Terrorist cells worry India

Educated Muslims becoming radicals

August 09, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW DELHI --The bomb attacks last month on seven Bombay commuter trains did more than raise Indian hackles against Pakistan for failing to rein in terrorist groups operating on its soil.

They also underscored a gathering threat for India: a small but increasingly deadly cadre of young and often educated Indian Muslims who are being drawn directly into terrorist operations.

The scale and coordination of the July 11 attacks, a senior Indian government official said, suggest that at least one terrorist cell, made up of fewer than a dozen local people and probably directed and financed by militants based in Pakistan, might have carried out the bombings, which killed 183 people.

In the past, the official said, Indian operatives have aided foreign militants in what he called a benign fashion, sometimes providing just shelter or food. "The change is that some of them really know what they are up to," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was in progress.

The emergence of more sophisticated homegrown terror cells carries grave repercussions not only for national security, but also for domestic politics, Hindu-Muslim relations and diplomacy with Pakistan.

Perhaps most important, it touches on India's idea of itself as the world's largest secular democracy, capable of including a multitude of peoples and faiths.

"A small section of the Indian Muslim community has been radicalized," said C. Raja Mohan, a columnist for the daily Indian Express and a member of India's National Security Advisory Board. "That's what makes it that much challenging for the country as a whole to deal with."

Police have arrested eight men from Bombay, also called Mumbai, in the attacks, though no specifics have been disclosed about their possible links to the bombings. Among them are a doctor of traditional Islamic medicine and a largely self-taught software worker who the police said had landed a job with the American database and software company Oracle.

Six of those arrested are said by the Indian authorities to have trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan run by the militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Several have been linked to a radical homegrown outfit, now banned, called the Students Islamic Movement of India.

For all the finger-pointing across the border, the attacks have forced India to confront a worrying disquiet among Muslims at home, who have so far overwhelmingly resisted calls to join in Islamic radicalism.

"That is still true to very, very large extent," India's national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, said. "But what has happened is that a very, very manifest attempt to recruit Indian Muslims is now being done."

Those efforts, he said in an interview on CNN-IBN television, are increasingly directed at educated Indian Muslims and, most worryingly, at elements within the military.

Senior Lashkar officials interviewed in Rawalpindi, Pakistani, say no more than 50 Indians attended military and religious training camps in Pakistan and the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir on average each year.

But they confirmed that an active recruitment drive was indeed under way in India.

It is impossible to pinpoint to what extent the still apparently small number of recruits are motivated by essentially Indian grievances - especially the pogroms in 2002 against Muslims in the state of Gujarat, which left 1,100 dead - or by the ideology of global political Islam.

But increasingly, many here fear, the two could be merging.

In fact, Narayanan said, a reminder of anti-Muslim violence in India is a powerful recruitment tool. "Quite often," he said, "the motivation is `You know what happened in Gujarat.'"

The Business Standard, an English-language daily, urged India in an editorial last week to start looking inward at what it called a "homegrown jihad," suggesting that blaming Pakistan alone for attacks on Indian soil was no longer sufficient.

"The national effort should make sure that even if Pakistan does its damnedest to plant evil seeds in this country, it must not find hospitable soil," the editorial concluded.

How hospitable India, home to roughly 140 million Muslims, is as a breeding ground for extremism remains a matter of debate.

Some analysts in India maintain that were it not for the efforts of Pakistan-based militants, Indian Muslims would lack the resources to carry out large terror attacks.

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