As the Mumbai police continue to hunt down the suspects of the July 11 train blasts, a lesser-known militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Qahar (LeQ), has claimed responsibility for the coordinated terrorist attacks on India’s suburban trains that left nearly 200 people dead and more than 700 injured. The outfit sent an e-mail to a local television station and said that 16 LeQ activists had carried out the attacks on the Mumbai trains and that one of them had died in the operation. The outfit also threatened to carry out more attacks targeting government and historic sites in the coming weeks (Central Chronicle, July 19). The LeQ, suspected to be a front organization for the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was unknown before it had claimed responsibility for the bombings on March 7 that killed 21 people in Varanasi (Terrorism Focus, March 14). The Maharashtra state government’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) indicated that a deadly cocktail of RDX, ammonium nitrate and fuel oil was used in the blasts, triggered by a mechanical pencil timer (Hindustan Times, July 12).
LeT, which has been responsible for most terrorist attacks outside of Jammu and Kashmir, is known for using RDX in all of its operations. In May, for instance, Mumbai police recovered more than 30 kg of RDX concealed in computers and arrested more than 10 suspected LeT operatives of Kashmiri origin (Times of India, May 11). Subsequently, seven more people with 13 kg of RDX and six AK-47 rifles were arrested in separate raids from other parts of Maharashtra. Presently, a manhunt has been launched for an individual by the name of Faiyyaz Kagazi, whose name is linked to an Aurangabad arms seizure and who the police believe has been a vital link between LeT and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) (PTI, July 14; Terrorism Monitor, April 6).
Meanwhile, Mumbai police arrested three people identified as Mohammed Akram, Khalid Shaikh and Maqbul Ahmed with suspected LeT links in connection with the terrorist attacks. They have been placed in police custody until July 30. Two of them were arrested from their hideouts in Bihar (Patnadaily.com, July 22). The police claim to have concrete evidence based on the suspects’ telephone conversations on the day of the incident. As per the sources, the arrested men had allegedly provided logistics support to the terrorists who carried out the blasts. The ATS in Mumbai is presently investigating a possible link between the three suspects and LeT and SIMI. A probe of any involvement of Ahl-e-Hadees activists in the Mumbai blasts is also underway. Ahl-e-Hadees is an emerging Wahabbi sect in India with Saudi links that gained many followers following the ban on SIMI; the organization was implicated earlier in terrorist incidents perpetrated in Mumbai (The Tribune, July 18). The perpetrators of the attacks, in addition to Faiyyaz Kagazi and a man named Sayyad Zabiuddin, are also believed to have been indoctrinated by Ahl-e-Hadees (Times of India, July 23).
Mumbai’s SIMI and LeT networks developed in 2001, according to one arrested SIMI cadre who had confessed during his interrogation that LeT was using SIMI men not just in Mumbai but all over Maharashtra state. SIMI was behind a number of blasts in Maharashtra following the ban imposed on them in 2001. The city of Aurangabad, Gulbarga and Nasik in Maharashtra, and Kanpur and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh have been major centers of activity for SIMI and LeT sleeper cells. Several LeT and SIMI cells were unearthed during raids at various places in Aurangabad, Nasik and Nagpur during the last couple of months. Police rounded up more than 20 activists affiliated with SIMI in the central Indian town of Bhopal in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts (PTI, July 21). The terror trail even reached India’s northeastern state of Tripura where 19 members of Tablighi Jamaat, who were allegedly on their way to neighboring Bangladesh, were interrogated (DNA, July 21).
Presently, it is recognized that terrorist outfits previously operating in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir are now moving out of the state, with SIMI cadres helping in the operations and providing safe hideouts across India. They have been executing sporadic attacks on critical infrastructure in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Mumbai police unearthed a strong LeT link in Mumbai in January. Three suspected LeT operatives identified as Khurshid Ahmed Lone, Arshad Ghani and Mohammed Ramzan Qazi from Nagpada in south Mumbai were arrested with arms and material used for manufacturing explosives. Police later confirmed that they were in the process of establishing contacts and developing a terrorist cell in Mumbai (The Tribune, January 7). Later that month, Mumbai police again raided a suspected LeT hideout and arrested Mushiruddin Salauddin Siddiqui and Manzoor Mahmood Ansari with a large cache of arms and some high-grade explosives along with maps of Maharashtra, Mumbai and Manali. One of them confessed to having undergone a 22-day bomb-making training course in Pakistan.
In the past, SIMI’s hand was visible in the February 10 Ahmedabad railway station blast and in the July 28, 2005 Shramjeevi train explosion that killed some 12 people and injured more than 50 passengers. The radical student outfit was also behind the Sabarmati Express bomb blast in 2000 that killed some 11 people (Terrorism Monitor, April 6). In December 1993, a country-wide attack targeting railways in India was also carried out by suspected SIMI cadres in collusion with organized criminal gangs at Hyderabad, Indergarh, Surat, Lucknow and Gulbarga.
The security agencies have been rounding up suspects now that the threat from terrorist networks is affecting all regions in India. There are even indications that at least three terrorist groups coordinated their involvement in the July 11 attacks. Al-Qaeda’s presence has even been reported in the media in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts, although authorities quickly labeled the claim as a “hoax” (Terrorism Focus, July 18). As the investigation intensifies and zeroes in on SIMI and LeT, the fear of similar terrorist attacks targeting the public transportation system and critical infrastructure in India looms on the horizon.