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The New Jihadists in India Are Indians

New America Media, News Analysis, Sandip Roy Posted: Jul 28, 2008

Editor's note: The bomb blasts in Ahmedabad over the weekend announced the arrival of the sleeper cell terrorism in India, where domestic grievances trump territorial disputes. NAM editor Sandip Roy monitors Indian news for New America Media. He is also the host of UpFront radio talk show, on 91.7 FM.

Five minutes before the bomb blasts that rocked the Indian city of Ahmedabad over the weekend, a television station there received an email from a group that called itself the Indian Mujahideen.

The group seems hell-bent on proving their Indian bona fides. "There is no reference to Kashmir in the email," points out an article in The Times of India. The blasts came on the anniversary to mark India's victory over Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil War, notes The Telegraph, but the email makes no allusion to that either.

Kashmir, long a bone of contention between India and Pakistan, has been the rallying cry for ISI, the Pakistani secret service, to recruit militants who could execute strikes against India. India has long railed against cross-border terrorism and asked Washington to pressure Pakistan into closing down training camps within its borders. But Kashmir is too much of an international symbol of Indo-Pak tension.

Instead, the Indian Mujahideen, in its email to the TV station, holds its grudges against the Indian justice system that, it claims, is biased against Muslims. It complains that, "the innocent Muslims arrested in the (Mumbai) bomb blast case are being tried for years and years." It even went out of its way to "request" to Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist organizations to "not claim the responsibility" for these attacks. (However late breaking news suggest intelligence agencies are looking at some "masterminds" in Pakistan though they also appear to be originally from India.)

This is "ISI-sponsored Indianisation of Jihad," writes security expert B. Raman in the online portal Rediff.com.

Indeed, the notion of "sleeper cells" in India is changing the face of terrorism for ordinary Indians.

For years India has prided itself on the fact that despite its own bloody history of communal tensions, its 151 million Muslims have for the most part stayed clear of pan-Islamic militant movements. One of President Bush's oft-quoted statements in Indian media is how he introduced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to wife Laura, exclaiming, "Not one Indian Muslim has joined al Qaeda."

Security expert B. Raman says that might be changing.

He contends that Pakistan's ISI is trying to set up militant organizations in India with recruits from the Indian Muslim community, with no Pakistani involvement. "It is only a question of time before the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Al Qaeda itself set up their own outfits or sleeper cells in India consisting only of Indian Muslims so that these too could be projected as indigenous Muslim organisations of India," warns Raman.

It's obviously something that worries Indian Muslims. The U.S. based Indian Muslim Council was quick to condemn the attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. "The authorities should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation immediately and refrain from adopting the usual template of blaming Muslim sounding virtual groups whose existence or lack thereof cannot be proven," said its president, Rasheed Ahmed.

But the genie is out of the bottle. The Hindustan Times reports that Muslims in Ahmedabad "huddled indoors" as news of the blasts spread. Gujarat was the scene of bloody riots in 2002 that left at least 1,000 Muslims dead. Maulana M.A. Sheikh, a senior teacher at the Jameah Darul Quran Madrassa, which is a couple of yards from one of the blast sites told the Hindustan Times that the Madrassa had just organized a workshop on "steps to be taken to build bridges between the Hindus and the Muslims."

"Now see what has happened," he said.

Though the Indian Mujahideen has been touting its Indian credentials and the Pakistani prime minister has issued his pro forma condemnation of the attacks, Indo-Pak tensions have been on the rise again. A recent explosion near the Indian embassy in Kabul was blamed by India as the handiwork of the ISI. The Telegraph says there have been at least three violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir since then. "Terrorist attacks within the country add greater tension to relations between India and Pakistan just as they are beginning to slip back to the discomfort zone," warns Sujan Datta in The Telegraph.

Terrorists have struck before bridges, the parliament house, the Bombay Stock Exchange have all been targets of terror. But "it takes a special kind of savagery to bomb a hospital," exclaims an editorial in The Hindu, which then points out that the government responses have been ineffective. "The truth is that not a single urban terrorist has been arrested in street checks; nor have searches at shopping complexes led to the detection of even one bomb."

That "special kind of savagery" might clear the way for "special" measures.

"India has entered the era of Easy Terrorism; bombs can be made for as little as Rs 25 in a few minutes," writes Neelesh Mishra in The Hindustan Times. Mishra suggests ten ways to fight terror.

One way is turning shopkeepers into sleuths, so they can report on people buying materials like fertilizers that can be used to make bombs. Other suggestions include: a national database of suspects, a network of surveillance cameras (5000 such cameras in New Delhi would cost less than a single Bollywood film, writes Mishra) and a national law of terror.

What Mishra is saying is the terrorist is not just a border-crossing shadowy jihadist. He could be your neighbor. He is Indian.

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