friends. But nobody reported their suspicious behaviour to the police. Had it been done, the IM could have been busted much earlier. This goes to show a lack of penetration of our intelligence agencies in Muslim neigbouhoods or groups with radical leanings. The institution of beat constable, who is the eyes and ears of the police, has become delinquent, at least when it comes to gathering inputs about Islamist radical outfits.

Both under and before Chidambaram, there has been too much emphasis on modern weaponry and state-of-the-art technology and not enough on human intelligence.

THE POWERFUL explosion that claimed 12 lives outside the high court shattered all illusions of security if any remained after the horrifying terror strike in Mumbai on 13 July. The terrorists are striking at will, at the place and time and mode of their choice. And the country’s gargantuan intelligence and counter-terrorism set-up is clueless. There have been as many as seven major terror strikes in a period of less than one-and-a-half years. In a few cases like the 13 July blasts and the high court blast, the terrorists were successful in inflicting heavy casualties. While in other instances like the Varanasi Ghat blast, sheer providence prevented a high death toll. Not one case, however, has been cracked, with the partial exception of the Pune one where though one fringe player was apprehended, the key accused managed to get away. All that the agencies have are sketchy portraits of the suspects drawn on the basis of eyewitnesses’ inputs.

“Nobody knows who is behind all these recent blasts,” says a senior Uttar Pradesh ATS officer investigating the Varanasi Ghat blast that happened on 7 December 2010. “Is there one umbrella group behind all the bombings or have different outfits carried out different strikes? Have the remnants of IM regrouped or has some new terror group comprising completely new cadres come into being? Is it all the handiwork of home-grown terror outfits or is it being sponsored and coordinated by LeTHuJI-ISI combine? We don’t know the answers for any of these questions. It’s a blind alley and more often than not we are fighting shadows.”

Indian Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami and Lashkar-e-Toiba are all theories today. Just like how radical student outfit Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was a theory in the previous decade when every terror strike was conveniently and lazily attributed to the banned outfit by government agencies.

Faces of terror The sketches of the two suspects responsible for the Delhi High Court bombing
Faces of terror: The sketches of the two suspects responsible for the Delhi High Court bombing

There is no doubt that several key IM members — a few of whom are from Azamgarh, some from Karnataka and others from Maharashtra — who have been on the run since the 2008 Batla House encounter continue to pose a grave security threat. Similarly, the threats emanating from the seamless web of LeT, HuJI and ISI from across the border are equally grave. American national David Coleman Headley, who had carried out recces of 26/11 target sites, has provided NIA a detailed account of ‘Karachi Project’—a code name given by ISI to their new terror strategy by which they planned to recruit Indian Muslim youth, train and shelter them in Pakistan and then use them for future terror attacks on the Indian soil.

But all these facts have been there with our agencies for the past two-and-a-half years. In the fast changing shadowy world of terror, two years is an eternity. There has been no qualitative or substantive addition to these existing theories in quite a long time. And hence the current state of cluelessness prevailing among our agencies.

Let’s have a brief look at all these recent blasts to assess the enormity of the looming terror threat.

13 FEBRUARY 2010: At around 7 pm, a powerful RDX bomb ripped apart the German Bakery located in Koregaon Park, one of the most posh locales in Pune. Eighteen people, including three foreign nationals, died while 53 were injured. In a major faux pas, Maharashtra ATS arrested Abdul Samad, 23, the brother of an absconding IM operative and was later forced to release him in the face of mounting evidence of his innocence. The ATS arrested two Muslim radicals whose names had earlier cropped up in the 2003 terror strikes and charged one of them with providing logistical support to two IM operatives —Mohsin Chaudhary and Ahmed Siddibapa — who were the real masterminds of the blasts and are still absconding. The intelligence fraternity is divided on the authenticity of these arrests.

17 APRIL 2010: Two bombs exploded at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru between 2.55 pm and 3.05 pm, just minutes before the start of an IPL match. Fortunately, the planter, either out of fear or sheer bad planning, kept these bombs in the bushes, almost 100 m away from the crowd and hence there were no casualties. A portion of the wall caved in and 17 people were injured from flying shrapnel. Later, three more devices that were in fact strategically placed at the entrance gates and if set-off would have resulted in heavy casualties, malfunctioned and failed to explode. A combination of good fortune and coincidence saved many precious lives. More than a year down the line, all that the police have to show is a suspect’s sketch.

19 SEPTEMBER 2010: At 11.23 am, two motorcycle-borne assailants opened fire from automatic weapons at a group of foreigners alighting from a tourist bus near Gate No. 3 of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. A crew of Taiwanese filmmakers were seriously injured but were lucky to survive. Two-and-a-half hours later, a Maruti 800 parked adjacent to a transformer near Jama Masjid Police Station went up in flames when a pressure cooker bomb planted in the car exploded. It was the second anniversary of the Batla House encounter. Soon after the blast, IM claimed responsibility in an e-mail sent to news organisations and threatened more terror strikes during the Commonwealth Games. Till date there has been no breakthrough in the case. Unlike other cases, the police do not even have the suspects’ sketches.

7 DECEMBER 2010: A two-year-old girl was killed and around three dozen people injured when an IED exploded at the Dashashwamedh Ghat during Ganga Aarti around 6.30 pm in Varanasi. In an e-mail sent to media houses, IM claimed responsibility. The planter/s made a mistake as they left the bomb on the upper steps of the ghat while the devotees and tourists who had assembled for the aarti were on the lower steps. Eight months later, there is no headway in the case.

13 MAY 2011: The IED kept in a polythene bag near a lawyer’s car parked at Gate No. 7 outside Delhi High Court went off at around 1.25 pm. The Delhi Police issued vague statements downplaying the incident. “There was a minor explosion.A packet containing explosives kept in a plastic bag near a car exploded. There were minor damages to the car. There was no casualty or injuries,” Dharmendra Kumar, Special Commissioner (Law and Order) said after the blast.

13 JULY 2011: Three near-simultaneous explosions rocked Mumbai at rush hour, killing at least 21 people and injuring 141.

7 SEPTEMBER 2011: Around 100 days after the low-intensity blast outside the Delhi High Court that the police had dismissed as a minor incident, a powerful bomb placed in a suitcase was detonated by terrorists at reception centre near Gate No. 5 of the court. There were no CCTV cameras installed at the reception. At the time of going to press, the death toll stood at 12.

Unlike the spate of blasts carried out by the IM between 2005-08, where there was an identifiable pattern with regard to the striking similarity in bomb design, the nature of explosives, the timer device and circuit, the past seven strikes have no single thread that could give some idea of the nature of the group behind it.

In the Pune case, RDX was used. It’s a high-intensity explosive that is only available with defence forces. The use of RDX pointed fingers at the involvement of some Pakistan-based terror groups. The IM had primarily used locally available ammonium nitrate in most of its blasts. However, in the Bengaluru blast, a mixture of ammonium nitrate, petroleum wax and polysaccharide was found. All these ingredients are easily available in local markets and thus it’s hard to say that if it was an ISIsponsored attack or was carried out by IM or some other indigenous outfit. However, there was one strong indicative link between the Bengaluru blast and the IM— a Samay watch was used as a timer device. In a majority of its blasts, the IM had used the same brand of watch as a timer mechanism. Both in the 13 July Mumbai blasts and 7 December Varanasi blast, it is suspected that ammonium nitrate was used.

But the make of the timer device or nature of explosives can only broadly hint at the pattern of blasts. While being indicative, these broad indicators could also at times be confusing and misleading.

There have been strategic affiliations and operation-specific collaborations among terror outfits belonging to different Islamic schools of thought. IM has been loosely supported by the LeT and ISI. The threat from Pakistan-based outfits like HuJI is always there on the horizon. Al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri (about whom there are conflicting reports of having been killed in a recent US drone attack) has in the past shown great interest in fishing in the troubled waters of India. Similarly there are floating Islamist radicals who, for tactical reasons, align themselves with different jihadi tanzeems according to a situation.

For instance, in August 2010, Indian intelligence agencies uncovered a videotape in which former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s deputy Mustafa al Yazid claimed responsibility for the Pune bakery attack.

In the tape, al Yazid, who was No. 3 in the al Qaeda hierarchy, and is believed to have been killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan on 22 May 2010, clearly says that the al Qaeda orchestrated the blast.

“I appeal to the entire Muslim world, especially the jihadis, to take inspiration from a great deed performed by one of our brothers. A fearless and daredevil fidayeen amongst us has struck against those who support anti-Islamic ideologies and provide a safe haven to the enemies of Islam. To teach such people a lesson, one of our fidayeens carried out an attack at the German Bakery in India, where Israelis and Jews used to assemble. Many Jews were killed in the attack… the attack was carried out under the leadership of the commander of the Commando Battalion in Kashmir, Ilyas Kashmiri,” al Yazid said.

However, the Maharashtra ATS has chargesheeted two absconding IM operatives as the masterminds of the blast. ATS chief Rakesh Maria had rubbished al Yazid’s claims. On the other hand, Central intelligence agencies doubt the genuineness of the ATS case.

The Central agencies have been receiving constant inputs of IM operatives being sheltered and trained by the ISI in Pakistan. Four IM operatives arrested since the Batla House encounter — Mohd Sarvar, Mohd Salman, Mohd Hakim and Shahzad Ahmed — have told the agencies that IM is regrouping under the aegis of ISI in Pakistan and is now trying to find new recruits in India to unleash a fresh wave of mayhem.

On the day of the Jama Masjid and Varanasi incidents, IM shot off its signature e-mail to media houses claiming responsibility for the attacks that lends credence to the theory that IM has indeed regrouped and found new recruits. In the high court blast also there has been an e-mail sent in the name of IM, but investigators believe that it’s a bogus one and has no resemblance, neither in tone, content or design, to the previous mails. To add to the confusion, an e-mail from an outfit calling itself HuJI was also received, linking the terror strike with Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru’s death sentence.

Though NIA chief SC Sinha told the media that he was taking the contents of the e-mail seriously, IB officials are not attaching much importance to the mail as they think it’s just a smokescreen.

THE CRUX of the matter is that the prevailing terror scenario is so fluid that until there is a substantial breakthrough, pointing a definitive finger at any particular outfit would be foolhardy.

The Madhya Pradesh Police recently busted a self-organised terror module comprising ex-SIMI members who were planning to attack the judges of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court who had delivered the Ayodhya verdict last year. As many as eight suspects, four each from Jabalpur and Bhopal, were arrested this June. Their alleged confessions before the police make a chilling read.

Under Chidambaram’s watch, there has been too much emphasis on modern weaponry and state-of-the-art technology and not enough on human intelligence

The leader of the group, Abu Faizal Khan, 28, was born at Hansapur village in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. He was the eldest among five siblings and had four sisters. In the late 1980s, his father migrated to Mumbai and settled at Andheri where he set up a medical shop. After completion of intermediate, Abu Faizal joined a BHMS course at Gujarati Samaj College, Indore, MP, in 2003. There he came into contact with a SIMI member named Irfan Chipa, who motivated him to become an active member of the radical outfit. In 2001, SIMI was banned.

Abu Faizal was first arrested in 2006 along with Chipa and six others on charge of an illegal assembly at Wadi, Indore and spent one-and-a-half months in jail. According to the police, after release, Faizal established contact with top SIMI leaders Rayees Khan, Kamruddin Nagori and Safdar Nagori of a breakaway radical faction within SIMI. Thereafter he participated in several meetings and training camps organised by the Nagori faction from 2007. After the arrest of Nagori along with many cadres at Indore in 2008, he became the self-declared leader of SIMI in MP and started regrouping the members.

He motivated about a dozen other Muslim youth to join him in the cause of jihad. To raise finance for their proposed operations, they carried out a string of bank robberies and dacoity. They believed that mobilising funds for jihad by indulging in criminal activities was approved in the path of jihad as ‘Maal-e-Ghanimath’. Together they allegedly committed the following offences in Madhya Pradesh:

1. Looted a cash bag from a businessman at Khandwa in February 2009

2. Robbery at Narmada Grameen Bank, Dewas, in 2009

3. Robbery at Bank of India, Dewas, in May 2009

4. Killing of ATS constable Sitaram Yadav and two civilians at Khandwa in 2009

5. Robbery at Canara Bank, Itarsi, in February 2010

6. Robbery at Punjab National Bank, Ratlam, in March 2010

7. Robbery at State Bank of India, Mandsour, in May 2010

8. Robbery at Manappuram Gold Finance, Bhopal, in September 2010

9. Firing on VHP leader Bherulal Tong at Nagda, Ujjain, in May 2011

Astonishingly, Abu Faizal allegedly told the police that he along with his accomplices — Mujeeb Sheikh, Iqrar Sheikh and Ejazuddin — were preparing to go to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and wage jihad against the US-led forces. After Afghanistan, they intended to wage jihad against forces within Pakistan, who they believed were supporting the US, who according to them was the foremost enemy of Islam. The MP Police claimed that Abu Faizal had been desperately trying to establish contacts with the Taliban and LeT. But before heading for the AfPak region, the group wanted to kill the judges who delivered the Ayodhya verdict. Until the group was busted, they had not managed to establish any kind of contact with Pakistan- based terror outfits. Their confessions, if true, show the growing alienation among a section of the Muslim youth in India.

‘What am I supposed to do with this piece of so-called intelligence? There is no address, no telephone number, no identification of the suspects,’ says a law enforcement officer

WHILE ADDRESSING the 40th All India Police Science Congress at Raipur last year, Chidambaram said, “Policing a country of over 1.1 billion people is not an easy task. Policing the country in a troubled neighbourhood makes the task more difficult. And policing a country with insufficient police stations and inadequate and illequipped police forces makes the task almost formidable.” It was a frank and bold statement and sums up the structural and inherent internal security challenges.

But terror is not a policing problem alone. Even the best counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism infrastructure could not eradicate the problem of terrorism from India. The police can do only so much. The root of the problem lies in the increasing fissures in our society. It lies in the increasing number of disaffected youth who by accident or design have not got a stake in the country’s progress. It lies in the lax judicial system that when the situation demanded failed to uphold the rule of law and lost credibility among a large section of our populace.

The root of the problem lies in the increasing fissures in our society. It lies in the increasing number of disaffected youth who haven’t got a stake in India’s growth

There is still no closure to the cases of Babri Masjid demolition and the 2002 Gujarat carnage. On the other hand, the law was swift in punishing the 1993 Mumbai blast accused — which was by and large an act of retaliation, reprehensible nevertheless, to the awful Mumbai riots and the accused of other terror cases — like the 2003 Gateway of India blasts who were motivated by the state-sponsored massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

In a letter dated 15 October 1947 to chief ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru expressed his deep concerns about the state and place of Muslims in a secular democratic India in the backdrop of partition riots and mass exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan.

Nehru wrote: “We have a Muslim minority who are so large in number that they cannot, even if they want to, go anywhere else. They have got to live in India. That is a basic fact about which there is no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilised manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic state. If we fail to do so, we shall have a festering sore that will eventually poison the whole body politic and probably destroy it.” (Letters to Chief Ministers, 1947-1964, edited by G Parthasarathi.)

Nehru’s prescient words are as relevant today as they were in 1947. IM operatives have revealed under grilling that they are more motivated by the feeling of revenge against both perceived and real indignities and injustices done to Indian Muslims than by pan-Islamic religious ideology.

All political parties have to rise above electoral calculations and work towards an inclusive and just society. Until then the angst expressed by the leadership of both BJP and Congress at terror strikes, as we witnessed in Parliament on Wednesday, will remain mere empty words.

Ashish Khetan is Editor, Investigations with Tehelka.
[email protected]

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The hunt is on… But the trail is cold

Brijesh Pandey and Rana Ayyub track the NIA probe so far into the Delhi blast

Empty words: UK Bansal, Secretary, Internal Security, briefing the media
Empty words: UK Bansal, Secretary, Internal Security, briefing the media, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

THE FLURRY of action immediately after the blast was impressive. The site was secured by Delhi Police with the help of the Army. In a first, a 20- member team of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) was constituted and the investigation handed over to it, with Delhi Police assisting. But for the next 35 hours, till the time of going to press, there was no substantive lead on the perpetrators.

NIA officials are investigating an email emanating from Kashmir right after the blasts, claiming it to be the handiwork of an obscure organisation, the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islam. A better-known and similar-sounding group, the Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HUJI), led by Ilyas Kashmiri, is said to be in a state of decline this year, with almost no activity in the Kashmir belt.

However, with the email allegedly originating from Global Cyber Café in Kishtwar, 200 km from Srinagar, through a proxy server, its owner and three other locals have been detained. The DIG of the NIA, SC Sinha, said his team of cyber crime experts will get to the root of the email, even if it is a prank.

A later email was purportedly from the Indian Mujahideen (IM). It read, in broken Urdu, “The blast that took place yesterday in Delhi cannot be the work of HuJI, because we have given the repercussions. We had planned it earlier that on Wednesday itself a blast will take place and it should be done because it will be crowded on this day (Wednesday). We the Indian Mujahideen did this. HuJI is not even involved in the blast. Our next target will soon take shape outside a shopping complex. No one can stop us. This will happen on next Tuesday. Stop it if you can…..Chotu, Indian Mujahideen.”

The email to TV channels did not bear the hallmark of emails sent out earlier in the name of the IM. For in the past — immediately after the blasts in 2006-07 in UP, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi — IM emails were sent either before or within minutes of the blasts. They were written with a great deal of precision and articulation, unlike the one that came in a day after the Delhi blast.

“You can’t dismiss these emails but they can at times be misleading,” says another official from the Delhi Special Cell investigating the 2007 Batla House encounter and the Delhi blasts that preceded it. He implied they could be aimed at diverting investigators from the right trail.

A senior police officer says, “Timing is of extreme importance in these mails. If the mail is received within 5-30 minutes of the blast, then the chances of that mail being important is very high. However, as the sending of the mail gets delayed, then it can be anybody — from a prankster to somebody just wanting a slice of action.” Apart from this, the investigator also points out to the fact that HuJI is not known to claim responsibility through email.

Meanwhile, Delhi Police was sent on a wild goose chase when it was alerted that a Hyundai i10 seen at the blast site was used by the terrorists to make their escape. After tracking the car for close to 10 hours, it was traced to Sector-56, Faridabad. Later, it was revealed that there was enmity between two families and this information was merely used to settle old scores.

Though no solid lead has emerged from the investigation so far, the NIA has announced an award of Rs 5 lakh for clues. According to UK Bansal, Secretary, Internal Security, “ATS teams of adjoining states have been asked to come to Delhi and hold a meeting with DG, NIA, so that there can be a better coordination between them.” To ensure continuity and help NIA join the dots, the investigation of the failed blast outside the Delhi High Court on 25 May has also been handed over to the NIA. Till now the Special Cell of the Delhi Police was investigating that case but nothing had come of it.

NIA is in close contact with Uttar Pradesh Police and is trying to interrogate all the IM and HuJI members jailed in the neighbouring state. A majority of IM operatives are in Sabarmati jail in Gujarat. Based on the sketches released by Delhi Police, one Shahzad alias Aslam has been detained from Behrampur. His antecedents are being verified.

The hunt is on but whether this will yield more definitive results than investigations into earlier blasts is yet to be seen.

Rana Ayub is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.
[email protected]

Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. So basically you are saying is that the problem lies in the way the Hindus treat Muslims. you are saying that the so called “disaffected” youth have a “valid” reason because the Hindus want their temple back, or because the Hindus were angry at a trainload of people being burnt.
    If we could turn the argument around, i am sure we could go back to more heinous crimes against the Hindus of this country.
    The author has to realise that this is a stupid argument and this has already reached the end of its shelf life.

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