During the past year, nuclear security has leapfrogged up the political agenda in India after a series of intelligence leaks revealed that terrorists might be targeting India’s expanding nuclear infrastructure. These threats and possible security breaches have led the Indian government to reorganize and enhance security at vital civilian nuclear installations throughout the country. Principle among the suspected plotters has been the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) organization.
The indiscriminant small arms fire on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on December 28, 2005 led to an investigation that netted several suspected LeT operatives along with various detonators, explosives and other armaments. During interrogations, the operatives reportedly revealed that the Kaigan nuclear power plant was among their critical infrastructure targets (The Times of India, January 22). Although it is not clear how advanced the planning stage had progressed, the revelations were met with serious concern.
Since early this year, high-ranking Indian officials have continued to comment specifically on the persistent terrorist threat to nuclear installations. National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, in a July 28 address, made a point to emphasize that this threat specifically originated from the LeT. He stated “it’s [a] LeT operation…it is a very serious threat…one of our atomic energy installations could be the target” (Hindustan Times, July 28).
Fears were heightened again in August over the possibility of the LeT infiltrating a nuclear plant when three Muslim men were arrested for entering the Narora nuclear power plant with fake IDs (The Hindu, August 16). Although the men most likely did not have terrorist connections, the disclosure stimulated calls of inadequate security procedures a month after the deadly train bombings in Mumbai that left many Indians doubting whether officials could keep pace with terrorist infiltrations.
Later in August, local residences reported seeing two armed men breaching security at the Kakarapar nuclear power complex near Surat. The event prompted a massive security force response that included the deployment of commandos throughout sensitive areas (Hindustan Times, August 22). Although the suspects were not encountered, the upgraded security procedures evidenced in the response showed that planners have designed security procedures based on a significant perceived threat, most likely intelligence feeds related to LeT operations.
Although by themselves these potential security breaches do not represent a further threat, what is clear from the events during the past year is that various levels of government have received intelligence on the actions of LeT or other groups targeting nuclear facilities. India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has even found the threat serious enough to comment publicly, saying that “intelligence agencies warn of a further intensification of violent activities…targeting of vital installations, including nuclear establishments” (India Defense, September 5).
Lashkar-e-Toiba and other jihadist groups maintain a persistent network of cells throughout India and have the potential to mount complex assaults and sabotage operations on defended installations in the region, including nuclear facilities. While the perceived threat appears to be high, the publicly visible security enhancements might also have a deterrent value such that groups like LeT will deem nuclear facilities inaccessible targets.