Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organisations in Pakistan, which are members of the International Islamic Front (IIF) formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998, are concerned over the spreading Jundullah (soldiers of Allah) phenomenon. This refers to angry individual Muslims, not belonging to any organisation and not subscribing to the ideology of Al Qaeda and the organisations associated with it, taking to suicide and other acts of terrorism on their own after reading instructions available on the Internet as to how to cause an explosion.
Many acts of suicide terrorism reported from Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months were the acts of enraged individual Muslims. In Afghanistan, the increasing resort to suicide terrorism by untrained individual Muslims is responsible for the failure of the would-be suicide bombers to kill their targeted victims. Instead, many of these suicide bombers have ended up by killing innocent civilians. A large number of innocent civilians have died in explosions caused by these untrained suicide bombers.
These individual Muslims have been motivated to take to suicide attacks by their anger at the US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and suspected US operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The anger against Gen.Pervez Musharraf over his perceived co-operation with the US in its so-called war against terrorism and over the commando action of the Pakistan Army in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad has also contributed to driving angry individual Muslims to take to suicide terrorism.
Religious clerics in Pakistan believe that this phenomenon is spreading to the Muslim community in the UK. They project the cell consisting of two Indian Muslims and some Arabs, which recently tried in vain to carry out acts of terrorism in London and Glasgow, as Jundullahs, not associated with any organisation.
On August 4, 2007, in Parachinar, Kurram Agency, a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a taxi stand, killing nine civilians. Several cars and shops were damaged in the attack. Local officials believe that the bomber probably detonated his payload prematurely after he had a roadside accident with another car near the taxi stand on a main road in the town. There have been 13 such suicide attacks by enraged individual Muslims--most of them Pashtuns-- since the Pakistan Army captured control of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, killing Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy Amir of the mosque, and many students of the girls' madrasa, which was located inside the Masjid complex, between July 10 and 13,2007. While the investigations into these incidents, which have resulted in the deaths of at least 100 persons, are still going on, the indications till now are that none of the 13 suicide bombers belonged to Al Qaeda or any other known terrorist organisation.
In addition, there have been over a dozen conventional type attacks with mortars, rockets, explosives and other hand-held weapons in North Waziristan, which have killed about 130 persons, civilians as well as members of the security forces. These were not acts of individual Muslims. These were carried out by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is also a member of the IIF.
The concern of Al Qaeda and other structured jihadi organisations over this phenomenon arises from the fact that if this trend continues it could affect the flow of volunteers and funds to their organisations. It is said that many angry Muslims no longer flock to these organisations to volunteer their services for suicide terrorism. Instead, they rush to the nearest Internet Cafe to learn how to be a suicide bomber, gang up with a small number of like-minded persons, pool their savings, buy material which could be converted into explosives and embark on their suicide missions.
For these Made-in-Internet suicide bombers, the cyber world has become a virtual Ummah and everyone of them looks upon himself as a bin Laden or as an Amir fighting for the cause of their religion.
Concern over this development has been openly expressed by Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) of Pakistan, in a recent article in Al Qalam, a publication of the JEM, written before the Lal Masjid raid. He said: "Now, there are hundreds of jihadi outfits and hundreds of Amirs. Most of these Amirs are computer operators, who have become jihadis by watching CDs of jihad. They have received jihadi training through websites. They think that via the Internet, they have become Amirs. If they come across a gullible youth, they tie a bomb around his body and send him to jihadi battlefields. Some of the jihadis are in the business of drugs, human smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. Jihad has become everybody's business. Now, it is difficult to control these jihadis."
In the 1990s, Maulana Azhar was infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as a member of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) to participate in the local jihad. He was arrested by the Indian security forces. In December 1999, some members of the HUM from Pakistan hijacked a plane of the Indian Airlines to Kandahar and demanded the release of three jihadi terrorists detained in India. One of them was Azhar. Another was Omar Sheikh. The government of India had them taken to Kandahar and freed in order to secure the release of the aircraft and its passengers.
After their release, the three jihadi terrorists crossed over into Pakistan. Azhar developed differences with the leaders of the HUM. He quit the organisation and floated his own organisation called the JEM in 2000.It became a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF). Omar Sheikh flirted with a number of jihadi irganisations and master-minded the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the journalist of the Wall Street Journal, in January-February,2002.
Unlike the JEM, Al Qaeda's reaction to this phenomenon has been more nuanced. It does not claim responsibility for these individual attacks, but at the same time, it does not condemn them. It has been trying to give the impression that it is still in total control of the global jihad and that whatever has been happening in the world in the form of jihadi attacks--whether by individuals not belonging to any organisation or by those belonging to Al Qaeda and other organisations-- is in pursuance of its global jihadi strategy. The stepping-up of its propaganda offensive and dire warnings since the beginning of this year are part of its strategy of creating an impression that it continues to be in total control of the jihad.
The increasing frequency with which As-Sahab, the Pakistan-based propaganda unit of Al Qaeda, has been disseminating the messages of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the No.2 in Al Qaeda, a collection of past video and audio clips of bin Laden and the warning of Adam Yahiye Gadahn alias Azzam the American,an American member of Al Qaeda, are meant to dispel impressions of Al Qaeda facing difficulty in mounting new operations outside Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Algeria. Gadahn's latest warning threatens not only the US, but also India. Al Qaeda is desperate to mount a spectacular operation against the US, if not in the US homeland, at least in some other country where the US has a major presence. It is in this context that it is interested in India, though Gadahn projects the contemplated operations against India as in reprisal for the deaths of a large number of Kashmiris.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine