Originally Published 2005-06-06 12:28:03 Published on Jun 06, 2005
Security Guards belonging to the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) foiled a daring attempt by a group of six terrorists to penetrate a Hindu place of worship at Ayodhya, a holy town of the Hindus in the state of Uttar Pradesh in North India, on July 5, 2005. The site at which the place of worship is located has been a bone of contention between sections of the Hindus and the Muslims for many years.
Terrorist Strike at Ayodhya
Security Guards belonging to the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) foiled a daring attempt by a group of six terrorists to penetrate a Hindu place of worship at Ayodhya, a holy town of the Hindus in the state of Uttar Pradesh in North India, on July 5, 2005. The site at which the place of worship is located has been a bone of contention between sections of the Hindus and the Muslims for many years.

A mosque (the Babri Masjid) located at the place was forcibly demolished by a mob of Hindu supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in December, 1992. The supporters of the BJP contend that a historic temple dedicated to the God Ram, which was originally located at the site, had been demolished during the Muslim rule of certain parts of India and the mosque erected in its place. The Hindus have, therefore, been claiming their right to have the mosque replaced by a temple, in order to correct the historic wrongs allegedly committed during the Muslim rule. A case relating to the dispute on the ownership of the site is presently sub judice.

The forcible demolition of the mosque by a Hindu mob in December 1992, led to widespread riots by groups of Muslims in different parts of North India immediately thereafter and the Muslim anger over the alleged excessive use of force by the Police of Mumbai in quelling the riots and their alleged negligence in protecting the Muslims led to an instance of mass casualty terrorism in Mumbai in March 1993. Nearly 250 innocent civilians were killed when a group of angry Muslims recruited by Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian leader of a notorious trans-national criminal group, and got trained in a camp of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM---then known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar)) in Pakistan organised a series of explosions directed at important economic targets such as the local Stock Exchange, a hotel run by the Air India etc.

Subsequent investigations into the explosions brought out that the training of the perpetrators had been got organised in the HUM training camp by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which also supplied them with the explosives, detonators and timers used by them. The leading perpetrators of the act of terrorism subsequently escaped to Karachi, where they were given shelter by the ISI. Dawood Ibrahim himself, who was then living in Dubai, shifted to Karachi where he was given Pakistani citizenship under a different name by the local authorities. He played an important role in financing and assisting in the clandestine procurement and transport of nuclear material from different parts of the world by A.Q.Khan, Pakistan's nuclear scientist, presently under investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, for his role in the clandestine supply of military nuclear-related material to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Different Governments of Pakistan headed successively by Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto and Gen.Pervez Musharraf have consistently refused to arrest and hand over Dawood Ibrahim and his associates involved in the crime to the Indian authorities for prosecution and trial. In February1998, the HUM, which had trained them, became a founding member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jewish People. The HUM's then Amir, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, was a co-signatory of bin Laden's first fatwa calling for attacks against the US. Four other Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations subsequently joined the IIF. These are the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ).

The HUM, under its then name of the HUA, was designated by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in October 1997 following its suspected involvement in the kidnapping of some Western tourists in India's Jammu & Kashmir State in 1995 under the name Al Faran. The LET and the JEM, which were involved in the foiled attack on the Indian Parliament House in December, 2001, were subsequently designated by the US as FTOs. In October 2003, the US designated Dawood Ibrahim as an international terrorist following reported evidence of his links with bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the LET. Despite the US acceptance of the Indian contention that Dawood Ibrahim was living in Pakistan under a different name as a Pakistani citizen, the Musharraf Government has continued to deny his presence in Pakistani territory.

The Mumbai explosions of March 1993 were the first major act of international jihadi terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K. Since then, a large number of Pakistani jihadis belonging to the HUM, the LET, the HUJI and the JEM have infiltrated into J&K and other parts of India and taken over the leadership of the jihadi terrorist movement directed against the Governments of India and J&K and members of the Hindu community. Amongst their stated objectives are the "liberation" of J&K and the Muslims living in other parts of India and reprisal for the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

Between March 1993 and September 2003, there were many acts of jihadi terrorism committed by these organisations in different parts of India. The LET, which has been co-ordinating the activities of the IIF directed against India, the USA and Israel since the middle of 2003 following the disruption of the command and control of the Al Qaeda by the US troops operating in Afghanistan, has been in the forefront of many of these incidents.

Since September,2003, when the LET organised two simultaneous explosions in a public place in Mumbai resulting in the death of over 20 innocent civilians, there was no major act of jihadi terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K. However, the Indian security agencies and the Police of different Indian States had foiled planned terrorist strikes by the LET in Dehra Dun and Bangalore. They had also arrested an Indian Muslim belonging to the LET when he returned to New Delhi after allegedly attending a training course in marine engineering at Singapore. Before going to Singapore, he was reportedly employed in a factory of the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd at Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.

The investigations into these incidents brought out that the LET, which had previously been using mostly Pakistani nationals for its acts of jihadi terrorism in India, had been making inroads in recruiting members of the Indian Muslim community for use in future. While there have been innumerable acts of jihadi terrorism, including many involving acts of suicide or suicidal terrorism in J&K and other parts of India, committed by Pakistani jihadi organisations which support bin Laden's pan-Islamic objectives and are members of his IIF, there has till now been no instance of an act of jihadi terrorism in Indian territory by the Al Qaeda itself, which is largely an Arab organisation. This is generally attributed to the lack of support by the Indian Muslims to the Al Qaeda.

There have so far been only three pieces of evidence relating to possible Al Qaeda activities in India. Following the arrest of Abu Zubaidah, a Palestinian belonging to the Al Qaeda from a guest house of the LET at Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab in March,2002, sections of the Pakistani media had reported that before crossing over into Pakistan and joining the Al Qaeda, he had undergone a computer training course at Pune in India. In the late 1990s, the Indian Police had claimed to have foiled an Al Qaeda attempt to direct a terrorist strike against one of the US consular missions in India through a jihadi terrorist infiltrated from Bangladesh. The report of the US National Commission, which had enquired into the 9/11 terrorist strikes in US territory, has referred to a visit made to India by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), the alleged co-ordinator of the 9/11 terrorist strikes, but it was not able to establish why he came to India.

In the purported statements emanating from bin Laden and his No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri since 9/11, India and its Hindu community had come in for criticism only in one statement of al-Zawahiri. bin Laden's statements, which articulate the anger of the Al Qaeda against the US and its Western and Muslim allies such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan, have been intriguingly free of references to India.

However, web sites of various jihadi organisations associated with Al Qaeda and the IIF have recently seen some chatter critical of India's close relations with the US and the participation of India in the recent international conference on Iraq held in Brussels.

Recently, reports from sources in Pakistan have been indicating that the responsibility for the jihad against the US in Iraq have been taken over by freshly-recruited Saudi nationals, estimated to number about 2,500 and that the Pakistani and Arab jihadis, who had gone to Iraq from Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2003, have been asked by the Al Qaeda and the IIF to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan and step up acts of terrorism in Afghanistan and India's J&K. Since April 2005, there has been an escalation of acts of jihadi terrorism in Afghanistan and J&K following the return of these elements from Iraq.

The Babri Masjid issue came again to the forefront during a recent visit to Pakistan undertaken by Mr.L.K.Advani, the leader of the BJP and of the opposition in the Indian Parliament. Mr.Advani, who had been present in Ayodhya at the time of the demolition of the masjid, was questioned about the incident. In reply, he described it as the saddest day of his life. Many of the BJP supporters in India strongly objected to his reply and this has become a major controversial issue in his party

It is against this background that one has to analyse the foiled terrorist strike at Ayodhya on July 5. This incident is comparable to the foiled terrorist strike against the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Specific intelligence on the planned strike against the Parliament House was available, but not the date of the operation. Despite this, the security forces guarding the Parliament were taken by surprise when the terrorists penetrated the outer security perimeter with ease. However, the security forces reacted quickly and mowed down the terrorists before they could penetrate the inner security perimeter.

It would appear that while there was general intelligence available about the LET's plans for terrorist strikes in different parts of India, no specific intelligence of the planned attack in Ayodhya was available. The terrorists---six of them, with one of them reportedly a suicide bomber driving a commandeered vehicle filled with explosives---managed to penetrate the outer security perimeter of the heavily-guarded holy premises. The CRPF guards showed quick reflexes and foiled the attempt of the terrorists to penetrate the inner security perimeter. The alleged suicide bomber and his five associates died in the thwarted operation.

The identities of the terrorists----whether Indian or Pakistani nationals--- and of the organisation or organisations to which they belonged have not so far been established. From indications available so far, it is evident that this was an instance of attempted suicidal reprisal terrorism tactically meant to avenge the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, and strategically meant to provoke Hindu-Muslim clashes.

Such acts of reprisal terrorism have been the hallmark of the Al Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadi organisations, which are members of the IIF. There is, therefore, a possibility that one or more of these Pakistani organisations was partly or fully involved in the attack. It remains to be seen whether any Indian member of these organisations and Pakistan's ISI had any role in this incident.

Recently, there has been an escalation of acts of jihadi terrorism in Afgfhanistan and India. The Pakistani secuity forces have also been unsuccessful in their professed attempts to trace bin Laden and other survivors of the Al Qaeda and the leaders of the Taliban. It is also evident that the solumn commitment made by Musharraf to Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, the then Indian Prime Minister, in January,2004, that he would not allow any territory controlled by the Government of Pakistan to be used for acts of terrorism against India has not been honoured.

Is this due to the unwillingness or inability of Musharraf to act against the terrorists still operating from Pakistani territory in Afghanistan and India? It is difficult to answer this question at present. Whatever may be the ultimate truth, the continued availability of Pakistani sanctuaries to jihadi terrorists of various hues trying to destabilise Afghanistan and India should be a cause for serious concern to the international community and India's national security managers.

The Indo-Pakistan peace process initiated in January 2004 has not had any impact so far on the motivation and determination of the jihadi terrorists, who are determined to keep up their jihad against the US and India, with the clandestine support of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment, if possible and without it, if necessary. The jihad being waged from Pakistani territory against the US, Afghanistan and India for different reasons shows no signs of abating.

The Government of India has already ordered the tightening of physical security measures in all important places of worship, which could become the targets of the jihadi terrorists. It is equally important to similarly strengthen security measures for possible American targets of the jihadi terrorists. Till now, India has been remarkably free of the activities of the Al Qaeda in its territory. This may not last long in view of the high-profile development of Indo-US relations.

The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Source: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1440, July 6, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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