Terror@Hyderabad is the latest address in the www of al Qaeda
About a fortnight before two blasts rocked Hyderabad on August 25, 2007, Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed told a gathering at Lahore that he has started a movement to occupy Muslim populated regions in India.
He said Pakistan must reclaim Muslim areas like J&K, Hyderabad, Junagarh, Munabao and West Bengal which, he said, was forcibly occupied by India in 1947. Saeed even released a new map of Pakistan incorporating these areas. A week before Saeed spoke, an al Qaeda video footage warned India of renewed terrorist attacks.
These two statements are not mere jihadi rhetoric, but a clear indication of how terrorists, now increasingly grouping under the overarching umbrella of al Qaeda across the world, are stepping up operations against India. The objective is not merely to create terror or create communal disturbances but generate a stronger support for the Islamist agenda of establishing a pan-Islamic arc of influence in Asia.
There are quite a few other dots which need to be connected to see this bigger picture. The first dot is the growing alliance between jihadi groups operating from Pakistan and Bangladesh with ideologically extreme groups in India as investigations into recent terrorist attacks and the chain of arrests and seizures in different parts of India, particularly rural Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, have revealed.
This development signals a new phase of terrorism within India where international terrorist groups like LeT and Harkat-ul Jihadi-e-Islami (HuJI)-and through them al Qaeda-are likely to exert influence over a small and diffused group of individuals to take up arms against the State in the name of religion.
These groups are small and work fairly independently of their patron groups by networking among themselves, tapping into each other's resources and outsourcing logistics to criminal syndicates. These factors help such groups, rooted in local communities as sleeper cells or agents to escape police scrutiny.
What has changed over the years is the profile of terror recruits-the second dot-who are no longer the bearded, madrassa-type jihadis. A considerable number of them are well educated-doctors and engineers, and adept in exploiting latest communication technologies.
This means these groups which can tap into the world wide web of terror which has not only become a virtual university of jihad but also an overarching umbrella of faith, bringing all the faithful together on a single cyber platform dominated by al Qaeda and its ideology.
There are other equally significant changes in the objectives of these groups which form the third crucial dot. The year long-series of bomb blasts and attacks in Delhi, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Bangalore and Mumbai beginning October 2005 were carried out with the objectives of creating communal violence in Delhi and communally-volatile Uttar Pradesh and target economic centres like Mumbai and Bangalore. The overall agenda was to create a climate of fear at a time when India was being seen as an emerging economic power.
Add the fourth dot-the Islamist agenda of driving the Indian Muslims towards the al Qaeda ideology by targeting Muslims as witnessed in attacks in Hyderabad (twice), Malegaon and the Samjhauta Express in Haryana.
There is a widespread suspicion among the Muslim community that at least the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express bombing were carried out by Hindu extremist organisations. Since these cases remain unsolved, the terror attacks in Hyderabad have only fuelled such suspicions.
The fifth dot is Hyderabad's history as the launching pad of jihad. The first set of jihadis, post-Babri Masjid demolition, had set up their operational centre at Hyderabad under the banner of the Indian Muslim Mohammedi Mujahideen (IMMM), an Indian branch of the Muslim Defence Force, an fundamentalist outfit, founded in Saudi Arabia by Abu Hamsa alias Abdul Bari Hamsa of Hyderabad.
The outfit was led by Azam Ghauri, who along with Abdul Karim Tunda and Dr Jalees Ansari, carried out a series of train blasts in north India to take revenge for the demolition of Babri Majid. All three were the first operatives of LeT in India.
The sixth dot is the changes that took place in the jihadi groups after 9/11. Under intense pressure from the US, many of these groups, operating from Pakistan, were either shut down or cut to size, or forced to change their operational plans. Many of these groups changed their operational bases and began outsourcing their activities to smaller groups which were not under the global scanner.
One such group is Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI) and its various clones which operate from Bangladesh. These groups are now working together, in small, diffused groups to target India. The Hyderabad attack is only a part of this renewed attempt to further the Islamist agenda of a Muslim conclave in Asia.
Wilson John is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi