May 21, 2007

USE OF MOBILE PHONE IN HYDERABAD BLASTS

By B. Raman

It has been reported that one of the two improvised explosive devices (IED) recovered by the Hyderabad Police from inside the Mecca Mosque in which an explosion at the time of the Friday prayers on May 18, 2007, killed nine persons, had a mobile telephone as a trigger. The terrorists had planted three IEDS, of which only one exploded causing the fatalities. The remaining two did not. Possibly, a mobile telephone was used to set off the first device, which exploded as planned by the terrorists.

2. Why the second one did not explode? Why the terrorists could not activate it through the attached mobile? Had they done it, many more would have been killed. The Police are still investigating into this. There is one possible answer. After the first blast, many people in the area must have been simultaneously trying to use their mobiles in order to contact their relatives and reassure them that they were safe. There must have been a total jamming of communications due to the flood of calls made or being made. As a result, the terrorists were probably not able to activate the mobile attached to the second IED.

3. A similar thing happened after the London blasts of July, 2005. After the blasts, thousands of commuters were trying to use their mobiles to contact their relatives. There was a total jamming of the mobiles in the affected areas. The police were not able to contact each other as a result of the jamming. They immediately asked the companies operating mobile services in the affected areas to suspend their operations. They also appealed to the public not to use their mobiles because important calls made by the police could not reach their destinations. If the terrorists use an IED with a mobile as a trigger and intend using it subsequent to the first explosion, there is a strong possibility that the mobile would not function due to jamming of mobile communications in and near the scene of occurrence.

4. Of all modern scientific and technological innovations, the Internet and the cellular phones have proved to be double-edged swords. They have been put to effective use by different terrorist organisations for their operations. In this connection, attention is invited my article of October 22, 2005, titled "FROM INTERNET TO ISLAMNET:NET-CENTRIC COUNTER-TERRORISM" (http://www.saag.org/papers16/paper1584.html) and my article of April 5,2005, titled "TERRORISM IN THAILAND: Tech & Tactics Savvy" (http://www.saag.org/papers14/paper1321.html).

5. In my above-cited article on Jihadi Terrorism in Thailand, I had written as follows: "While the explosives used were not of severe destructive quality and could have been procured locally, the techniques used in assembling the IEDs and having them triggered off indicate some sophistication involving special training, either locally or in foreign countries. In this connection, attention needs to be drawn to the first car bomb explosion outside a hotel on February 17, 2005, in which seven persons were killed and 40 others injured and to recurring instances of the use of cellphones for detonating an IED. A modified cellphone as a remotely-activated trigger was first used by Palestinian terrorists at the Hebrew University in Israel in July, 2002. Since then, knowledge of its use has spread to jihadi terrorists in other countries. The attack on an armoured patrol train on March 27, 2005, and the subsequent attacks of April 3, 2005, on targets such as an airport and a hotel linked to tourism speak of sophisticated tactics involving orchestration. On April 3, 2005, three explosions were triggered off through cellphones. The use of cellphones facilitates remote activation. It also enables the terrorists to use unconscious human carriers of IEDs, which are activated through a cellphone thereby giving the impression of a conscious suicide attack. Glorified tales of suicide missions are then used by the terrorist organisations in their recruitment drive. It had been reported in 2003 that one of the persons carrying a package in Casablanca at the instance of terrorists was not aware that it contained an IED, which was activated through a cellphone by the terrorists as soon as the carrier reached the vicinity of the intended target. The Chechens were also reported to have used this MO for blowing up two planes last year (2004).There have also been allegations of jihadi terrorists and the Palestinian groups using teen-agers as unconscious human bombs, detonated through cellphones."

6. There are four ways of activating an IED---through a mechanical timer such as a clock or an alarm mechanism in a mobile telephone, through a chemical timer, through a remote control device and through a suicide bomber. Conventional remote control devices operate through the principle of the line of sight activation. The terrorist has to be present near the scene of occurrence in order to point his remote control towards the IED and activate it. It is just like your pointing your remote-control towards the TV set in order to operate it. The mobile telephone enables an operation without the need for a line of sight requirement. In order to remotely activate the IED, the terrorist does not have to be present near the scene of occurrence. He can activate the IED from anywhere in the world.

7. To create difficulties in the way of police investigation into a blast, the terrorists using a mobile telephone as a trigger take the following precautions----use stolen mobiles for activating the mobile which is attached to the IED; use a pre-paid SIM card; and have the SIM card bought through a cut-out or third party, which had not come to the adverse notice of the Police. After the Madrid blasts of March, 2004, the Madrid Police had detained some Indian shop-keepers because of suspicion that they had been used by the terrorists to buy the SIM cards.

8. When Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra was the Prime Minister of Thailand before September, 2006, it was reported that the Thai security forces were facing the problem of terrorists using innocent third persons for activating the IEDs. They would attach a mobile to an IED, give a ring from that number or send an SMS message from that number to an innocent person and switch off the phone before he answered; the innocent person would ring back that number to find out who it was; and by doing so unconsciously activate the IED. The police, during the investigation, would find out the number from which the IED was activated and, on checking, would find that the number belonged to an innocent person.

9. Conversion of a mobile telephone for using it to trigger off an IED requires some special training. It is, therefore, apparent that the perpetrators of the Hyderabad blast must have had the benefit of such training. In J&K, there had been instances of the use of mobile telephones as a trigger. In one instance reported in December, 2006, the terrorists were reported to have bought their SIM card in the name of a military officer. After the Mumbai blasts of July, 2006, it was reported that the Mumbai Police had advised the mobile companies to suspend their operations due to fears that the terrorists might cause more explosions by using mobiles.

10. Among the security measures that have been taken to make it difficult for the terrorists to use cell phones are strict pre-sale checks, control over pre-paid SIM cards or even a ban on them etc. Despite such measures, terrorists manage to circumvent the security measures.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

1 comment:

Abhishek Rajpurohit said...

Its all the more shocking to observe the State Govt. not interested in coming up with strict anti-terrorist acts to curb the rising terrrorism in this beautiful city, ...

Would we learn something from the Black Saturday for Hyderabad ??