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by Olivier Guitta


The resignation August 18, 2008 of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is going to have an impact on Islamabad's Indian neighbor, but whether that impact will be positive or negative remains to be seen.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency's alleged involvement in terror attacks against Indian targets may continue unabated. On July 25, five successive blasts occurred in India's technological capital Bangalore, killing one person and wounding 15. The next day, 17 back-to-back explosions took place in Ahmadabad and then two more attacks occurred in the very hospitals where the injured were brought to. As a result, 49 people died and more than 200 were wounded.

These latest terror attacks unfortunately confirm that India is a target of Islamist groups: from January 2004 to March 2007, 3,674 people died in terrorist attacks in India.

A little-known outfit called the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) claimed responsibility for the Ahmadabad terror attacks.

According to Indian intelligence officials, members of the IM are militants from banned terror groups such as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI), and al-Qaida affiliate Pakistan-based Lashkar e Toiba (LeT). These groups closely cooperate: for instance LeT could provide the funds while SIMI takes care of the logistical support, and so forth.

The connection between IM and SIMI could not be clearer: in their email to authorities IM demands the release of SIMI militants held in prison for terror charges.

For the time being, the Islamist extremist cells are still isolated from each other and one cannot really talk about a network. Yet an increase in the number of incidents -- in Delhi alone, 75 incidents implicating Islamist groups were counted between 2004 and 2006 -- coupled with more and more frequent seizures of weapons and explosives prove an increasing and worrisome activity among militants.

Two countries have been behind the radicalization of some in the Indian Muslim community: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The radicalization of the Indian Muslim youth started in the late 1980s when scores of young Muslims from Jammu and Kashmir traveled to Pakistan to be trained and armed by the ISI.

For instance, SIMI was founded in 1977, but really took off after the destruction of the mosque in Ajodhya on Dec. 6, 1992. SIMI, banned in 2001, was largely financed by Saudi Arabia. It had relations with Islamist organizations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Gulf countries. Some of its leaders in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s recruited militants from among the thousands of Indian Muslims living there. Active in several Indian states, the SIMI has not hidden its admiration for Bin Laden. In all the recent terror attacks, the Indian police implicated ex-SIMI members whom they accuse of either having helped operatives coming from Pakistan or having trained there.

The other prominent Islamist movement in India is the Tablighi Jamaat. It was founded in 1927 by a religious man from the deobandi (fundamentalist) school. It describes itself as an apolitical movement for predication, but it is widely considered as a powerful recruiting force for extremism.

It manages a network of madrassa and according to Muhammad Lukman, director of one of these madrassas in the suburbs of Delhi, "In Delhi, the Tablighi Jamaat has 400,000 members."

SIMI and the Tablighi Jamaat, which are very present in the lower middle class, can create a political environment favorable to jihad. The Muslim community is allegedly no longer immune to al-Qaida's ideology. While no Indian Muslim has been so far implicated in an Islamist operation, the arrest of young local Muslims for their involvement in recent bloody terror attacks in India is raising concern of a potential change of behavior.

According to Subhas Kapila, consultant of the South Asia Analysis Group: "The pan-Islamism did not reach the point where Indian extremists would have a link with al-Qaida. But India is today besieged. If the government fails to look at some of the worries of the Muslim community, then I think that Islamist extremism will increase and move toward terrorism."

Limited to a tiny minority of Muslims, the militant pan-Islamism has entered India and as M.K. Subramian, member of the National Security Council, stated right after the Mumbai terror attacks of July 2006, which killed 200 people: "One cannot exclude the presence of local al-Qaida sympathizers."

Al-Qaida has not perpetrated a terror attack in India even though Khalid Sheikh Muhammad stated that al-Qaida wanted to target the Israeli embassy in New Delhi but could not pull it off. Interestingly, for the first time in India, al-Qaida technology (integrated circuit chips) was used to assemble the bombs that detonated in Bangalore.

India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, numbering 140 million. The recent terror attacks, plus the various riots that took place in the past few years are bringing back fears that extensive fighting between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority could emerge. This coupled with Pakistan's nefarious influence could make the India-Pakistan region the next conflict area.

Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (

This article appeared August 25, 2008 in Middle East Times


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