Extremist Confusion and Jumping to Conclusions

December 1, 2008

The first of several postings on GNN regarding the Mumbai attacks.


Mumbai has been rendered a scene of devastation once again, with the death of over 100 people in a series of attacks. This time, instead of spectacular bomb blasts, we’ve seen coordinated raids on high profile targets (a hotel, a hospital, a bar, a train station, a Jewish centre) using automatic weapons. After the attacks, we’ve seen hostages taken, sporadic gunfire and now, a dramatic rescue by Indian special forces. There are, however, several places where hostages remain.

It’s all very shocking. We aren’t accustomed to this sort of “terrorism.” What we are accustomed to is the explosion and the debris, with a pre-recorded message taking responsibility. Or, we’re accustomed to state terror; death from above, the shutting of Gaza’s borders, that sort of thing. The oddness of the Mumbai attacks has still led some to speculate as to whether “al Qaeda” is involved.

I’ll call it, the “Al Qaeda Reflex.”

Take the BBC’s “security correspondent” Gordon Corera, whose job is to keep big Al (Qaeda) in the public eye. To him, “teams of well-armed men involved in synchronised attacks” represent “major shift in strategy by an existing group or the influence or direction of outside parties, perhaps even al-Qaeda, whose style of attacks this mimics.”

Michael Evans, of Rupert Murdoch’s Times writes that “The multiple attacks on Westerners in Bombay last night showed all the signs of an al-Qaeda strategy” which for him means “picking on vulnerable Western “soft targets” but not in a country where there would be maximum security.” Evans actually cites an example, the 2002 Bali attacks which were bombs – not very like Mumbai then.

For Evans that is immaterial, because his sole aim in writing his article was to plug the idea that “Western intelligence services have been expecting an al-Qaeda spectacular terrorist attack in this crucial period between the end of President George Bush’s administration and the succession of Barack Obama.” Clever chaps.

Or maybe not. The AP reports a source in British intelligence as saying that “We have been actively monitoring plots in Britain and abroad and there was nothing to indicate something like this was about to happen.”

“Terrorism expert” George Kassimeris rightly notes that “attacks on transport links, hotels and bars in Mumbai were “original” and “absolutely shocking.” But he then opines that “Al Qaida set the blueprint for terrorist operations and now we see different people, different groups in different parts of the world, copying it.” By now, the Al Qaeda signature is simply “to cause as much havoc as possible and this is exactly what has happened in India.” Brilliant work there then.

Kassimeris, like many “terrorism experts” has a funny view of “terrorism.” In his view, “There is no specific operational or logistical plan, they just want to inflict as much damage and injury as possible.” They are, of course, nihilistic robots intent only on destruction. Guns and hostages though, are not as destructive as bombs, by and large. No matter.

Big Al has also been invoked by the government of Pakistan, who are presumably worried about other ISI linked groups like Lashkar-i-Toiba being fingered and like the way the whole Al-Qaeda-is-a-threat-to-civilization-not-us-honest vibe feels. As Wajid Hassan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London, puts it “This type of terrorism is spreading, through Pakistan and now India, but we were all surprised by such a large-scale attack like this…This is no coincidence that this type of attack happened so soon after the bombing of the Marriott Hotel. People from all countries are being paid to fight this al-Qaida war. This is a war that goes beyond any nationality.”

Meanwhile, a strong critic of Pakistan’s government, the author Ahmed Rashid, has joined the blaming of Big Al, telling Italian agency AKI that “ll the hallmarks of this attack seem to be Al-Qaeda. This was a very well-trained group, there were multiple attacks that were coordinated extremely well.” Then he bafflingly states that “There were multiple targets and this was a suicide squad, all the attackers were clearly prepared to die” which is unclear, as there were no suicides that have been reported.

Ahmed is peddling his book “Descent into Chaos” which goes into great depth about the international al Qaeda conspiracy, so we must forgive him for jumping on the bandwagon.

As you can see, a lot of people have been attributing the Mumbai attacks to Al Qaeda. However, others have not. Sources within the U.S. government have indicated a predilection for Pakistani groups like Lakshar-i-toiba, operating out of Kashmir. A group calling itself the “Deccan Mujahideen” has actually claimed responsibility, but as no-one has heard of them before, there is some doubt about the authenticity of that claim.

Experts who haven’t heard of the DI, have decided that they don’t exist. “Security expert” Sajjan Gohel, working out of London, for example, told the IHT that the attacks “aimed to create maximum terror and human carnage and damage the economy,” and they couldn’t be the work of the DI as it “is a “front name. This group is nonexistent.”

The life of the security or terrorism expert seems uniquely simple. When asked about attack “x” in “y” say it “bears all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda” or an “al-Qaeda style attack” and deny all other possibilities as fraudulent.

Credit must go to the IHT’s correspondent, who quotes analyst Christine Fair from the RAND corporation, who states acidly that “There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it…Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage-taking and they don’t do grenades.” Gohel, on the other hand, maintains somewhat pathetically that “the fingerprints point to an Islamic Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.”

In general though, the way the media responds to terrorism attacks is curious. The truth is that we can’t know a great deal about the reasons for the Mumbai attacks as yet, and hence the origins of the attackers is impossible to ascertain. This doesn’t stop reporters consulting oracular terrorism experts, who presumably offer a veneer of credibility to their dispatches. That may be so, but it doesn’t substitute for actually investigating the roots of the events about which they are reporting.

Extremely varied Extremists

In reality, the past two years have seen a wave of contentious terror attacks in India the likes of which few nations have ever seen.

In February 2007, bombs ripped through the Samjhauta express, travelling from Delhi to Lahore, in Pakistan. 68 people died in that attack, which involved small incendiary devices. In the small, enclosed train compartments, victims were engulfed by flames, and had nowhere to go, which was all planned by the brutal terrorists who, it was thought, were muslims.

A BBC correspondent, for example, wrote at the time that “The reaction from both governments suggests the prime suspects might be groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the main Islamic militant groups who have been blamed for many high-profile bombings.”

“Analysts” consulted by the Guardian’s Ramdeep Ramesh opined that “it was likely the attack was orchestrated by militant Islamist groups, concerned that warmer ties between India and Pakistan may see the two cut a deal on the disputed territory of Kashmir without considering them.”

Yet Samjhauta has since been left unsolved. Or at least it’s in the process of being solved. Yet Ramesh’s friends may be surprised by how.

Anti-terrorist police in India have arrested several Hindu chauvanists in relation to the train bombing, among them an army intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit. Apparently, suitcases used to house bombs in the attacks have been traced back to the Indian town of Indore, and the door of associates of Purohit.

Police investigating the train bombings have been drawn to Purohit because the Lieutenant Colonel has been in court regarding a separate, and also barbaric incident, the bombing of a muslim cemetery in the town of Malegaon, in Maharshtra. 37 people died, mostly muslim pilgrims, in attacks that Indian security services attributed to an Islamic group, the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

However, 10 people have been arrested for the bombings, and none of them are members of SIMI. One of them is Purohit, the soldier. Others include a far-right Hindu holy man named Dayanand Pandey. Another, Ajay Rahirkar, resides in the city of Pune and, as the TImes of India reports, “is known for his collection of antique arms” and runs a museum displaying them. Another, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, is a Hindu-right activist and holy woman.

There is, of course a pattern emerging. The links involve membership of Hindu extremist groups such as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Abhinav Bharat which, like the RSS is a Hindu nationalist organization but is focused specifically on Maharashtra, the area in which Mumbai lies. The AB is linked by lineage to the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, Nahuram Godse, and espouses similar, extreme views.

The Malegaon suspects have not been convicted, but as the attackers closed in on their targets in Mumbai, the process towards it was well underway. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Section was reported as possessing video footage of the accused plotting their attacks based on evidence discovered on Pandey’s laptop.

As the public prosecutor in the case stated, “in the video clip Pandey, the Sadhvi, Purohit and other persons, whose name cannot be disclosed, are seen talking about RDX, chemicals, hand grenades and training.” Who those other people are has not been established, but the Congress Party has been calling for the arrest of prominent Hindu right activist Himani Savarkar in relation to the case.

Jitendra Avhad of the NCP has claimed that 600 or more AB recruits “have been sent to the defence forces” including perhaps, men like Purohit, while the group has also been linked to bombings in the town of Jalna, also in Maharashtra. The implication has also been made that the BJP – which acts as an umbrella for groups like the AB, RSS and Singh Paravar, has launched a smear campaign against prosecutors and anti-terrorist investigators.

Prosecutors and investigators have been receiving death threats, presumably from Hindu activists. In one instance Ajay Misarm, the special counsel for the prosecution in the Malegaon case, received a threat by mobile phone. In another, perhaps more serious incident, the head of Maharashtra’s ATS, which has been leading the investigation, received a phone call informing him that he “will be killed in a bomb blast within the two three days.”

The BJP has also launched a campaign to smear the ATS, as torturers, rightly or wrongly. Purohit, the army man and prime suspect who links the various blasts together, has maintained that despite the allegations, he himself had not been subject to torture while in custody.

It is likely that elements within the Hindu far-right in India fear exposure of their activities, which may include extensive atrocities carried out against Indian citizens, for reasons that may include inciting hatred of muslims and derailing peace overtures with Pakistan.

Then we have the extremely interesting case of the Ahmedabad bombings in July 2008, that I have written about extensively before. Those bombings, which killed scores of innocents, have been traced back to an ex-patriate American evangelical christian who absconded while under investigation by the ATS. Investigations into the role that Kenneth Haywood and Door Christian Ministries played in those attacks was derailed by Haywood’s escape, which was facilitated by Indian authorities and U.S. intelligence, if reports are to be believed, and they seem credible.

As I said, the wave of bombings has been contentious, to say the least. Many muslims have been arrested, but as investigations continue, it is becoming more apparent that Hindu extremists and perhaps Christians too, have been involved in what seems to be a strategic campaign to weld India firmly into the War on Terror constituency.

This has been suggested in the past few hours by the leader of the BJP, Lal Krishna Advani, who has stated that “all political parties should unitedly support the battle against terror waged by the security forces.”

So, the ongoing prosecution of Hindu extremists is vitally important in challenging this drift – particularly as the BJP is likely to win India’s next elections. This places extra responsibility on the Anti-Terrorism Section, which has been bringing men like Purohit into the courts system, even as they suffer death threats from the far right.

Until yesterday, the effort to investigate those atrocities, was Henant Kerkare. Kerkare also interrogated the shady American Kenneth Haywood. But, Kerkare is dead.

Just as his opponents predicted, the ATS chief has been killed, but not through any explosion. He was killed on duty in Mumbai, dealing with the attacks.

As the Press Trust of India puts it

He wore a helmet, talked on his cellphone and finally put on a bullet-proof jacket before he met his deathly fate in the country’s biggest terror seize. Hemant Karkare, who was probing the Malegaon blasts case, suffered three bullet injuries in his chest as he was leading the offensive against the terrorists in one of the places the ultras had holed out early this morning.

And does this mean that the investigation of Hindu extremists will flag? Does the convenient death of Kerkare suggest that it was not simply a coincidence? Those vying for power have given their subtle verdict. As the Hindu reports:

Having attacked Mumbai ATS’ probe into Malegaon blast, *the BJP on Thursday decided not to mention the name of investigating agency chief Hemant Karkare or any other police personnel who were killed in terror attacks in Mumbai late Wednesday*…At an hour-long meeting in Mumbai on Thursday, the party top brass is understood to have deliberated on the issue of whether to name Karkare in the party’s official statement containing its stand on the terror attacks and decided in favour of not naming any of policemen killed in the attacks.

How respectful.


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