The jehadi connection

Print edition : February 02, 2002

THE jehad is going truly global. When the Border Security Force (BSF) shot dead two Dutch nationals in Srinagar on January 13, it faced howls of outrage. The Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Front described the killings as "a naked act of terrorism", while the State's Minister of State for Home, Khalid Suhrawardy, condemned the killings and promised an inquiry. But now, it is becoming clear that Ahmad el Bakinoli and Khalid el Hossnoni were not innocent tourists: they had come to kill.

Few people believed the story of the BSF patrol which engaged the two Dutch visitors in Srinagar's Dalgate area. The patrol, its troopers said, was passing by just after 7 a.m. on January 13, when the two men attacked them with 35-cm fruit carving knives. Constables Shiv Sagar Yadav and Y.P. Tiwari were stabbed on the neck, upper arm and palms before a colleague, Constable Mohammad Sadiq, could fire back. Sadiq's weapon jammed twice before he could open fire.

Since there was no evident reason why two tourists would attack a BSF patrol in such a bizarre manner, this account was greeted with disbelief. But when police investigators started sifting through their belongings, some of the evidence found was a little odd. For one, Bakinoli and Hossnoni had not acted as most tourists do. After arriving in New Delhi via Amman on December 26, they purchased a second class railway ticket to the small Punjab town of Hoshiarpur. Just why they went there is unclear since Hoshiarpur is not known for its tourist sights. From there, investigators believe, they would have travelled by bus to Jammu, and from there on to Srinagar.

Nor did the duo appear to have the kind of money, cash or traveller's cheques, even low-budget tourists would need for a holiday. The only record of their having changed money was of $200 at the Jammu and Kashmir Bank's foreign exchange counter in Srinagar. Just one wallet, with Rs.1,080 in cash, was found on their person. Bakinoli and Hossnoni had registered themselves with the authorities in Srinagar, but while doing so had stated that they would leave the city on January 12. They had, however, neither bought return tickets nor told the owner of the Happy New Year houseboat about any intention to leave.

Still, authorities in Srinagar were on the back foot: their story was not being bought. Until, that is, a Mumbai-based U.S. journalist produced copies of newspaper reports from Holland. Bakinoli and Hossnoni, the Dutch media reported, had far-Right Islamic leanings, and regularly posted on a local website their desire to join the jehad. Both had left their homes without telling their parents where they were going, having made clear to their political associates that they intended to join the struggle against India in Jammu and Kashmir. Strangely, the Ministry of External Affairs had not seen it fit to send the same newspaper stories to officials in Srinagar.

Armed with the Dutch stories, officials in Srinagar have been able to undo some of the damage caused by the incident. But just what happened on the morning of January 13 is still unclear. One possibility is that the already ideologically motivated men had some kind of brawl with the BSF troopers, and then chose to settle the issue with knives. Another possibility, some people suspect, is that a binge on the houseboat the previous night led them into the hare-brained attack. Investigators say they also have no idea who the men may have sought to meet in Hoshiarpur, and who, if anybody, they tried to contact after arriving in Srinagar.

Fundamentalist causes in South Asia - Hindu, Sikh or Muslim - have always found recruits from among alienated, rootless second-generation immigrants to the West, as the arrests in Afghanistan of United States, United Kingdom and Australian nationals show. Jammu and Kashmir has seen other immigrants to the West join the fight on its soil before, notably Jaish-e-Mohammad operative Syed Ahmad Umar Sheikh, one of the terrorists released from Tihar jail in exchange for the Indian Airlines IC-814 hostages. Disturbingly, it would seem that events after September 11 have done little to halt the momentum.