Fifteen persons were killed in seven well-synchronised explosions near court premises in three cities of Uttar Pradesh--Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad--on the afternoon of November 23, 2007.
The explosions took place within about five minutes of each other. The improvised explosive devices (IEDs), attached to bicycles, do not appear to have been of a sophisticated kind. Initial reports indicated the possible use of ammonium nitrate, which has been increasingly used in different terrorist incidents in many parts of the world since the explosion in the New York World Trade Centre in February 1993. But the synchronisation of the blasts in three different cities around the same time indicate a certain sophistication in planning and execution.
We have had well-synchronised multiple explosions in Mumbai in March 1993 by the mafia gang of Dawood Ibrahim and in July, 2006, allegedly by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), and in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu in February,1998 by Al Ummah. We have not had well-synchronised multiple blasts in different cities since 1993, when the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) carried out synchronised explosions in different trains. But its synchronisation was not of a high order. The Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) of Bangladesh carried out nearly 400 synchronised blasts all over Bangladesh in August, 2005.
Though 15 persons, mostly lawyers, were killed, causing mass casualties does not appear to have been the objective. As in the case of the 400 blasts of Bangladesh, which caused not more than 10 fatalities, the purpose seems to have been to intimidate and demonstrate the reach and capability of the perpetrators. The explosions were synchronised to take place after the Friday prayers. Jihadi terrorist organisations prefer to organised their terrorist strikes on Fridays.
The explosions have come in the wake of the judgements delivered recently in respect of the Mumbai serial blasts of March 1993 and the Coimbatore serial blasts of February,1998. In both the cases, a number of jihadi terrorists have been found guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. They have also come after the arrest of three suspected members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) in UP, who were alleged to have planned to kidnap a dignitary in order to secure the release of Afzal Guru, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the attack on the Indian Parliament in December,2001. His mercy petition is under examination by the Government of India. The arrested JEM terrorists were alleged to have been beaten up by some lawyers when they were brought to court. The local lawyers have also reportedly refused to defend terrorists in future. From these circumstances, it is likely that the explosions were meant to intimidate the criminal justice community, particularly the lawyers.
It has been reported that an E-mail message purported to be from "indian Mujahideen" received by some TV channels before the explosions indicated that these explosions were about to take place. However, it referred to explosions in two and not three cities. "Indian Mujahideen" does not refer to any organisation, but it refers to Indian Muslims in general and says that the Indian Muslims have decided to take the offensive and wage a jihad. In justification of this decision, it refers to the severe penalties awarded to the accused in the Mumbai blasts of March,1993, and the lack of action against Hindu police officers, who committed atrocities on Muslims. It also refers to the Gujrat riots of 2002 and the recent assault on arrested JEM suspects by some lawyers. The message is not only a warning of their intention to act, but also an explanation of why Indian Muslims have decided to act. The main point, which the sender of the message has sought to convey, is that the criminal justice system treats the Muslims severely, but is lenient to the Hindus. The language used is typically Indian, the context and arguments used are typically of Indian Muslims and the issues raised are those which have been agitating the minds of sections of Indian Muslims such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December,1992, lack of action against the Hindu police officers of Mumbai who were found guilty of excesses by the Sri Krishna Enquiry Commission, the severe penalties awarded to Muslims who had retaliated in March,1993, and the Gujrat riots.
It admits that the Muslims were responsible for the explosions in Varanasi, Delhi, Mumbai and in a restaurant and park in Hyderabad, but says they were not responsible for the blasts in Malegaon in September,2006, in the Samjauta Express and the Mecca Masjid of Hyderabad this year. It is silent on the recent blast in the Ajmer Sharif, a Muslim holy place famous for its tolerant Sufi tradition..
It says tha the Indian Muslims have decided to wage a jihad for Islamic rule and talks of a "war for civilisation." It warns that their next targets will be police officers. Keeping in view that the 15th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is just a fortnight away, we should be alert to the possibility of more explosions in the days to come, possibly directed against the police.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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