Beyond J&K: Terror Network Expansion in India

Thangjam Khurschev Singh

Over the last couple of years, Islamic terror-related issues have been escalating in southern and western part of India. Terrorist outfits are not only targeting security forces and government establishments, but aiming vital economic and strategic assets.

On November last year, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil disclosed that Pakistan based terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), have been trying to target India’s oil and gas installations, InfoTech sector, nuclear installations, communication networks and defense installations. To inflict massive damage, terrorists have been incessantly paying their attentions to operate in South and West Indian states like Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. It signifies new terror movements where attacks are no more limited in their traditional region like Jammu and Kashmir, Naxal (Maoist) infested Central and Eastern India or Northeast.

Maharashtra, one of the biggest states in south- west India, has been a major terror hub as well as sanctuary with maximum reported events in cities like Aurangabad, Beed, Kolhapur, Malegaon, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik. Who can forget Mumbai sub-urban serial train blasts on July 11, 2006 that took almost 200 lives and injured 700 others, and the serial blasts at Arehmani mosque and Bada Kabrastan (cemetery) in Malegaon on September 18, 2006 that killed 41 people and injured around 290 others. Even there were arms and explosive seizures in the past. Two seizures among them stand out – around 30 kg of RDX, 10 AK-47 rifles and arms and ammunitions were recovered from LeT operatives in Aurangabad on May 9, 2005; and around 13 kg of RDX, five AK-47 rifles, 50 hand grenades and assorted ammunitions from an electronic shop at Azad Nagar in Malegaon on May 14, 2006. It was later established that these weapons and explosives were meant for distribution in Maharashtra and other parts of southern India to perpetrate mayhem. In addition, the subsequent arrest of senior LeT operative, Faisal Sheikh from Pune among others in the aftermath of 7/11 blasts and Malegaon bombings are indicative of the already embedded terror networks.

Not surprisingly, in early January this year, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) reportedly alerted Mumbai Police about a mammoth group of 600 LeT cadres who are poised to infiltrate the country through the coastlines and island territories of Indian southern territories. These militants according to the IB report are trained to handle boats, lay land mines and explosives and equipped with navigational and surveillance methods. In addition, the report also specified that a Sudanese national who linked to an international terror outfit has stayed illegally in Pune with a radical organization and attempting to established contact with sleeper cells in the city.

Goa has revamped its security arrangement during November last year as it feared Bali like bombings in its tourist spots following intelligence inputs indicated that al Qaeda supported jehadi outfits (LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad) could targeted British, US and Israel travelers in Goa.

In Karnataka, major cities like Bangalore, hub for InfoTech majors and Mysore have also become safe heavens for Islamic terrorists. On January 6, 2007, a Pakistan-trained terrorist with LeT links, Imran Jalal, was arrested near Bangalore with arms and ammunitions and city map highlighting IT majors Wipro, Infosys and Bangalore airport. Last year, on October 27, 2006, following a shootout between Karnataka Police and Pakistani base Al- Badr outfits, a sleeper cell module of the same outfit was busted. In fact, it was a foiled terror plot that two ISI trained Pakistani terrorists– Mohd Ali Hussain and Mohd Fahad–were planning to attack two main seats of power in Karnataka- the Vidhan Soudha and Vikash Soudha. The incident exposed Bangalore’s vulnerability. Investigations revealed group’s connection with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, from where they are receiving funds for their deadly missions. Interestingly, Western Union Money Transfer (WUMT) is one of the agencies that terrorist outfit used to received/transfer money to India from Dubai.

Further down south, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are also not free from terrorism related incidents either. Airports in Tamil Nadu and Kerala were under high alert in November 2006 as US intelligence agency FBI alerted Indian authorities about a possible Plane hijack. Earlier to that incident, an anonymous letter threatened to unleash attack on south Indian airports.

Undoubtedly, the above mentioned facts and figures bear the testimony of a growing expansion of terrorist network in the region. Local disgruntled elements mostly belonging to the proscribed Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) are easily available for terrorist masterminds to build intricate networks. It is suspected that the operations in south and west India have been controlled by the Pakistani intelligence stationed in the Sri Lanka and elsewhere, (may be in Maldives), to broad base the scope of the so-called jihad, outside J& K.

It is increasingly imperative for the India’s security establishment to rise early to thwart any terrorist strikes, big or small, before the ‘sleeper’ cell wakes up for any 7/11 equivalent operation.

Author Note
Thangjam Khurshchev Singh, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.