Statements and comments from home minister P.Chidambaram and officials indicate that the explosion in the well-known and well-frequented German Bakery of Pune around 7 PM on February 13, 2010, was an act of terrorism. The case is under investigation by the local police and possibly too by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which came into being after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. According to the latest information, nine persons, including one foreigner, died in the explosion, which appears to have been not a sophisticated one, that could have required any special training. The expertise involved could have been locally acquired. One must control the reflex to point an accusing finger at Pakistan.
The NIA's first major investigation was into the travels and activities of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkare-Toiba (LET) and his associate Hussain Rana, also of Chicago, in India to collect operational information required for targeting by the LET. Some of the details collected by Headley were used by the LET in the 26/11 strikes in Mumbai. He had also collected target details about other places of interest including in New Delhi and Pune. These details had not been used till now though his interrogation by the FBI reportedly indicated that the LET was interested in another terrorist strike--this time in New Delhi.
Among the targets of interest to Headley in Pune was the local Chabad House, a Jewish cultural-cum-religious centre, which is frequented by Jewish visitors to Pune and the local Rajneesh Ashram frequented by the Western followers of Rajneesh, an Indian spiritual guru, who used to live in the US and was the mentor of some sections of Western youth. Both these places reconnoitred by Headley were near the German Bakery, but neither of them was attacked on February 13. Instead, the German Bakery was targeted.
Why the German Bakery? Why not the Chabad House or the Rajneesh Ashram? Why only one explosion? Why not serial explosions well orchestrated as organised by the Indian Mujahideen in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and New Delhi between November 2007 and September,2008? Is it a lone wolf terrorist strike as one saw over Detroit on Christmas Day when a Nigerian tried unsuccessfully to blow up a US plane as it was getting ready to land in Detroit or did it involve a team of terrorists like the 26/11? What is the significance of the timing? Anything to do with the forthcoming resumption of Indo-Pakistan dialogue on February 25? The dialogue has been under suspension since 26/11. Did the timing have anything to do with the US-UK offensive against the Afghan Taliban in the Helmand province, which got going on Feb.13? Is it a carry-over of the anger against the Germans which Al Qaeda elements from Germany based in Pakistan's tribal belt have been showing since September last? Should India go ahead with the Feb.25 talks with Pakistan or put them on hold till a clear picture emerges?
These are questions which have to be addressed by the NIA and the policy-makers in Delhi as the investigation makes headway. The Govt. of India should keep an open mind and look into all possibilities and should avoid over or hasty reactions. Reconstruction and investigation of the explosion should have priority and not retaliation against it.
Also see: My article titled Achtung! Al Qaeda Warns German Voters of September, 2009
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.