Urban terrorism in India has become synonymous with a group calling itself Indian Mujahedeen (IM) that claimed responsibility for at least four blasts this year. Added to its attacks in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and New Delhi, the latest target seems to be Mumbai on July 13.
Police believe that improvised explosive devices (IED) were used to trigger the blasts which coincided with the birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman in the 2008 Mumbai attack, an operation for which he has been sentenced to death. The latest terror attack, which claimed about 20 lives, comes only hours after two other suspected Indian Mujahedeen operatives, who provided vehicles used in the 2008 serial blasts in Gujarat that killed 56 people, were arrested in a Mumbai suburb by the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS).
Indian analysts believe that the IM emerged from militant elements in the Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) supported by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami (HUJI-B). SIMI and IM endorse the goals of Osama bin Laden and also seek to provoke an Islamist revolution by India’s Muslims. SIMI/IM has long-standing ties to global Islamist organizations, including LeT and Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami (HUJI), as well as Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Some have suggested that IM does not exist at all as an independent group but is instead an effort by Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to project an Indian face to the activities of Pakistan-based militant groups.
According to police reports, IM is a network of three groups active in different parts of the country: Gujarat, the United Province, and Mumbai. There is a twelve-member core group, according to unconfirmed, leaked Indian intelligence sources, but the only known member is Altaf Subhan Qureshi (alias Tauqeer).
The largest group is code-named Call of Islam. IM recruits tend to be lower- and middle-class Muslims opposed to both Hindu nationalism and Western values; IM also claims leaders and cadres from professional backgrounds, especially from the IT sector.
In claiming responsibility for the blasts, the group has clearly laid out its short- and long-term objectives. The immediate goals are retribution for injustices meted out to the Muslim minority in India including the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, the dispute in Kashmir, and the alleged discriminatory attitude of the police.
Instead of targeting specific leaders and officials involved in the above issues directly, the group seeks to undermine the Indian state’s will and ability to function by creating an environment of fear. The long-term objective is the establishment of a South Asia Islamic Caliphate in alignment with other jihadist groups like the LeT, HM, and JeM.
SIMI is believed to have enjoyed considerable international support, including that of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) in Saudi Arabia. The organization has chapters in 55 countries and was founded by Osama bin Laden’s nephew. It holds conferences and distributes literature that promote jihad as well as raises funds for terrorist groups such as Hamas. WAMY has been tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
India’s security concerns are now growing given the rising number of attacks and use of more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IED) like those in Iraq. The key question is whether the Indian jihadist groups can move from a strategy of sporadic attacks to the ability to launch a full-scale war. And of course the backing and safe haven these groups get from Pakistan make the problem far more complex.