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Blasts of revenge

Print edition : Aug 29, 2008 T+T-

In Gujarat, the police grapple with a huge terror threat as it becomes clear that revenge is the motive.

in Ahmedabad and Surat

MORE than anyone else, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi should know there would be attempts to avenge the post-Godhra riots. Yet, a day after the Bangalore blasts, he boasted at a public meeting in Chetpur, Saurashtra, that while Jaipur and Bangalore may be attacked, terrorists dare not step into Gujarat. That evening, 21 bombs exploded in various parts of Ahmedabad, four of them in Modis Assembly constituency. The next day, July 27, as many as 17 bombs were found in Surat. In the following days, 11 more devices were discovered in the city. The Surat bombs were placed in highly congested areas of the city and could have caused heavy damage. None of them exploded owing to faulty wiring of the integrated circuit chips.

That the intention of the bombers in Ahmedabad was to destabilise, cause terror and seek revenge is obvious. An extract from The Rise of Jihad, a 14-page manifesto of the Indian Mujahideen (I.M.), which was e-mailed to a television channel minutes before the bombs exploded in Ahmedabad on July 26, said the outfit was raising the illustrious banner of jehad 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 Inshah-Allah terminate your survival on this land.

The I.M., a loose coalition of members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, claimed responsibility for the Ahmedabad blasts. It has explained in its manifesto why it wants to strike. In the light of the injustice and wrongs on the Muslims of Gujarat, we advance our jehad and call all our brethren under it to unite and answer these irresolute kafireen (infidels) of India, the manifesto says. The I.M. warns of future attacks, saying the police disturbed us by arresting, imprisoning, and torturing our brothers in the name of SIMI.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the I.M. means business and that an elaborate plan is in place. The place of the next target will be revealed either when the next bomb explodes or when the police crack the militant groups hydra-like network, which seems to grow across the country. A seemingly tough task, given that the attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated with every strike.

Data collected from the Gujarat Police reveal that the State is short of manpower. So even if Modi wanted to be prepared, there was only that much he could do. According to the Home Ministrys norms, Gujarat requires 2.49 lakh police personnel. The State has a contingent of 52,432. The last police recruitment took place in 2000. For instance, Ahmedabad needs a 10,000-strong police force, but its current strength is 7,500.

Two weeks after the Gujarat blasts, forensic experts concluded that the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used in Ahmedabad and Surat were identical in design to those used in the May 2008 serial bombings in Jaipur; the November 2007 attacks on trial-court buildings in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad; the August 2007 bombings at Gokul Chat Bhandra in Hyderabad; and the March 2006 attack on the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi. Furthermore, the I.M. sent e-mails to these cities, in much the same way it did before the Ahmedabad blasts.

The Gujarat Police said: Evidence suggests that either the same bomb-makers built the IEDs or the people who made them were trained by the same experts.

Ever since the February 2002 communal pogrom in Gujarat, there have been several attempts to seek revenge. However, this was the first operation to be executed successfully, that too on such a major scale. The planning and details of the bombs planted in Ahmedabad send out a clear message that this is pay-back time for the killing of more than 2,000 Muslims in the 2002 riots, says Achyut Yagnik of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, Ahmedabad. All the bombs went off in BJP-held constituencies. They seemed to know the geography of the city. They have definitely targeted the BJP and its leaders, says Yagnik.

Nineteen bombs exploded in the eastern part of the old city of Ahmedabad. Four exploded in Narendra Modis constituency. One of them, a car bomb, was parked in a hospital compound. Four others were placed in Bapunagar, better known as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togdias backyard. One bomb was placed in Sarkej, the constituency of Amit Shah, Minister of State for Home and Modis wingman.

The areas where bombs exploded were Hatkeshwar, Sadar Patel diamond market in Bapunagar, Narol, Maninagar, Ishanpur, Saraspur, Sarangpur, Raipur, the Civil Hospital, Sarkej, and Juhaapura. Most of the bombs were placed at traffic circles and bus stops. One device was placed on a moving bus and another near a Hanuman temple, which hundreds of devotees throng on Saturdays. The areas chosen were both residential and commercial and were definitely the most congested parts of Ahmedabad.

The maximum death toll was at Civil Hospital, where a car bomb exploded 40 minutes after the first bomb went off. It is speculated that the bombers timed it in such a way because they expected the hospital to be crowded with people bringing in the victims from other blast sites.

Initial reports say the bombs were composed of ammonium nitrate and fuel. Liquefied petroleum gas cylinders were used in the car bombs to increase their intensity. The other explosives were packed into tiffin boxes and strapped to bicycles. Some bombs were triggered by using alarm clocks. Others were fitted to the IED with a Thai-manufactured integrated circuit that is used for remote control toys. The police believe cellphones were then used to trigger the bombs.

The police say Surat may have been targeted because it is a commercial hub.Varacha Road, where most of the bombs were found, is in the heart of the diamond-cutting district. Many local people believe that the bombs were a hoax and a tactic adopted by Modi to divert attention from the controversy involving him over the Babu Asaram Ashram incident. Two five-year-old boys from the ashram have been missing for a month. Local people believe the Asaram cult used them in some ritual. Ahmedabad observed a bandh against the mysterious disappearances, but Modi has not taken any action. The Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly closely connected to the ashram.

It is believed that one Maulana Sufiyan Patangia, along with a few prominent terrorists from Gujarat such as Rasool Khan, were behind the serial blasts. Patangia ran the Lal Masjid seminary in Ahmedabad. Its students follow the principles of the Tablighi Jammat, which insists they give up frivolous pastimes such as watching television and cinema.

The bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York had a profound effect on Patangia, and he set up the Idara-e-Fadlullah-ul-Muslimeen (Institution of Charity for Muslims) to educate his students and volunteers. Members of the institution closely monitored the happenings in Afghanistan on the Internet. During the Gujarat riots, Patangia visited Saudi Arabia, seeking financial support for his community back home and also to seek revenge.

It was at this time that he made contact with Rasool Khan Parti and his brother Idris. Parti is wanted in Gujarat for his role in a bomb blast in Nehrunagar on May 1, 2005, and for allegedly recruiting young men to be trained as jehadis in Pakistan. According to intelligence reports, Patangia, Parti and Idris met in May 2002 to plan operation revenge.

That month, in the first of the many retaliatory acts by the Gujarat jehadis, five bombs exploded on buses in Ahmedabad injuring 26 people. Meanwhile, Rasool Khan was arranging for Patangias students to travel to Pakistan for training.

During the riots, Gujarats Home Minister, Haren Pandya, led one of the biggest instances of mob violence in Ahmedabad. In March 2003, he was shot dead. The police believe the assassin belonged to Patangias team.

A year later, in June, the Lashkar despatched two Pakistani nationals to execute a fidayeen attack in Gujarat. They were killed in an encounter before they could complete the operation. In February 2006, SIMI operative Zulfikar Fayyaz Kagzi planted a suitcase bomb on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Express train. A timer circuit defect resulted in the bomb exploding 12 hours later by which time the suitcase had been thrown in a corner of the station. In May 2006, the police seized two dozen kilos of RDX, along with rifles and ammunition from what they believed was SIMIs unit in Aurangabad. The material was to be used in a strike in Gujarat.

The police believe Patangia used his local network to carry out the July 26 bombing. Meanwhile, the Ahmedabad police have arrested Abdul Halim, who has apparently admitted to being an associate of Abdul Karim Tunda, well known for his bomb-making skills and the probable creator of the devices used in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Halim is the president of the Marakat-E-Hadeez, an organisation founded by Tunda. Another lead they believe they have is that Gulal Abdul Kada Sheikh, charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, currently serving term in Sabarmati jail, may have links with Rasool Khan or Parti. Sheikh may have used his local network to help carry out the blasts.

At a time when there are few answers to the Gujarat attack, the one success the police have had is in confirming that the four cars used in the blasts were stolen from Navi Mumbai. A WagonR and a Maruti 800 were used in Ahmedabad. Two WagonRs packed with explosives were found abandoned in Surat. The cars had fake Vadodara number plates.

Another lead was traced to Navi Mumbai when the police found that the e-mails Internet protocol address led to a resident in Navi Mumbai. When they raided the house they found it was rented by an American. According to the local police, the American had complained in July of receiving a massive wireless Internet bill. The perpetrators had probably used his unsecured network to send the mail.

The I.M. also threatened Maharashtra in its e-mail saying it would attack the State to protest against the alleged state reserve police force attacks on our masjids and our homes, the insult of our Quran and your enmity with the Muslims in Digras and the nearby areas in Yavatmal and of the burning alive of three Muslims in Jalna with the backing of the police. It also raised issues such as troubles faced by students of madrassas and by women on Mumbais local trains.