Dominic Martin: Kerala Bomber Highlights Lone Actor Terrorism in India

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 11

Photo of Dominic Martin. (Source: Times of India)

On October 30, a bomb blasted through a Jehovah’s Witness event at Kalamassery’s Zamra Convention Centre in Kerala, southern India. Coming two days after Hamas leader Khalid Mashal spoke via e-conference to the Mallapuram youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, initial speculation in India suggested that Islamists must have carried out the attack. They pointed to, for example, the “Uproot Hindutva” slogans chanted at the Jamaat-e-Islami rally as indications of Islamist and/or anti-Hindu motivations behind the attack. Nevertheless, this narrative was quickly complicated by the fact that it was a Jehovah’s Witness event at the convention center which was targeted (India Today, October 29). As it turns out, however, the bomber, Dominic Martin, had nothing to do with Hamas, Jamaat-e-Islami, or any other Islamist group. Martin, it seems, did not fit the much-speculated terrorist profile at all.

Martin was described as a “brilliant mind” after he turned himself in to police. The attacker had only returned to India from a well-paying job in Dubai weeks before the attack (India Times, November 2). Martin himself was also a Jehovah’s Witness, but had come to believe the religious group’s ideology was seditious and preached hatred toward other communities. Thus, rather than acting in the name of hating Jehovah’s Witnesses, Martin was intending to “protect” other faiths. He had become so obsessed with the operation that he planned it for six months, even going so far as to post a video of himself explaining his reasoning for the attack on Facebook before it began. Among other claims, Martin stated that, “As I had no other option, I took this decision.” By this, he is believed to refer to the Jehovah’s Witness church not “correcting” its teachings, despite his exhortations (Deccan Herald, October 31).

There were also personal reasons for Martin’s attack. While Martin was frustrated with the church’s teachings, his wife and children refused to leave the church. He apparently felt that they were choosing the church over him. Nonetheless, he was known to be a quiet and unassuming individual. Martin lived in a comfortable home in Kochi, which is near Kerala (The Print [India], October 31). Incidentally, Kochi was historically the center of India’s centuries-old Cochin Jewish community (now largely emigrated), leading some to suspect initially that the attack was inspired by Hamas.

Further, Martin was not known to discuss religion publicly. He was popular locally, because he had been an English teacher with many students around Kochi (Hindustan Times, October 31). Regarding the attack itself, Martin raised little suspicion within his family, simply telling them that he was going to meet a friend on October 30. In reality, however, he had been researching bomb-making on the internet for several months and succeeded in designing and constructing a bomb by himself.

Ultimately, Martin turned himself in to the police after claiming the attack on Facebook. His case shows how self-radicalized—if not also delusional—lone actors are capable of developing their own bombs and carrying out highly lethal attacks. Moreover, while Islamists or other political extremists are often the prime suspects behind these kinds of bombings, individuals who appear to have little to no ideological motive may still decide to become terrorists on the basis of their own personal grievances.