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Paper no. 5203                                    09-Sept-2012

( Written at the request of the “Times of India”. Published by them on September 9,2012, at  )

 By B.Raman

The 18 Muslim suspects arrested since August 29 in  operations co-ordinated by the Bengaluru Police are presently under interrogation.

The indications till now are that the suspects, who have been picked up from Bengaluru and Hubli in Karnataka, Hyderabad and Maharashtra, had come together with the objective of assassinating certain individuals identified with the Hindutva ideology.

Though there seems to be some suspicion of their contacts with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) of Bangladesh, they constituted a new indigenous group with no suspected links with any of the indigenous terrorist/extremist organisations that have been active so far such as Al Umma of Tamil Nadu, the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Indian Mujahideen (IM).

The Bengaluru Police seem to have succeeded in penetrating and dismantling them even before they could give themselves an organisational infrastructure and an ideological basis.

It was a group of individuals self-motivated by visiting jihadi sites in the Internet  such as that of Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and brought together by shared anger against Hindutva elements without attempts to form a central command and control.

The conspiracy seems to have been squashed by the Police at a very early stage. This is evident from the absence of any major recoveries of arms and ammunition and explosive material from them

Whereas other jihadi organisations that had operated in India in the past had made a dual use of hand-held weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), this group was still in the stage of hand-held weapons and had not started thinking in terms of IEDs.

Commonly binding anger due to social and religious discrimination and communal grievances generally tend to motivate the educated, thinking  elements more than others.

It is, therefore, not surprising that all the suspects came from the educated segments of the Muslim community. It is also to be noted that the educated elements had studied or were studying subjects such as medicine, computer science, journalism etc and not humanities.

This trend towards the gravitation of such elements to leadership positions in the jihadi organisations had been noticed in the case of the IM too, which had some good IT experts, including one of Pune who had occupied an important position in the Indian branch of a well-known foreign  IT  company.

Examples of  enraged students belonging to such professions or aspiring to join them gravitating to extremism had been seen in the past not only in India, but also in Indonesia and Western countries.

A disquieting fact is a junior scientist of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) joining this group. It is not yet clear whether he joined it on his own or whether he was spotted, motivated and recruited and what was the purpose.

If he had joined on his own because of anger against some Hindutva elements, that is understandable. But, if he had been recruited to penetrate the DRDO, that would be ominous.

According to the police, they made a breakthrough after keeping some of the suspects under surveillance for four months. There has been no indication of any significant electronic intelligence through interception of their telephone conversations.

It has been reported that the suspects were communicating with each other through Skype. This could be the reason for the evidently meagre ELINT. This would indicate that our capability for the interception of communications through the Internet continues to be inadequate. This needs attention.

As regards external ramifications, there are suspicions of links with  elements in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia----with the training possibly coming from elements in  Pakistan and the co-ordination from individuals in Saudi Arabia. These suspicions need to be developed further.

The motivation of the group is still to be determined. Did they have a strategic motivation of sustained terrorism or had they merely come together due to common anger over the grievances of Muslims in order to carry out some assassinations, which one may not be able to characterise as terrorism.

The conspiracy has spread over three states. The forensic evidence available so far is not adequate to reconstruct the conspiracy in a manner that will carry conviction to the courts and the Muslim community.

Keeping all this in view, it might be better for the Government  of India to direct the National Investigation Agency to take over the investigation after reaching a consensus with the three State Governments.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Research & Analysis Wing, Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India.