Written by Memri
May 25, 2008
Urdu/Pashtu Media Project
Memri Dispatch 441
By Tufail Ahmad*
Table of Contents:
On May 13, 2008, the Indian city of Jaipur, a popular tourist destination, was rocked by a series of explosions. Nine bombs attached to bicycles exploded in five different locations within 12 minutes, killing over 60 people and wounding 200 others. Immediately after the bombings, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called them an attempt to create strife between the Muslim and Hindu communities in the country, but declined to speculate which groups could have been responsible.(1)
Over the last two decades of Pakistan-supported armed secessionism, India has witnessed several acts of Islamist terrorism, most of them in Indian Kashmir. However, in recent years, large-scale attacks have occurred in other parts of India as well, targeting temples, mosques, shrines, railway stations, courthouses, tourist centers, and, in 2001, even the Indian parliament. In most of the cases, the police failed to establish the identity of the attackers, but the blame was invariably placed on Pakistan-based militant groups, possibly due to the lack of any other plausible explanation.
After the bombings in Jaipur, capital of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, suspicion fell on two specific Islamist groups: the Bangladeshi group Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami and the home-grown group called Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Both are well known in India, and both are linked to the Pakistan-based Islamist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.(2)
Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami Has Established Cells in India
Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami, founded in the 1980s, is active in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. According to the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Siasat, the nature of the Jaipur attacks suggests that it has managed to establish a terrorist force in the state of Rajasthan.(3)
The group has been blamed for many previous terror attacks in India, and is known to have links with the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. One of its commanders, Mufti Moinuddin, alias Abu Jandal, was arrested by Bangladeshi security forces in February 2008 in connection with the attempted assassination of former Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina in 2004. During his interrogation, Abu Jandal revealed that his group supplied grenades to Lashkar-e-Taiba militants in India.(4)
India's Ministry of Home Affairs stated in its 2007-2008 annual report that the Pakistan-based militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, as well as the Bangladesh-based group Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami, had put down strong roots in India, and were carrying out terrorist activities in the country from bases in neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh.(5) In fact, for the last decade, the Indian government has suspected that Pakistani militant groups were directing their activities from these countries. This was demonstrated by the 1999 hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight out of Katmandu, Nepal, which was diverted to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
It will not be easy for the Indian security agencies to establish any involvement by Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami in the Jaipur blasts, especially if its activities are directed from outside India. Nevertheless, it is clear that the group, which is banned in Bangladesh, has been taking advantage of the porous India-Bangladesh border in order to carry out its activities in India. According to intelligence sources, the group has managed to establish "sleeper cells" in several Indian cities and towns.(6)
SIMI Activists Go Underground
Another group that has attracted the attention of the Indian police is the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), some of whose members were arrested in connection with the Jaipur blasts.(7) SIMI, based in Ujjan in central India, is a splinter group of the moderate Students Islamic Organization of India, the student movement of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind organization. Its founders, who were inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, broke away from Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in order to pursue a more radical agenda.
In 2001, SIMI was banned by the Indian authorities for suspected links with foreign-based militant groups. According to a press report, SIMI has been establishing secret cells in different Indian states, and has been collaborating with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.(8) Over the past few years, dozens of SIMI activists have been arrested for suspected involvement in plots to perpetrate terrorism in India. In a recent crackdown on the group in Madhya Pradesh, the authorities arrested 13 SIMI activists, including Safdar Nagori, the group's top leader in India.(9) After the Jaipur bombings, the Indian police raided suspected SIMI hideouts in several towns in Rajasthan, but most of the group's activists seem to have gone underground.(10)
"Indian Mujahideen" – A New Terrorist Group?
Two days after the blasts, a little-known group called Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent to media outlets. It has been reported that the email – written in English, and sent from a cybercafÃ© in Ghaziabad near New Delhi – was signed by "Guru Al-Hindi," and threatened further attacks in Rajasthan and in other parts of India. According to the Hindi-language newspaper Dainik Hindustan, the email was accompanied by a video showing reconnaissance footage of the target areas, and was sent from a Yahoo! email account
Since the group is unknown, investigators have yet to ascertain whether the email was authentic, or a hoax perpetrated by an individual or individuals trying to obstruct the investigation.(12) It should be noted, however, that the Yahoo! ID used by "Guru Al-Hindi" is similar to the one that was used to send advance warning of the courthouse bombings in Uttar Pradesh in November 2007. The name of the group – Indian Mujahideen – may be an attempt to camouflage its foreign roots and present it as a homegrown phenomenon. (13)
Pakistani Leaders and Press Condemn Jaipur Blasts
Indian Mujahideen, then, may be an indigenous organization, or a group inspired and supported by outside forces. After the Jaipur blasts, there was immediate concern in Pakistan that suspicion would fall on Pakistan-based groups. The Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jasarat condemned the blasts and stated in an editorial that "the sad [fact] about any terrorist act in India is that Pakistan's name is immediately dragged into it."(14)
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani likewise condemned the Jaipur bomb blasts, saying, "Pakistan condemns all acts of terrorism and reiterates its firm commitment to fighting this scourge along with the international community."(15) Gilani's newly elected civilian government has vowed to continue President Musharraf's policy of improving relations with India and increasing trade and cultural ties in order to share in India's economic prosperity. However, the fact is that most of the Pakistan-based militant groups continue to do as they please, and none of them approved of Musharraf's moderate policies.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has renamed itself Jamatud Dawa, and its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, continues to preach openly in the streets of Lahore. Terrorist commander Maulana Masood Azhar – one of the individuals released by India in exchange for the passengers of the Indian Airlines flight – is likewise at large in Pakistan, as is Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian mastermind behind the 1993 blasts in Bombay. However, during a recent interview on Indian television, Gilani came close to admitting, for the very first time, that Ibrahim was living in Pakistan, and offered to hand him over to India if the latter could present concrete evidence against him.(16) Last Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resisted the urge to blame Pakistan for the Jaipur blasts. He said that there are many reasons for the blasts, one of them being a conspiracy to undermine the relationship between India and Pakistan.(17) He added that he would leave it to Indian authorities to find out who was responsible for the blasts.
* Tufail Ahmad is the director of MEMRI's Urdu-Pashtu Media Project.
(1) Dainik Hindustan (India), May 14, 2008.
(2) Roznama Inquilab (India), May 14, 2008.
(3) Roznama Siasat (India), May 14, 2008.
(4) Roznama Munsif (India), March 4, 2008.
(5) Roznama Siasat (India), April 23, 2008.
(6) Roznama Etemaad (India), May 14, 2008.
(7) Hindustan Times (India), May 18, 2008.
(8) Roznama Munsif (India), February 8, 2008.
(9) Indian Express (India), March 28, 2008.
(10) The Times of India (India), May 19, 2008.
(11) Dainik Hindustan (India), May 16, 2008.
(12) Roznama Siasat (India), May 16, 2008.
(13) The Times of India (India), May 15, 2008.
(14) Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), May 15, 2008.
(15) Daily Times (Pakistan), May 15, 2008.
(16) The Hindu (India), May 10, 2008.
(17) Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), May 19, 2008.