(Update of Paper No 420 - International Terrorism Monitor)
In response to my article titled "The Indianisation of Pan-Islamic Jihad", I have received a number of queries from readers asking about the impact of Al Qaeda on the Indian Muslim community and its implications. This article, which is in response, is an update of an article written by me on March 20,2006, after the visit of President George Bush to India. That article titled AL QAEDA, THE IIF & INDIAN MUSLIMS is available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers18%5Cpaper1743.html. This article also incorporates my observations on the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) from my book "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" published in June,2008, by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi (www.lancerpublishers.com )
2. The trend towards the radicalisation of the Indian Muslim youth started in the late 1980s.Groups of Muslim youth from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) started going across the Line of Control (LOC) to Pakistan and were trained and armed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). After the training, some of them were taken to Afghanistan to get an exposure to jihad as practised by the Afghan Mujahideen.
3. In December 1993, coinciding with the first anniversary of the demolition of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya, there was a number of explosions in different railway trains in North India. The interrogation of one of the suspects arrested during the investigation revealed that the SIMI had organised them.
4. The suspect also alleged that C.A.M.Basheer, who was the President of the SIMI in the 1980s, had, along with one or two other members of the SIMI, attended a training course in the use of arms and ammunition and explosives in a camp of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of Pakistan in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) run by one Salauddin, a Sudanese national, in the late 1980s. During the training, the JEI arranged a meeting between the SIMI activists and Lal Singh, alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Canada, who was then living in Lahore. Lal Singh was arrested by the Gujarat Police in the middle of 1992.
5.The JEI urged the SIMI and the ISYF to co-operate with each other for the "liberation" of the Sikhs of Punjab and the Kashmiris of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The co-operation project was code-named "K-2", standing for Kashmir-Khalistan. It was also stated that Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the Amir of the JEI, had nominated Amirul Azim, the then Propaganda Secretary of the JEI, as the co-ordinator of the project.
6.The suspect also stated that the JEI had asked Basheer to send more members of the SIMI to Pakistan for training, but he could not do so due to logistic problems. In the early 1990s, Amirul Azim, accompanied by Salauddin, the Sudanese instructor, entered India via Bangladesh and met Basheer and his associates for discussing their future plans. They were told that in view of the difficulties experienced by them in sending more activists to Pakistan for training, instructions had been given to the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the Kashmiri terrorist organisation, which is a wing of the JEI, to train SIMI cadres in its camps in J&K itself. The SIMI was asked to send its future batches to J&K for training.
7.Despite intensive searches by the police of different States, Basheer and his associates, who had allegedly undergone training in Pakistan, could not be arrested. Basheer, who must now be around 45, is from Parambayam in Kerala. After studying in the Union Christian College, Aluva, near Kochi, he worked for a brief while in the Safdarjung airport of New Delhi before taking to terrorism and absconding. Subsequent reports indicated that he had taken up residence in Saudi Arabia from where he was guiding the activities of the SIMI in India and organising its branches in other countries of the Gulf. In Saudi Arabia, he was also reported to have floated a new organisation called the Muslim Development Force.
8.In 1992, the "Time" magazine of the US had carried an interview with one Commander Abu Abdel Aziz, with a picture of his in his henna-dyed beard and Afghan style fatigue. After the "Time", "al-Sharq al-Awsat", a Saudi-owned, London-based daily, ran a front-page story on Abu Abdel Aziz and his activities in Bosnia. In August 1994, "Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem (The Straight Path)", an Islamic journal published in Pakistan (Issue No. 33), carried an interview with Abu Abdel Aziz. The journal, without identifying his nationality, reported that Abu Abdel Aziz spoke perfect Urdu and that he had spent extended periods in Kashmir.
9.Subsequently, this Abu Abdel Aziz appeared at a conference of the LET (Lashkar-e-Toiba) at its headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore, in November,1994. He was introduced to the audience as an Indian Muslim living in Saudi Arabia, who was playing a heroic role in helping the Muslims of Bosnia in their fight against the Christian Serbs and in helping the Kashmiris fighting against the Government of India.
10.Other reports indicated that in May 1995, like-minded jihadi groups had formed a "Rapid Deployment Force" called "Katiba (Kateebat?) al �Mujahideen" (Batallion of the Mujahideen) at a meeting held in the Philippines. The meeting was attended among others by "al-Sheikh Abu Abdul Aziz," described as the Chief Commander of the 7th Brigade of Muslim forces in Bosnia, Salamat Hashan, the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Philippines), Abdul Karim, Chairman of the Islamic Front (Eritrea) and Prof. Hafiz Mohd Saeed, Amir MDI (Markaz Dawa Al Irshad, the political wing of the LET), Pakistan. "Al-Sheikh Abu Abdul Aziz" and Abu Abdel Aziz were probably identical, but one was not certain on the basis of available evidence.
11.The meeting reportedly agreed on the following---- (a) nationalities and frontiers on the basis of races was an un-Islamic perception; (b) to work in support of Muslims in all those parts of the world where action was being taken against them; (c) the Mujahideen of the newly formed Kateebat Al-Mujahideen would carry out militant operations and fight in Kashmir to eliminate un-Islamic perceptions of nationalities and frontiers.
12.Till 1997, Abu Abdel Aziz either used to attend the annual conventions of the LET at Muridke or his recorded speeches used to be telecast or he used to speak over phone. He disappeared from public view thereafter. There were rumours in Islamic circles in Pakistan that he had been arrested by the Saudi authorities, apparently because of his suspected links with Osama bin Laden, who is against the Saudi monarchy.
13. The real identity of Abu Abdel Aziz still remains a mystery. If he was an Indian Muslim living in Saudi Arabia, as claimed by the LET, what was his real name, to which part of India he belonged, what was his political affiliation, did he have any links with the SIMI? All that one could conjecture was that Basheer could not be operating under the pseudonym of Abu Abdel Aziz because the Pakistani Urdu media projected him as operating from Saudi Arabia since the early 1980s, whereas Basheer was reported to have moved over to Saudi Arabia only in the early 1990s, possibly after the Babri masjid demolition.
14.From the various reports received, one could make the following surmise:
* There were at least two Indian Muslims operating from Saudi Arabia and associated with jihadi terrorism.
* One of them referred to by Pakistani jihadis as Abu Abdel Aziz was linked to the LET. He had played what the jihadis considered as a legendary role in organising jihad in Bosnia and was also closely involved in assisting the jihadis in J&K.
* There was no evidence to believe that Abu Abdel Aziz was connected with the SIMI.
* The SIMI's links were initially more with the JEI of Pakistan than with the LET. Unlike the LET, a pro-Wahabi organisation which does not admit women into its ranks and does not use them for its operations, the SIMI admitted women and used them. There were believed to be about 300 women in the SIMI's ranks, some of them reportedly highly educated. However, it needs to be added that since 2005, there have been reports of developing links between the SIMI and other jihadi organizations unconnected with the JEI such as the LET and the HUJI.
* Basheer co-ordinated the activities of the SIMI in India and the Gulf from Saudi Arabia.
15. After the Gujarat riots of 2002 and coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, reports started circulating in Pakistan that some of the Indian and Pakistani Muslims working in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, had started a drive for the collection of funds to be utilised for assisting the Muslim victims of the riots and for mounting acts of punishment terrorism in India to avenge the killings of Muslims in Gujarat. Compilations of Indian media reports about the anti-Muslim atrocities in Gujarat and video recordings of these atrocities were used as part of this fund collection drive.
16. The year 1993 saw the beginning of the infiltration of the Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations by the ISI into J&K and their spread to other parts of India. These Pakistani organisations had three agendas---- a Kashmiri agenda to have J&K annexed with Pakistan; an Indian agenda to drive a wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims and to "liberate" the Muslims of North and South India and set up two more independent "Muslim homelands"; and a pan-Islamic agenda to work towards an Islamic Caliphate in South Asia, which would ultimately form part of an international Islamic Caliphate.
17. The Indian Muslim youth looked with suspicion at their pan-Islamic agenda because, in their view, pan- Islamism meant adoption of the anti-US policies of Al Qaeda and the IIF. They were not prepared to do this. The Kashmiri terrorist organisations felt that they would not be able to achieve their political objective without the implicit support, if not the complicity, of the US. This view was shared by the Muslim youth in other parts of India too.
18. The Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations, which are members of the IIF, as well as Al Qaeda itself, therefore, faced difficulty in recruiting members or supporters from the Muslim youth in India. The first Indian Muslim recruits to the Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations came not from India, but from the Indian Muslim diaspora in the Gulf where the Indian Muslim youth were easily infected by the anti-US feelings of the Arabs.
19. The LET (Lashkar-e-Toiba) set up branches in Dubai and Saudi Arabia and the HUJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami) in Dubai. Their objective was to recruit Indian Muslims from the local diaspora and to co-ordinate their operations in Western and Southern India from the Gulf. Al Qaeda was not able to get supporters from the Indian Muslim youth even in the Gulf. However, it managed to get the support of two Gujarati Muslims----one living in the UK and the other in South Africa. The Muslim living in the UK (Bilal al-Hindi), whose family had migrated to the UK from East Africa, was frequently used by Al Qaeda to visit the US, Thailand and even India to collect information for possible use in Al Qaeda's anti-US operations. The name of the Muslim from South Africa came up in connection with the London explosions of July, 2005. However, no further details of his alleged links with Al Qaeda are available.
20. Till August, 2003, the success of the LET and the HUJI in recruiting Indian Muslims was confined largely to the diaspora in the Gulf. Since the twin bomb explosions in Mumbai in August, 2003, there are indications that the LET and other Pakistani organisations have made a break-through in overcoming the resistance of the Indian Muslim youth to their joining the Pakistani jihadi organisations. Till August 2003, the SIMI was prepared to take assistance from the Pakistani organisations and the ISI for carrying out its own anti-Hindu agenda, but it was disinclined to help the Pakistani organisations in recruiting members in India for their pan-Islamic and anti-US agenda.
21. Despite some Indian Muslim youth in Mumbai, New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh joining the Pakistani member-organisations of the IIF, the Muslim youth in other parts of India, in deference to the wishes of the Kashmiri organisations, which still count on support from the US, took care not to adopt an anti-US line. This was evident from the fact that the Indian Muslims by and large did not demonstrate when the US launched its military operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in October, 2001, and invaded and occupied Iraq in March-April, 2003. The allegations over the violation of the human rights of the Muslims by US security forces in Abu Garaib and the Guantanamo Bay also did not evoke any significant protest demonstrations from the Indian Muslim youth.
22. However, the position started changing in November, 2004, following the US air strikes in Falluja in Iraq. The allegedly extremely disproportionate use of force by the US Marines and Air Force against the civilian population of Falluja in order to allegedly teach them a lesson for opposing the US occupation, sent a wave of anger across the Islamic world. The hundreds of Islamic web sites in the cyber space carried detailed accounts of what the US troops allegedly did in Falluja, with pictures of the suffering of the local population.
23. Since then, anti-US and anti-Western feelings have become an important motivating factor of sections of the Indian Muslim youth. The result: Their gravitating towards the IIF in larger numbers than in the past and their willingness to join in or organise anti-US demonstrations either over the affair of the Danish cartoons caricaturising their Holy Prophet or over the visit of President Bush to India.
24. The number of Indian Muslim youth involved in anti-US activities and in support of the pan-Islamic objectives of Al Qaeda and the IIF is estimated to be still small, but larger than in the past. For the first time, this could provide an opening to Al Qaeda and the IIF to recruit Indian Muslim youth for their terrorist strikes directed against the US. Till now, the Indian Muslim youth, whether in India or the Gulf or in the West, were not subject to the same close surveillance by the Western intelligence agencies as the Arabs and the Pakistanis were. Thus, recruitment of Indian Muslims in India or abroad would provide Al Qaeda and the IIF with the possibility of recruiting volunteers for their anti-US operations, who will be able to evade detection by the Western intelligence agencies much easier than the Arabs or the Pakistanis. This is a danger which should not be lightly dismissed.
25. Al Qaeda has not so far carried out a terrorist strike in India. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was alleged to have orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, reportedly stated during his interrogation by US experts that Al Qaeda had wanted to attack the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, but could not do so.
26.In a travel advisory on its Hebrew language Web site, posted on December 13,2006, Israel's Foreign Ministry had said: "Within the framework of al Qaeda's terror threats in India, there is now a concrete threat focusing on the Goa region where multitudes of visitors, including Israelis, gather ... in late December. Israel's Counter-Terrorism Authority has recommended that Israeli citizens stay away from sites in Goa popular with Westerners and Israelis over the next few weeks."
27.On December 15, 2006, DEBKA, a well-known non-governmental Israeli think-tank, which disseminates information and analyses relating to terrorism, posted the following comments on its web site (www.debka.com): "Information has reached Jerusalem that al Qaeda is in an advanced stage of preparing coordinated attacks on the big, end-of-year seasonal parties held by Western and Israeli tourists in the Indian province. Israeli travelers are advised to cancel their trips to Goa or at least stay away from the big parties. Some 4,000 Israelis have booked flights to India for the winter season. They will be joining the thousands living there. A standing terror warning is still in force for Egyptian Sinai and Turkey."
28. A query which I have received from the readers is about the possibility of the blasts in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad being in protest against the Indo-US nuclear agreement. There is no evidence to support this. Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda Pakistani organisations have not indicated any sign of anger against the agreement. They are, however, upset over what they see as the co-operation of India with the US and Israel in the war against jihadi terrorism. Al Qaeda has not been able to organise a major terrorist strike against the US after 9/11. It is looking for opportunities to do so in third countries having a large US and Israeli presence where it can launch attacks on US and Israeli nationals and interests. If it manages to develop local support in the Indian Muslim community and concludes that the physical security in India is weak, it may try to take advantage of it to hit at the US and Israel in Indian territory.
The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.