"Some sections of the Muslim community suspected that this attack--like the other attacks targeting members of their community-- must have been the responsibility of Hindu extremist elements. There was no basis for their suspicions, but they persist. The only way of removing their suspicions is through a thorough investigation and the definitive identification of all those involved. The many missing links in the investigation of this strike as well as in the terrorist attack on the Mumbai suburban trains should be a cause for concern. Targeted attacks on innocent Muslims by Al Qaeda and other jihadi organizations is nothing new. Such attacks take place often in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, in those countries, the attacks on Muslim civilians are generally due to one of two factors. Either the targeted Muslims belonged to a rival sect (Sunni vs Shia or Deobandi vs Barelvi) or rival organization or were perceived as collaborators of the government and hence apostates. None of these factors applied in the case of the Muslims--Indians and Pakistanis-- who were traveling by the Samjotha Express. The conventional wisdom was that the Muslims were now being deliberately targeted by the jihadi organizations in order to provoke them against the government and the Hindus. I do not subscribe to this wisdom. It is important to keep an open mind while investigating these targeted attacks on Indian Muslims and one should not jump to the conclusion that the LET or the HUJI must have been involved. We owe it to our Muslims, most of whom have kept away from Al Qaeda and other pan-Islamic organizations, to see that these cases of targeted attacks on Muslims are thoroughly investigated instead of coming to a facile conclusion that jihadi organizations must be behind them."
--My comments on the terrorist strike in the Samjotha Express
in my book Terrorism--Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow"
published in June, 2008,
by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi
"While there are grounds for suspecting that the blast of Delhi and those of Agartala might have been carried out by the IM (Indian Mujahideen) and its associates from the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Delhi and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) of Bangladesh in Agartala, the blasts in Modasa and Malegaon seem to stand apart. Though the Gujarat Police are reported to have detained some members of the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) during their investigation of the Modasa blast, the Modasa and Malegaon blasts do not carry any unique signature. More evidence will be required before one could analyse as to who might have been responsible. "
-- From my article of October 2, 2008, titled
In the last three years, we have had at least seven terrorist strikes in different parts of the country in which the perpetrators seemed to have targeted innocent Muslim civilians. Those seemed to be not indiscriminate attacks on all civilians, but targeted attacks on Muslims. There were two such incidents in Malegaon in Maharashtra and one each in New Delhi, Hyderabad, in the Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan, in the Samjotha Express to Pakistan and in Modasa in Gujarat.
On the basis of the available reports, I had myself stated after five of these strikes--but not after the Malegaon and Modasa incidents of September 29,2008-- that they seemed to have been carried out by terrorists belonging to jihadi terrorist organisations. I had also referred to instances of jihadi terrorists deliberately targeting innocent Muslims in many countries in pursuit of their agenda.
Some months after the Ajmer Sharif incident, a young Muslim officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS) had met me privately and expressed his doubts as to whether Muslims would have been involved in these incidents. He strongly believed that no Muslim, however extremist he might be, and to whichever jihadi organisation he belonged, would have planted a bomb in or near the Ajmer Sharif.
I did not feel convinced, but felt somewhat troubled by what he said. I felt that as a senior (though now retired) officer of the IPS, I owed it to him and other young Muslim officers of the IPS to take note of what he said and re-open my mind. It was in pursuance of this that I made the above-mentioned observations in my book.
Who carried out the pre-September 29, 2008, terrorist strikes, which seemed to have mainly targeted innocent Muslims? Were they the acts of the usual jihadi organisations or are they the precursor to acts of reprisal terrorism against members of the Muslim community by some irrational elements in the Hindu community? These questions, which were already being raised by sections of the public--Muslims as well as non-Muslims-- even before September 29, have re-surfaced following the publication or dissemination by some sections of the media of reports claiming that the Anti-Terrorism Cell (ATS) of the Mumbai Police have detained three Hindus in connection with their investigation into the recent Malegon blasts. The ATS itself has neither officially denied nor confirmed these reports.
The matter is in the initial stages of the investigation. To instil confidence in our Muslim community, the ATS should see that the investigation against these Hindus and any others associated with them is carried out thoroughly irrespective of their organisational affiliation. Religion is not a mitigating factor in deciding on the culpability of a person suspected of involvement in a criminal act. If they are proved to have participated in the acts of terrorism in Malegain and Modesa, the fact that they are Hindus would not make them any the less criminal or terrorist.
Indian criminal laws--the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code-- do not talk of the majority or the minorities or even of Indian citizens or foreigners. Their provisions apply to anyone who commits an offence in Indian territory--whether he or she is an Indian national or a foreigner, whatever be his or her religion, language or ethnicity. The arrested persons must be investigated and proceeded against without worrying about their background or organisational affiliation.
Do these arrests strengthen the case for a ban on the Bajrang Dal or any other organisation to which they might have belonged? Or do they at least call for a characterisation of such orgainsations--even if they be of Hindus--as terrorist organisations? To characterise an organisation as a terrorist organisation and to take legal action against it --and not merely against its members-- two types of evidence are required. Firstly, that its constitution or manifesto advocates the resort to violence amounting to terrorism for achieving its objective. Secondly, that it has been involved in repeated acts of pre-meditated violence which amount to terrorism. One has to wait and see whether such evidence surfaces during the investigation.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.