Driven by hate

Published : Aug 29, 2008 00:00 IST

The terrorist attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad form part of a jehadist campaign that has its roots in communal hatred.

in New Delhi

WE are closed for the summer, says the little girl at the gates of the Shah Waliullah Madrassa. You need to come back in two weeks time. She goes back to balancing herself on the seminarys balustrade, with all the seriousness of a gymnast training for the horizontal bars.

Politics is not welcome at the Lal Masjid seminary in Ahmedabads Kalupur area. Its students learn the six principles of Islam as enunciated by Mohammad Illyas, the founder of the Tablighi Jamaat, and are exhorted to give up frivolities such as television and cinema. But it was here that the first seeds of the jehadist movement in Gujarat were planted. It flowered into Julys terror bombings.

Ever since last months bombings in Ahmedabad and Bangalore one of dozens of plots led by young Indian jehadists who say they are fighting to avenge the 2002 communal pogrom in Gujarat the media have not tired themselves of informing us that jehadist terrorism has taken a dramatic new turn. Instead of Pakistan-based terrorists, it is claimed, a new generation of Indian jehadists is spearheading the attacks.

In fact, the claim is nonsensical: not one single Islamist urban terror cell since the 1993 serial bombings of Mumbai which, as now, were carried out to avenge a communal massacre has not involved a preponderance of Indian nationals. But the claim does show how little Islamist terror groups, and the politics that has driven their growth, are understood in India.

One afternoon in March 2002, Feroze Abdul Latif Ghaswala watched 40 victims of the anti-Muslim communal pogrom being buried near his aunts home in Ahmedabad. Back home in Mumbai, the automobile mechanic saw a printout of a Lashkar-e-Taiba pamphlet, with a picture of riot victim Qutbuddin Ansari begging for his life. Do you think he should have a gun? it asked.

He did. In September 2003, Ghaswala volunteered for training in Pakistan with a group led by Rahil Abdul Rehman Sheikh, the architect of the Mumbai serial bombing in 2006. When the Delhi Police caught up with him in the summer of 2006, Ghaswala, along with computer engineer Ali Mohammad Cheepa, had just received a consignment of military-grade explosives from the Lashkar for a major bombing in Ahmedabad.

Ghaswala was typical of the dozens of young men from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka who trained with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami in the wake of the 2002 massacres.

No one knows just how many made the journey, but police and intelligence experts estimate their number to be over 200. In Hyderabad, for instance, organised crime networks facilitated the training of figures such as Mohammad Shahid Bilal and Mohammad Amzad, who are thought to have executed a series of bombings in the city last year. Bangalore saw Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists such as Peedical Abdul Shibly set up front organisations to talent-spot for recruitment. Maharashtra, too, saw intense recruitment through the jehadists within SIMI.

In Gujarat, the little seminary squeezed into a packed lane off the Kalupur clock-tower was where the story began. Maulana Sufiyan Patangia, who ran the seminary, often travelled to Saudi Arabia, seeking support for his students. After the Gujarat earthquake on January 26, 2001, the cleric put these networks into use to raise funds for relief work. It was his first foray into the secular world.

Al Qaedas bombing of New York and Washington, D.C., gave Patangia a new cause. In the wake of the United States-led war on the Taliban, Patangia declared that Islam was in danger. He set up a study group, the Idara-e-Fadlullah-ul-Muslimeen (IFM), to educate his earthquake-relief volunteers. IFM members monitored events in Afghanistan on the Internet and listened to tapes of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Mohammad Masood Azhars speeches.

Patangia used to be jokingly called Mullah Omar after the Taliban leader. His second-in-command, Suhail Khan, adopted Osama bin Laden-style headgear, acquiring the nickname Chhota Osama, or Little Osama, in the process. In February 2002, when the communal pogrom in Gujarat began, Patangia was in Saudi Arabia on his annual pilgrimage. He turned to South Asian Islamists there for help to defend his community and to exact revenge. Abdul Bari, a one-time Hyderabad resident who is among the Lashkar-e-Taibas top financiers, put up Rs.3,75,000. Two Saudi-based Jaish-e-Mohammad fundraisers of Hyderabad origin, Farhatullah Ghauri and Abdul Rehman, threw in another Rs.5,00,000.

Most important, though, Patangia made contact with Rasool Khan Parti nicknamed with the Ahmedabad argot for contractor because of his work for top Gujarat mafioso Abdul Latif Sheikh and his Pakistan-based boss, Dawood Ibrahim Kaksar. In May 2002, Rasool Khan and his brother Idris Khan met Patangia in Mumbai to discuss just how vengeance could be extracted.

Late in May 2002, five bombs went off on buses in Ahmedabad, injuring 26 people. It was the first act of violence by Gujarat-based jehadists. In December, Khan arranged for eight of Patangias volunteers to travel to Pakistan for training. Along with other groups of young people from Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore, the Ahmedabad jehadists flew to Pakistan through Dhaka, Kathmandu, Dubai and Bangkok.

Soon, the vengeance they sought was delivered. Gujarats Home Minister Haren Pandya had led some of the most murderous mobs in Ahmedabad during the pogrom. Just 13 months later, he was dead shot, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) detectives later determined, by a hit team directed by Patangia. Nine of the 12 assassins received life terms last year.

Despite the CBIs successes, plans for large-scale reprisal attacks in Gujarat continued apace. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Maharashtra-based SIMI operatives took the lead helped by a steady flow of new recruits.

In June 2004, the Lashkar-e-Taiba despatched two Pakistani nationals from Jammu and Kashmir to execute a fidayeen attack in Gujarat. Jishan Johar, a resident of Gujranwala in Pakistan, and Amjad Ali Rana, who hailed form Sargodha, were killed in a controversial encounter in Ahmedabad along with SIMI activist Javed Sheikh and his friend, Ishrat Jehan Raza.

Maharashtra-based SIMI bomb-maker Zulfikar Fayyaz Kagzi built a sophisticated suitcase-bomb, which was planted on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad express train in February 2006. An error in the timer circuit led the bomb to explode 12 hours after its scheduled detonation time, by which time cleaning staff had deposited the suitcase in an empty corner of the Ahmedabad railway station. And in May 2006, the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) prevented a potentially catastrophic bombing in Gujarat, penetrating an Aurangabad-based SIMI unit, which was in an advanced stage of preparation for serial bomb strikes.

Despite these anti-terrorism successes, though, the campaign went on. Jehadists in several States, many of whom had trained together, collaborated fluidly across State lines, pooling resources, cadre and most important ideas. It is still unclear if the jehadist groups that carried out the attacks in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat had any degree of operational coordination, but this much is certain: the perpetrators would have known each other and their objectives.

Some commentators appear profoundly surprised at the rise of such a large-scale jehadist project in India. It has, for the most part, been cast as an import from Pakistan or West Asia. In fact, jehadism has long been a well-established part of the spectrum of Muslim political responses to political and economic crisis a marginal one, but important none the less.

It is interesting to consider the Shah Waliullah seminary itself named after one of the most influential theologians of South Asian Islam. Shah Waliullah Muhaddith Dehlavi lived from 1703 to 1762, the period when, after the death of Aurangzeb, Mughal power went into decline. Revered across a broad spectrum of Muslim sectarian opinion, Waliullah is seen as having laid the foundations of an intellectual renaissance, emphasising education, social reform, and purification of the religion.

However, as the historian Ayesha Jalal has shown, Waliullah also pushed for the sharpening of the boundaries between Hindus and Muslims, and between orthodoxy and heresy. His identification of Mughal rule with the power of Islam led him to write to Muslim rulers and notables calling for a jehad against the rising Jat and Maratha powers, as well as measures against Hindus and followers of the Shia faith. He even wrote to the Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Abdali, calling on him to invade India.

For the most part jehadists saw themselves as responding to existential threats just as they do today. Stephen F. Dale, for example, has pointed to the use of the notions of jehad and shahadat (martyrdom) to protect what he calls a cultural-ideological Islamic frontier along the Malabar coast.

In response to the destruction of the Muslim mercantile monopoly of the India-Arabia spice trade by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, the historian Zayn al-Din al-Mabari compiled the Tuhfat al-Mujahiden fi Bad Ahwal al-Purtukaliyyin (History of the Mujahideen), hoping to inspire the faithful to undertake a jehad against the worshippers of the Cross. Al-Mabari recorded the evils which the Portuguese inflicted upon the Muslims of Malabar as well as a brief account of the laws and religious merit of the jehad. Well into the 18th century, East India Company records describe fidayeen suicide-squad attacks along the Malabar coast, on occasion targeting religious congregations.

During the great rebellion of 1857, Indian insurgents fighting imperial British troops included among their ranks self-described jehadis, including at least one regiment of suicide ghazis, who vowed to fight until they met death at the hands of the infidel. While it would, perhaps, be misleading to read this form of jehadi resistance in the context of our times, the fact remains that the presence of the ghazis, or Islamic warriors, caused Hindu-Muslim communal friction of a kind that is startlingly modern.

All through the freedom movement, too, there were small jehadist offshoots that flourished under the great umbrella of the anti-colonial mass movement. What we are seeing today, it would appear, is a wholly predictable consequence of the murderous communalisation of Indias civic life.

Has the vengeance that jehadists like these sought been delivered? Not quite. Minutes before the bombing, the Indian Mujahideen a Lashkar-SIMI front organisation, which also took responsibility for earlier bombings in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh sent out a manifesto explaining just what it now seeks.

According to the manifesto, the Indian Mujahideen is raising the illustrious banner of Jihad against the Hindus and all those who fight and resist us, and here we begin our revenge with the help and Permission of Allah a terrifying revenge of our blood, our lives and our honour that will Insha-Allah terminate your survival on this land.

The manifesto calls on Hindus to realise that the falsehood of your 33 crore dirty mud idols and the blasphemy of your deaf, dumb mute and naked idols of ram, krishna and hanuman [sic .; capitalisation as in original throughout] are not at all going to save your necks from being slaughtered by our hands. It demands that Hindus change their attitudes, lest another Ghauri shakes your foundations, and lest another Ghaznavi massacres you, proving your blood to be the cheapest of all mankind.

No great effort is needed to locate the intellectual genesis of this body of ideas: it draws heavily on long-standing Lashkar-e-Taiba polemic. Indeed, the manifestos plea that the Lashkar-e-Taiba not take responsibility for the attacks is something of a give-away, since the terror group has never owned up to actions targeting civilians.

In 2003, for instance, the Lashkar argued on its website that violence against Muslims in India was an outcome of the core character of Hindus, who have no compassion in their religion. It was the duty of Muslims to wage jehad against Hindu oppressors, and it was the Hindu who is a terrorist.

Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed also said that the Hindu is a mean enemy and the proper way to deal with him is the one adopted by our forefathers [who] crushed them by force. Saeed made clear just as the Indian Mujahideen has that the objective of the jehad was extending Muslim control over what it saw as Muslim land. At a rally in November 1999, he promised he would not rest until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan. All those who participated in this project were promised huge places in Paradise.

SIMI, like the Indian Mujahideen, also invoked medieval conquerors in its literature. In the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, SIMI called for Muslims to avenge the act by following in the steps of the 11th century conqueror Mahmud Ghaznavi. SIMI posters appealed to God to send another Ghaznavi and thus avenge the attacks on Muslims and their mosques by attacking temples.

Local religious influences are evident. In its manifesto, the Indian Mujahideen describes itself as terrorist, an apparently odd usage. However, it suggests that the author followed the neoconservative television evangelist Zakir Naik as several past Mumbai-based Lashkar operatives such as Rahil Sheikh and Feroze Deshmukh did.

In a controversial speech on Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Naik proclaimed that if he is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him. If he is terrorising America the terrorist the biggest terrorist I am with him.

Every Muslim should be a terrorist, Naik concluded. The thing is, if he is terrorising a terrorist, he is following Islam.

Most Indian Muslims would dispute the proposition: it is not for nothing, after all, that the Indian Mujahideen manifesto devotes considerable space to railing against clerics who oppose its jehadism. But the fact remains that some numbers of young Muslims angered by discrimination, enraged by pogroms see jehadism as the sole option available to them. As scholar Ashutosh Varshney points out, the roots of this tragedy lie in the breakdown of inter-communal institutions: in a creeping religious apartheid that enveloped several major cities in the second half of the last century, decades before the pogrom.

In the weeks to come, police and intelligence investigators will have to find the perpetrators of the bombings. Politicians, however, have a far more important task: to ensure that justice and equity are placed centre stage in Indias civic life. No other way exists to bring down the intellectual infrastructure of hate, on which the jehadist campaign rests.

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