India: Kashmiri Militants, Communal Tensions and the Mosque Bombing
May 18, 2007 16 27 GMT
Tensions are high in Hyderabad, India, after an explosion during Friday prayers at the city's Mecca Mosque on May 18, in which at least five people were killed and 27 were injured. Many Muslims in the area, angered by the attack, reportedly are pelting local businesses and police forces with stones. The explosion took place far from the information technology business community in Hyderabad's northern suburbs, but businesses in the area should exercise caution.
While Hindu extremists in the area could easily be blamed for the attack, the bombing could well be the work of Kashmiri Islamist groups expanding their presence in southern India.
The idea of Muslims attacking fellow Muslims to incite riots is anomalous in India, though not completely unprecedented. In September 2006, a series of coordinated explosions killed 37 people and injured more than 125 in a Muslim cemetery next to a mosque in the northern town of Malegaon (about 180 miles northeast of Mumbai) in the state of Maharashtra. Most of those killed were Muslim pilgrims who were attending Friday prayers on the Shab-e-Baraat holy day. After a series of arrests and investigations, Maharashtra police reported that the attack was the work of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). India's Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) then reported in November 2006 that the main perpetrator of the attack, whose nom de guerre is Shabbir Batterywala, is a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who was working with SIMI member Raees Ahmad. Another member of SIMI, Noor-ul-Huda, reportedly admitted after his arrest that he organized the attack.
These militant Islamist groups have traditionally focused on Hindu targets to provoke extremist Hindu groups into retaliating against Muslims across India, along the lines of what happened in 1993 in Mumbai and 2002 in Gujarat when Hindu mobs went on violent rampages against Muslims, resulting in some of the deadliest communal riots in India's history. However, Indians have largely become inured to these militant attacks and have failed to provide the wide-scale, violent response the Islamist groups hope for.
The lack of a Hindu response could have led to a shift in thinking among the Kashmiri Islamist groups operating in India, who might have decided to risk alienating local support by staging attacks against Muslims in hopes of reigniting Hindu-Muslim tensions in locations that have a history of deadly communal violence. (It is important to note that these groups are rooted in Wahhabi doctrine, which justifies attacking mainstream Barelvi and secular Muslims.)
This strategy carries its fair share of flaws, however, as India's Muslim community is largely moderate and generally feels integrated within the Indian republic. Without much of a radical streak to draw from within India's Muslim population, the Kashmiri Islamist groups are likely to face a major popular backlash.
India: The Mecca Mosque Bombers' Poor Tradecraft
May 18, 2007 17 18 GMT
Police forces were on high alert and security was tightened at potential targets in India on May 18 following the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Mecca Mosque in Hyderabad that left at least seven people dead and more than two dozen injured. Two more live IEDs reportedly were defused at the mosque, located in the Charminar area of Hyderabad's old city.
Although it is unclear who is behind the bombing, the attackers' poor tradecraft indicates it was the work of a relatively inexperienced militant cell, and not one directly linked to one of India's more established militant groups. Regardless, the attack is likely to fuel Hyderabad's already tense relations between Hindus and Muslims.
The IED exploded around 1:30 p.m. local time when the mosque was crowded with worshipers performing Friday prayers. The blast occurred near the Wuzukhana, a fountain inside the mosque entrance where worshippers wash their hands and faces before praying. The two other devices had been placed near the entrance to the mosque complex, though it is unclear whether the devices were meant to target arriving worshippers or first responders and fleeing worshippers following the initial blast.
The failure of the other two bombs and the timing of the explosion indicate poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers. Poor design or workmanship in the detonation mechanism, remote controls or the actual composition of the explosives could have been what prevented the other devices from detonating. Moreover, the bomber would have wanted to maximize the casualty count, and would have timed the blast to coincide with the worshippers' arrival at the Wuzkuhana. Instead, the explosion occurred during prayers, when most worshippers already had washed and moved away from the fountain. Indian officials said the bomb would have killed many more people had it detonated a few minutes earlier, before prayers started. Because the bomb was detonated remotely, the bomber likely estimated when the fountain would be crowded, rather than having eyes on the target before triggering the device.
The Mecca Mosque, built in the 17th century, is the main, established mosque in Hyderabad. Rather than catering to one of India's many Muslim offshoot sects, which are considered heretical by orthodox Muslims, the mosque draws its congregation from the city's mainstream Sunni community.
The attack, the third major bombing of a mosque in India in the past 13 months, follows the attacks against the Maani Mosque in Maharashtra state and the Jamia Mosque in New Delhi. In all cases, the bombs detonated during or after Friday prayers, when mosques generally are the most crowded. In many cases, attacks against mosques are followed by riots, reprisal bombings of Hindu temples, and communal violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Hyderabad has seen militant activity before -- and been the scene of some of the country's worst communal violence -- but this is the first major attack against a mosque. Within minutes of the bombing, crowds of angry Muslims threw stones at Indian police, claiming they failed to provide adequate security. The police responded by deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets, reportedly killing four protesters. In response to the bombing and the subsequent police shootings, the Council for Muslim Unity, a mainstream Muslim group, has called for a general strike in Hyderabad, indicating the bombing will only add to the city's already high communal tensions