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Soft target

Print edition : Aug 29, 2008 T+T-
Bomb experts collecting samples from the blast site at Nayandanahalli on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway on July 27.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Bomb experts collecting samples from the blast site at Nayandanahalli on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway on July 27.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Low-intensity bombs go off in Bangalore, bringing into focus the question of police preparedness.

HARDLY a month before the eight low-intensity explosions in Bangalore on July 25, a senior intelligence officer predicted that it was only a matter of time before the garden city witnessed some form of terrorist activity. His thoughts, though not based on any definitive evidence, were in keeping with what he called the targeting of happening cities. You dont hear of terrorist activities in Patna or Kolkata. But Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Surat these are the cities that represent an economically vibrant India. And this is where terrorists will continue to strike.

The damage to property and human loss were minimal (one person died and seven were injured), but this was not because of police preparedness. The police admit that with the same level of effort and the same intensity of devices used, the damage could have been much more. What puzzles them is why the bombers chose locations such as storm water drains, pavements, an isolated bus shelter and a traffic island to plant the bombs.

Investigations have, in part, focussed on this aspect. Were the Bangalore incidents a forerunner to the more devastating ones planned for Ahmedabad and Surat? Or did they constitute a trial run for a bigger terrorist act in a city that has spearheaded the information technology revolution in India? Questions such as why the police had no prior intelligence on the blasts and why no group or organisation has claimed responsibility are still to be answered. Sources in the intelligence agencies told Frontline that perhaps the idea was to target locations where the damage could be low but derive great amount of publicity and also cause panic.

A day before the Bangalore blasts, an explosion occurred in Channapatna, 70 km from Bangalore. The local police assumed that it was caused by explosive materials used in the nearby stone quarries and as such did not inform the higher officials in Bangalore. Subsequently, they searched the town and recovered explosives weighing 15 kg, similar to those used in Bangalore.

What is even more worrying is that while the earlier acts of terrorism in Karnataka, such as the blasts engineered by the Deendar Anjuman in May-July 2000, the attack on the Indian Institute of Science campus and the explosion in the Hubli court complex in May, were planned and executed by outsiders, the July blasts were carried out by local people. This, the police say, has made the task of identifying the terrorists difficult.

According to Director General of Police (Corps of Detectives, Training, Special Units and Economic Offences) Ajai Kumar Singh, even when the police busted terrorist modules in Kolar, Bijapur, Gulbarga and Raichur, no major local involvement was identified. In the current blasts, the involvement of the local people can be suspected more than ever before. This is a worrying trend. The assistance from the local people could have been in the form of logistic support, execution and assembling of the bombs.

Although the police claim that they have been able to gather a substantial amount of information about a number of suspects, they also admit that most of the evidence is not concrete enough to take action under the Indian Penal Code, the Police Act or the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act (rules for which are yet to be framed). The State police are of the view that the local people have been influenced by small groups from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, groups that are not in the forefront of terrorist activities.

Interrogation of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists, who were arrested in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh earlier this year, revealed plans to carry out blasts in Bangalore and Goa. The State police confirmed that SIMI held meetings at Castle Rock (a small hill station on the Karnataka-Goa border), Hubli and Bangalore.

The latest blasts have brought into focus the level of preparedness of Bangalore to face such terror attacks in the future. According to M.R. Poojar, Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), the police are trying to increase community participation in policing activities in the city.

There could soon be an effective Anti-Terrorist Cell in the city. A senior police officer said, Once the proposal is sanctioned, our excellent trainers at the Karnataka State Reserve Police can train the members of the cell. The cell will be involved in intelligence gathering activities and investigation and will also have a commando force attached to it. Commenting on the preparedness of Bangalore to handle such terror attacks, Mallikarjun Kharge, former State Home Minister, said, A bomb was defused near Forum Mall a day after the blasts. It is surprising that the police missed it the previous day as it was located close to where a blast had occurred.

Another senior Congressman, Roshan Baig, said: According to the Auditor General of India Report for 2007, several crores of funds for the establishment of a Commando Force Training School and purchase of Explosives Detection Vehicles have been diverted. This is an important issue that needs to be examined as this would have helped in the preparedness of the police.

Salauddin Mohammed, a human rights activist residing in the Muslim-majority Gurappanapalya area, feels that the police are targeting a particular community. The day after the blasts, the police were in the area on the pretext of arresting a hafiz of the local madrassa and left after creating a sense of fear. The method of police investigation also merits some attention because it is creating alienation among members of one community.

The Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) formed in 2001 is a socio-cultural organisation working on issues related to minorities and backward communities and has a strong presence in the coastal belt of Karnataka. K.M. Shareef, vice-president of the KFD, said: There is an immediate suspicion about members of one community. Why is there no focus on members of other communities who were involved in attacks on Nanded and Tenkasi?

The Bangalore bombings came exactly two weeks after a slight disturbance in J.C. Nagar when the carcass of a pig was found in a mosque. Swift action by the police and local community leaders prevented a communal flareup, but the disturbances give an idea of how delicate communal equations have become.