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Varanasi reveals new terror network

By Wilson John
March 10, 2006 17:18 IST
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Wednesday's bomb blasts in Varanasi are yet another telling link in the growing chain of circumstances indicating the rise of a new terrorist network in India.

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If viewed together, the blasts in Varanasi and Delhi, the terrorist attacks in Bangalore and Ayodhya, the Mumbai car bombs of August 2003 and the Akshardham attack of September 2002 -- besides numerous arrests of terrorists, their supporters and seizure of weapons and explosives -- point out to a grand merger of various extremist and terrorist groups and organisations within India, and an extensive support base rapidly expanding.

To begin with, there is an alarming indication of Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Tayiba working with the predominantly Bangladeshi Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami to carry out terrorist attacks in India.

HUJI has a considerable presence in the Korangi township of Karachi, Pakistan.

HUJI, like Lashkar, is also linked to Al Qaeda.

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Both fought not only during the Afghan jihad but their leaders have close proximity to Osama bin Laden.

Of the two terrorists shot down within hours of the Varanasi explosions, one is an Lashkar commander in Lucknow while the second a HUJI activist from Bangladesh in Delhi.

The HUJI commander Ghulam Yazdani, operating from Dhaka, was one of the main recruits for Lashkar and was involved in the Haren Pandya assassination, the Shramjeevi Express blast and the terrorist attack in Bangalore last year.

Yazdani originally belonged to Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh.

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Another key link was the suicide attack on the headquarters of the Special Task Force in Hyderabad on October 12 last year. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the headquarters.

From the charred remains, the investigators could only find parts of rubber slippers, one of which carried a price tag 'Taka 100' -- a clear indication of the place of the dead terrorist's origin.

An important piece of evidence that unravelled after the suicide attack was the chance catch of a Bangladeshi named Kalim from a train in Patna.

He said he was a member of the Jamaitul Mujahideen Bangladesh, the group involved in several terrorist incidents in Bangladesh.

Kalim's interrogation revealed that he was being run by an anonymous handler who had met him twice to brief him about his mission. Kalim subsequently led the police to Lashkar's South India commander Abdul Rehman, another resident of Nalgonda.

This alliance could not have operated across the country without extensive local support.

One of the prominent supporters has been the Students Islamic Movement of India.

SIMI's involvement in such activities has long been discovered. The most prominent case was the serial train blasts in North India, which also heralded the alliance between Pakistan-based terrorist groups and religious groups like Ahl-e-Hadis in India, and the emergence of Lashkar leaders like Azam Ghauri, Abdul Karim Tunda and Jalees Ansari.

Ghauri, instrumental in setting up Lashkar networks in South India especially in Andhra Pradesh, who was killed in a police encounter.

Tunda is Lashkar's operational commander based in Pakistan. Ansari remains in prison. Another sign of SIMI's alleged involvement is the use of ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser that has been used in Bali, Madrid, WTC 1993 and Istanbul bombings.

Ammonium nitrate has also been used in India, the last incident being the Varanasi bomb blasts.

Similar material was used in the explosions aboard the Shramjeevi Express and in Mulund, Mumbai, in March 2003.

In 2000, similar explosives killed 11 persons aboard the Sabarmati Express near Barabanki.

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The use of local recruits and locally available explosive material to create bombs are an indication of a changing strategy of the terror masters in Pakistan and elsewhere.

For groups like Jamaat-ud Dawa, the parent body of Lashkar, it is now easier to deny any links with terrorist attacks in India.

Another important change is to move out of Kashmir, to lessen the international pressure on Islamabad while expanding the terror network across India.

The fast emerging linkages between Lashkar, SIMI and HuJI (and Jam Jamaitul Mujahideen Bangladesh) depict the contours of a pan-Islamist network in Asia, linking groups operating in Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and several south Asian countries like Indonesia.

The primary objective of this coalition of terror is to create political upheaval in all these countries, particularly in India, by stoking sectarian and communal violence.

For India, the war on terror has only begun.

Wilson John is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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