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New Face of Terrorism

October 2003
New Face of Terrorism

No longer are Pakistan and its insidious ISI the sole suspects

where terrorism in India is concerned.



Terrorism in India has raised its ugly head once again, this time with a frighteningly new face.

A spate of seven recent bomb blasts in the commercial capital of India, Mumbai, including the horrific attack of August 25 that left 52 people dead, has thrown up some disturbing new facts ? that the new terrorists are emerging from the ranks of disenchanted mainstream Indian Muslims. They include middle-class educated MBAs, doctors, managers, lecturers and software engineers who have left their homes, families and jobs to hit back at the system that they increasingly perceive as unjust.

"The fact that they are educated makes them that much more dangerous as they follow a logical conviction," reads a comment. "The 9/11 attacks were also executed by terrorists who were literate and belonged to well-settled families. It is not just about economics or religion, it is about being wronged."

To understand the emergence of the new terrorist in India, one needs to look at some recent facts. Post 9/11, U.S. intelligence has traced international terror modules to Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and some of the Arab countries, but not a single report has linked them to Indian Muslims, who number over 150 million.

In a television interview India's deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had taken pride in the fact that there was not a single Indian Muslim among the Al-Qaeda suspects at Camp X-Ray, in Guantanamo Bay. Further, there was no Indian Muslim in the list of international suspects.

Analysts have credited India's secular democracy, which provides Muslims with an outlet to vent their grievances, for this remarkable record. U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has also voiced opinions clearing Indian Muslims of any involvement in the international web of Islamic terrorism. Indeed, several Indian Muslims have flourished in various professions, whether as film stars, cricketers, politicians or businessmen.

Until now, the Indian police have traced the roots of earlier terror attacks in India to two sources ? Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and the Mumbai underworld led by Dawood Ibrahim, headquartered in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, with interests in the Indian film industry, drugs, real estate, and prostitution.

After the recent blasts in Mumbai, however, the police have painted a completely different picture ? that the terrorists are emerging from the ranks of well-off Indian Muslims from different parts of the country.

The profiles of a few have been released: people who have chucked jobs as software professionals in India's Silicon Valley, Bangalore; forensic specialists; men and women with families and children.

This sinister trend ushers India into an entirely new phase that does not bode well for communal relations. While Hindu-Muslim riots have been unfortunately quite common in post independence India, it is only now that a fringe of Indian Muslims has begun to be associated with terrorism in the country.

What gives? Why the sudden emergence of terrorist inclinations in a Muslim population that was thus far cited as a model in the international arena? Could it be that post Gujarat the community has been shaken to the core and no longer has faith in the ability of democracy to mete out justice? A careful observation of the pulse of the Muslim population sure suggests so. Worse, they no longer see the Indian state as a protector.

What was different in Gujarat was that no longer were the two communities rioting against each other. The key issue was that the state government was implicated as a collaborator at worst, or a mute spectator at best, of the violence that saw several middle-class and well-off Muslims being burnt alive and women raped. Even more damning for the Muslims was the fact that in a brute expression of Hindu majority in Gujarat, the same BJP government was voted back to power.

Following the victory, there have been several subtle indications by the BJP-led Atal Behari Vajpayee government at the center that the Gujarat model of communal polarization may be re-played by the party. As a result, the Muslim minority is feeling very unsettled.

No matter the reasons, terrorism can never be justified in a civilized society. But that doesn't mean it can be discounted or ignored either. Because the message that it carries, whether in India or anywhere else in the world, is the same: The Israelis may have superior military power over the Palestinians, the U.S. may be the most powerful nation in the world, the Hindus may be the majority here, but unless there is a sense of justice, nobody is safe.

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