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The Expanding Jihad

18/02/2008 | by Lakshman, Kanchan  

This article was published in the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal - Weekly Assessments & Briefings

Volume 6, No.32, February 18, 2008

"The jihad is not about Kashmir only… About 15 years ago, people might have found it ridiculous if someone had told them about the disintegration of the USSR. Today, I announce the break-up of India, Insha-Allah. We will not rest until the whole (of) India is dissolved into Pakistan."

– Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, Lahore, November 3, 1999.

The operational spaces for Islamist militancy in States outside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) demonstrate indications of brisk expansion, even as terrorist violence declines in that State. The most recent arrests in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Karnataka are an indication that the Pakistan-backed Islamist groups operating in J&K have a wider subversive agenda, and have, consequently, created an elaborate network of terrorist cells in a number of other States in India.

On February 10, 2008, three suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants – Suhail, Arshad Ali alias Baba, and Fahim – were arrested from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh (UP), while three others – Mohammed Sabahuddin aka Abu Qasim aka Sameer Singh, a resident of Madhubani in Bihar, and Imran and Farooq, both from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) – were arrested from Lucknow, capital of UP. The six militants were moving in two separate groups towards Mumbai, where they had identified multiple targets, including the Bombay Stock Exchange. According to Hemant Karkare, Joint Commissioner of Police (Anti-Terrorism Squad) in Mumbai, the places where Fahim conducted recces included Churchgate and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Stations, Haj House, Haji Ali Dargah, the Mumbai Police Headquarters, the Maharashtra Police Headquarters, Gateway of India and the Bombay Stock Exchange building. Fahim has reportedly confessed that he was the Lashkar’s Mumbai link, and was asked to arrange for accommodation in the city for the fidayeen (suicide cadres) so that they could plan and launch their attacks. Fahim, who holds a Pakistani passport as a resident of Rawalpindi, is actually a resident of the Motilal Nagar slums in Goregaon (West), Mumbai. According to Praveen Swami, Sabahuddin, "who helped execute the 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore before going on to become the cell’s overall commander, used a Pakistani passport to travel between Karachi, Qatar, Dhaka and Kathmandu." Interrogation of the six militants has reportedly revealed that they had plotted an attack on the Indian Space Research Operation in Bangalore in 2005 before changing their plan and eventually targeting the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Earlier, 22-year old Mohammed Riazuddin Nasir (hailing from Hyderabad), who was arrested on January 11, 2008, in the Davangere District of Karnataka in south India, reportedly confessed to his links with the LeT and that he received training in fabricating explosive devices in Pakistan. Nasir is the son of jailed Hyderabad cleric Mohammed Naseeruddin, an accused in the assassination of the former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya, whose murder was allegedly orchestrated by the LeT. Nasir and his associate Asadullah Abubakar, a student of Ayurvedic (an ancient system of health care) medicine at a college in Hubli (Karnataka), were initially arrested on charges of vehicle theft. The police had seized six vehicles, fake number plates, a pen drive, CDs containing religious literature, maps of Goa and some Karnataka towns and American dollars from them. The duo was planning serial bomb blasts on the beaches in Goa using the stolen motorcycles. Incidentally, recent Pakistan-backed terrorist modules had orchestrated blasts in Varanasi, Lucknow and Gorakhpur in UP, using motorcycle-based Improvised Explosive Devices. Nasir’s handlers in Pakistan had reportedly tasked him to carry out blasts at the Andhra Pradesh State Police Headquarters in Hyderabad and American software companies in Bangalore. He mentioned Microsoft and IBM as among his targets. Nasir’s links are reportedly spread across India and Police from at least 12 States are currently interrogating him. Based on the interrogation of Nasir and Abubakar, Police unearthed a terrorist training camp in the Dharwad District (north Karnataka) and an abandoned training centre inside a forest in the Uttara Kannada District.

A decrease in terrorist violence in J&K in 2007 has been paralleled by a shift in the Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists’ focus to the Indian heartland, with as many as 141 persons (all civilians) killed in Islamist terrorist attacks outside J&K through 2007, in locations as varied as Varanasi, Lucknow and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh, Ajmer in Rajasthan, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Panipat in Haryana. By comparison, 164 civilians were killed in jihadi terrorist attacks in the whole of J&K in 2007. These trends suggest that J&K is gradually emerging as a launching-pad for terrorist attacks across India. Investigations into these attacks have confirmed that each of them had linkages to the Kashmiri jihad in terms of human and logistics support. This shift in the pattern of violence from J&K to other locations offers Pakistan greater ‘deniability’, and also enables it to harness the grievances – real or perceived – among the Indian Muslims. Such a shift in strategy constitutes no radical departure, or even nuanced reorientation, of the ISI/jihadi agenda. It lies "entirely within the paradigm that has been sustained since the Zia-ul-Haq regime, and has progressively translated itself into the Islamist fundamentalist and terrorist movements in the region."

Major incidents of Islamist terrorist violence in locations outside J&K and the Northeast during 2007 included:

February 19: Sixty-six persons, including some Pakistani nationals, were killed and 13 others injured in explosions in two coaches of the Delhi-Attari Special Train. The bi-weekly train, connecting up to the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express, had left Delhi at 10:40 pm for Attari near Amritsar and two of its bogies caught fire immediately after the explosions. The train runs non-stop from Delhi to Attari, where passengers are shifted to the Samjhauta Express, which goes to Lahore after customs and immigration clearances.

May 18: Forty-four persons died in a powerful bomb blast at the Mecca Masjid (Mecca Mosque) near Charminar in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh.

August 25: Three persons were killed in twin bomb blasts at the crowded Lumbini Open Air Auditorium and a popular eatery, the Gokul Chat Bhandar, in Hyderabad.

October 11: Three persons were killed when a bomb exploded near the Ahata-e-Noor courtyard in the dargah (shrine) of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer.

November 23: Near-simultaneous blasts targeting lawyers in court premises in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow in UP killed 15 persons.

According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, at least 95 Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-Jihadi modules have been disrupted just over the years 2004-2008, leading to hundreds of arrests across India – outside J&K and the Northeast – in locations that extend from Uttaranchal in the North, to Andhra Pradesh in the South, and from Gujarat in the West to West Bengal in the East. These modules had been tasked to target security and vital installations, communication links, and commercial and industrial centres, as well as to provoke instability and disorder by circulating large quantities of counterfeit currency. The intent and strategy of the ISI is increasingly apparent in a wide range of activities intended to provoke communal confrontations, engineer terrorist incidents, and recruit soldiers for a pan-Islamist jihad in pockets of Muslim populations across India.

ISI-related Modules Neutralised outside J&K and Northeast, 2004-08

 

States
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
Total
Andhra Pradesh
4
1
1
3
0
9
Delhi
7
12
9
3
0
31
Goa
0
0
1
0
0
1
Gujarat
0
1
1
2
0
4
Haryana
0
1
0
0
0
1
Karnataka
0
0
5
0
1
6
Maharashtra
1
1
6
1
0
9
Madhya Pradesh
0
0
1
1
1
3
Punjab
4
7
1
0
0
12
Rajasthan
0
3
0
0
0
3
Uttaranchal
0
1
0
0
0
1
Uttar Pradesh
0
2
4
1
1
8
West Bengal
4
2
1
0
0
7
Total
20
31
30
11
3
95
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal
Data till February 17, 2008
 
Fatalities in Islamist Terrorist Attacks in India (outside J&K and Northeast) since 2001
 
Years
Fatalities
Total
Civilians
SFs
Terrorist
2001
15
9
5
29
2002
32
7
2
41
2003
52
0
0
52
2004
0
0
0
0
2005
63
0
6
69
2006
261
0
1
262
2007
141
0
0
141
2008
1
7
0
8
Total
565
23
14
602

Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal

Data till February 17, 2008
 

Terrorist attacks by Pakistan-backed groups since 9/11 in places as far as Hyderabad, Kolkata, Varanasi, Rampur, Lucknow, Delhi, Mumbai, Ajmer, Gandhinagar, Faizabad, Ayodhya, Panipat, Malegaon and Bangalore, as well as the detection and disruption of terrorist modules virtually across the country – in combination, afflicting as many as 15 States outside J&K and the Northeast – are evidence of a complex and long-term war of attrition by Pakistani state agencies and their jihadi surrogates

"When the Mumbai blasts occurred, the Pundits informed the world that the terrorists were targeting India’s economic sinews; when the Indian Institute of Science was attacked in Bangalore, India’s technological and scientific capacities were thought to be the ‘new target’; when the temple at Varanasi, and much later, a mosque in Malegaon, were hit, an abrupt ‘conspiracy’ was seen to have been hatched to destroy India’s ‘communal harmony’. On each occasion, however, the terrorists have simply moved on to new targets of opportunity, their defining criteria of identification being their own operational capacities and networks, the damage they can inflict, and the sensation they can create."

There are now few States completely outside the sphere of jihadi subversion. The frequency, spread and, in some cases, intensity of these operations in other parts of the country has seen some escalation in the past years, as international pressure on Pakistan to end terrorism in J&K has diminished levels of ‘deniable’ engagement in that theatre, and as violence in J&K demonstrates a continuous secular decline since the events of September 11, 2001 in the US.

Since 2005, militant groups like the HuJI, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed have, with considerable assistance from local groups like the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), established an extensive network across India’s heartland. Furthermore, since the October 12, 2005 suicide attack on the Special Task Force of the Hyderabad Police, footprints of the HuJI have been witnessed in each of the terrorist attacks that have taken place in India’s urban centres. SIMI has also allegedly been involved in all major terrorist attacks outside J&K and Northeast in terms of providing logistics and foot soldiers to Pakistan-based militant groups after 9/11. In fact, evidence of joint operations and cross-pollination has been seen in many of the terrorist attacks across India since 2005. Such pooling of resources may intensify in the near future, as jihadi groups trade strategies and personnel.

The jihadi strategy has repeatedly been articulated by terrorist leaders located in Pakistan. Thus, Nasr Javed, a trainer of LeT suicide attackers, delivering a speech after the evening prayer at the Quba Mosque in Islamabad on February 5, 2008, stated: "India is also afraid of jihad. India fears that if the Mujahideen liberated Kashmir through jihad, then, it will be very difficult to keep rest of the India under control. Jihad will spread from Kashmir to other parts of India. The Muslims will be ruling India again." He added, further, "We want to tell the Kashmiri brothers that the government of Pakistan might have abandoned jihad but we have not. Our agenda is clear. We will continue to wage jihad and propagate it till eternity. No government can intimidate us. Nobody can stop it – be it the US or Musharraf."

A year earlier, addressing a huge gathering at the Al Qudsia Mosque at Lahore on February 5, 2007, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Amir (Chief) of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (also known as Jama’at-ud-Da’awa), had declared that the "jihad in Kashmir will end when all the Hindus will be destroyed in India… jihad has been ordained by Allah. It is not an order of a general that can be started one day and stopped the other day." Much earlier, during a three-day annual congregation of the members of the Markaz-ud-Da’awa-wal-Irshad at Muridke near Lahore on February 6, 2000, Saeed had declared that Kashmir was a "gateway to capture India" and that it was the aim of the Markaz and its military wing, the LeT, to engineer India’s disintegration.

The LeT has been able to recruit non-Kashmiri jihadis in order to orchestrate attacks across India. The arrests in Rampur and Lucknow only reaffirm the apprehensions that the Lashkar network is gradually being "extended and exported" to other parts of India. The Uttar Pradesh Director-General of Police, Vikram Singh, disclosed that the arrested militants had planned terrorist attacks at Churchgate in Mumbai, the Bombay Stock Exchange and Army convoys in Rampur and Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. Preliminary interrogation of these jihadis as well as interrogation reports of militants arrested in J&K and elsewhere in India clearly demonstrate the LeT’s nationwide striking potential.

The south of India is now also increasingly coming under the terrorist radar, although the Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist threat to the region has been in existence at least since the early 1990s. The repeatedly declared intention to target "India’s growing economic sinews has also resulted in escalated threat perceptions in the more dynamic cities of the South, particularly Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai." While Hyderabad was targeted twice in 2007, the first major attack in the Southern States was on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh office in Chennai in 1993. A series of 19 explosions left 50 dead in the Coimbatore District in Tamil Nadu in 1998. In 2000, 13 explosions were engineered across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa, by the banned Deendar Anjuman, a militant sect which perceives Islam as the only true global religion. In the intervening years, "there has been a succession of lesser incidents, arrests and seizures of arms and explosives, indicating a sustained effort of terrorist mobilisation."

Currently, the LeT, JeM and Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-BD) are active in locations spread across the southern States. Cadres of these groups receive considerable support on the ground from the SIMI which has a strong presence in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In Kerala, SIMI operates under the cover of some 12 front organisations, at least two of which are based in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, and a third in the port city of Kochi. Kondotty in the Malappuram District has also emerged as a hot-bed of SIMI activities. An official declaration submitted on June 1, 2006, by the Kerala Government before the Justice B.N. Chaturvedi Tribunal examining the legality of the proscription on SIMI, indicated that the outfit's cadres had ‘lately' developed links with the LeT. Reports from various agencies, including the State Police Special Branch, further indicate that SIMI is operating under the cover of religious study centres, rural development and research centres. The Karnataka Director-General of Police (Corps of Detectives) Ajai Kumar Singh has stated that Karnataka was not "untouched" by terrorists, and terror modules had been neutralized in Kolar, Bijapur and Gulbarga in 2005, subsequent to the attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Among the other entities currently active in the southern front is the newly formed Charitable Trust for Minorities (CTM), which, sources indicate, is linked to the Al Umma, a radical outfit that orchestrated many terrorist attacks in south India, including the February 1998 Coimbatore bombings. The CTM is allegedly funded from Saudi Arabia. Another group under watch is the Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP or Human Justice Oganisation). The MNP is a radical group which organizes mass conversions to Islam. Police suspect that these mass conversions of the unemployed and Dalits are probable catchments for terror. For instance, Athikur Rehman and Tipu Sultan, two of the five MNP cadres arrested on July 22, 2007, for plotting a terrorist attack in Coimbatore, had converted to Islam in 2006, and had been brainwashed at the Arivagam (House of Knowledge) at Muthudevanpatti in the Theni District. The MNP, which was formed sometime in 2004 with a militant orientation, indoctrinates its activists with "hate literature" and compact discs showing the demolition of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya and the Gujarat riots. The MNP, which receives foreign funding, is also linked to the SIMI. In fact, M. Ghulam Mohammed, the MNP founder, is also a former Tamil Nadu unit chief of the SIMI. Some seminaries at Vellore, Kayalpattinam, Melapayalam and Kadayanallur in Tamil Nadu are also under the extremist scanner.

Kerala has been relatively free of terrorist subversion although there is now some indication that it serves as a sanctuary for militants adhering to different ideologies. The arrest of Altaf Ahmed Khan, a suspected operative of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) hailing from Jammu and Kashmir, in the Kumily town of Idukki District in Kerala on January 5, 2008, is an indication that a pan-India jihad is a reality. While SIMI has a confirmed presence in Kerala, operatives from the LeT have at times been linked to Kerala. And while in the last 10 years, at least 41 visiting Pakistani nationals have gone "out of view" in the Malappuram District, an area long affected by radicalisation, intelligence officials say there is the "possibility of anti-Maldivian Government elements, particularly operatives of Jamaat-ul-Muslimeen (a Maldives-based terrorist group) seeking refuge in Kerala or using its territory to plan operations against the island nation’s rulers." Incidentally, Ibrahim Asif, a Maldives national, was arrested after attempting to source weapons from Thiruvanathapuram in April 2005. Many SIMI cadres are now reportedly part of the National Development Front (NDF), an Islamist extremist group formed in 1993. According to Kerala Police officials, "most of the core operatives of the proscribed SIMI have floated a dozen new organisations within Kerala or become their members. Among the organisations are the NDF and the PDP [People’s Democratic Party] and a series of fringe groups with names such as Muslim Youth Cultural Forum, Sahridaya Vedi, Karuna Foundation, Samskara Vedi, Solidarity Students Movement, and Movement for Protection of Islamic Symbols and Monuments."

Currently, sleeper cells of the LeT, HuJI-BD, SIMI and Al Badr Mujahideen are suspected to be in existence in Karnataka. While capital Bangalore and cities like Mysore, Hubli and Belgaum have already seen arrests and weapons’ seizures, Police officials indicate the presence of an inter-State terrorist network active in the coastal lines between Goa-Karwar-Mangalore. Places including Hubli, Bidar, Karwar, Puttur, Bantwal and Bhatkal have been identified by intelligence agencies as locations for terrorist subversion. In fact, interrogation of six Al Badr militants arrested by the Coast Guard in Kutch (Gujarat) on July 13, 2007, while transferring fake currency and weapons, had reportedly revealed that they were planning to set up a base in coastal Karnataka, particularly Karwar.

Uttar Pradesh, the most populous State in India, is now an emerging battleground for Islamist militants. It has already witnessed the largest number of jihadi terrorist attacks outside J&K in the past three years. HuJI, an outlawed group with bases in Pakistan and Bangladesh, is at the forefront of this subversion. There have been 57 incidents of terrorist subversion in Uttar Pradesh between April 2001 and 2008, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. At least 34 districts in Uttar Pradesh [out of a total of 70], including capital Lucknow, have been identified as ‘sensitive’ from the viewpoint of terrorist subversion. Uttar Pradesh has seen the neutralization of the largest number of ISI-backed espionage modules – 10 out of a total 39 in the last three years. In November 2006, an Uttar Pradesh Police report indicated that there had been terrorist-related crimes in 17 of the State’s 70 Districts – including Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi, which were subsequently targeted by the HuJI in the November 23, 2007, serial bombings.

Available evidence indicates that the HuJI has a strong network in western Uttar Pradesh. The HuJI modules active in Uttar Pradesh are reportedly being monitored from Bangladesh and coordination among the units is allegedly being done by Bilal, the suspected mastermind behind the May 18, 2007, blast at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. The serial bomb blasts of November 2007, in which 15 persons were killed, were also orchestrated by the HuJI. One of the militants arrested in that case, Sajjad (a resident of Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir), is reportedly a relative of Mohammed Amin Wani, a HuJI militant arrested in January 2007 by the Delhi Police. According to the Police, Wani was trained in a camp at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and subsequently in a HuJI camp at Reeshkhore in Afghanistan. His disclosures to the Police included information about Sajjad, who was then the HuJI in-charge in Uttar Pradesh. Wani was also reportedly instrumental in initiating several young men from Western Uttar Pradesh into terrorism, the Police claimed.

Within Uttar Pradesh, the SIMI has provided HuJI militants shelter and logistic support. A number of SIMI cadres have also reportedly joined HuJI. For instance, On April 5, 2006, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested six persons, including Waliullah, the 32-year old prayer leader of a mosque in Phulpur near Allahabad. Waliullah, a former SIMI cadre, was the HuJI ‘area commander’ for eastern Uttar Pradesh. SIMI, with a strong base in some universities of Uttar Pradesh, reportedly enjoys the support of a segment of the Muslim populace in cities such as Kanpur, Rampur, Moradabad, Saharanpur, Lucknow and Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. While HuJI has a strong network in Western Uttar Pradesh, its cadre have reportedly infiltrated into all regions of the State. Recent trends have demonstrated the involvement of technically qualified youth within the HuJI fold, and the ability of its cadre "to operate autonomously in small cells, deadly use of explosive devices, careful selection of soft and hard targets and willingness to inflict mass casualties."

While the metros and urban concentrations are obvious targets, central intelligence agencies had warned, after the Ajmer blast in October 2007, that even smaller towns in the country could witness terrorist attacks in the proximate future.

Significantly, tactical adaptation has made the terrorist networks far more effective and difficult of detection. Terrorist attacks in the heartland

"…are no longer orchestrated by integrated terrorist networks and cells established within the target city (though local modules may provide some support), with their various members in intimate contact with one another. What we have now are synchronized operations, with individual members of more than one group directed by ISI/DGFI-backed handlers located in Pakistan or Bangladesh, entering into evanescent and anonymous contact with members of other groups to provide specific materials and services: explosives, detonators, safe haven, bomb-making expertise, and local support, and most disappear without trace long before the attack."

Jihadi groups are currently also mobilizing motivated Islamist cadres for political action, and for support activities to existing terrorist operations, both in present areas of such operation as well as in all potential areas of expansion. Such potential areas are conceived, within the pan-Islamist perspective, to comprehend all concentrations of Muslim populations, wherever these may be located.

ISI’s strategy of "using disenchanted Muslim groups in one area (Mumbai and Gujarat for instance) has the ‘domino effect’ of creating or inspiring equally violent groups elsewhere in the country, so that a potential for large-scale violence is steadily built up. According to the interrogation report of a terrorist arrested in 2002 in the Kashmir Valley, the Indian security forces will encounter organised Islamist terrorist movements in various cities of Uttar Pradesh and across the Hindi heartland within the next few years. That such subversion and its resultant violence have a momentum of their own is clearly illustrated in the way the situation has unfolded in the recent past. To the extent the sheer number of elements and fissures in Indian society that can be exploited are in abundance, the ISI’s job has become easier." In the proximate future, the jihadi network will look to gradually transform political dissent into a violent form of political polarisation and subversion in a number of additional theatres within India. Further, while accepting the fact that opportunities have been provided by local political machinations and political short-sightedness in India, it is to be noted that the jihadis has been quick to take advantage of such failures and faultlines by introducing a spiraling element of violence.

Islamist extremist mobilisation and related terrorist activity have been ongoing in India for decades now. It is important to note, however, that despite occasional and inevitable terrorist ‘successes’, this relentless strategy – which has targeted virtually every concentration of Muslim populations in India for decades – has overwhelmingly failed to secure a base within the community, beyond a minuscule radical fringe. Further, the record of intelligence and security agency successes against such subversion and terror, although lacking the visibility and drama of a terrorist strike, is immensely greater than the record of the successes of this strategy. Nevertheless, the sheer relentlessness of the enemy and the steady – albeit slow – expansion of the spheres of subversive and terrorist operation, bode ill for the future.