Several days prior to the Thursday’s twin bomb blast that ripped the Indian city of Hyderabad, the Indian government allegedly possessed prior information of impending terror attacks in the country. This raises fresh questions on the ability of the nation to thwart such attacks.
Surveying the blast site, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde explained the government had passed the information about the possible security threat to the law enforcing agencies in the state of Andhra Pradesh. According to the reports, although the information was not specific, it did give a warning of a possible strike in a list of cities including Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Bangalore in Karnataka, just three days ago.
"No intelligence was given that a particular area it will happen. A general alert was given in the past two to three days to the whole country. And that's all," Shinde told reporters.
Following the execution of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks convict Ajmal Kasab and 20o1 Delhi parliament attack accused Mohammed Afzal Guru in last 30 days, India was put on high alert. Pakistan-based Islamic militants, Taliban, had vowed to avenge the executions targeting India.
However, the Andhra Pradesh state law enforcement agencies appear to have passed off the information alert as “routine.”
No terror groups have claimed responsibility for the Thursday’s attacks yet, but the Indian police are investigating the possible involvement of Indian Mujahideen (IM), a shadowy Islamic militant group, with reported ties to Pakistani terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the Thursday’s twin blasts that occurred in a crowded area of Dilsukh Nagar, Hyderabad, has risen to 16 as two more people succumbed to injuries. According to the preliminary information, the bombs were powerful and attached to two bicycles about 150 meters (500 feet) apart in the area.
The bombs were made of pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) and ammonium nitrate. And, they also carried other signature elements used by the terror outfits – shrapnel, nuts, bolts and pieces of steel – to cause maximum damage, leading Indian daily The New Indian Express reported.
The pattern of the bombing and the place chosen points towards the involvement of IM, which allegedly has carried out similar blasts in other parts of the country including Delhi (2011), Pune (2010) and Jaipur (2008), security experts pointed out.
“This kind of communally sensitive place, the use of detonators and timers, the pattern of the bombings and the fact that bombs were placed on cycles point the finger toward Indian Mujahideen,” N. Manoharan, an analyst at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based policy research group told Bloomberg.
Media reports quoting the authorities said that the intelligence had stumbled on a possible security threat on Dilsukh Nagar, when an IM operative was arrested last October. According to a police release, two alleged IM operatives Syed Maqbool and Imran Khan reportedly had conducted surveys of Dilkhush (Dillsukh) Nagar, Begum Bazar and Abids in Hyderabad on a motorcycle at the behest of IM leader Riyaz Bhatkal.
Although there was no specific alert prior to Thursday’s attacks, intelligence and the law enforcement authorities had several factors that seemed to hold clear pointers to the south Indian city of Hyderabad as a soft target.
Hyderabad, the capital city of the state of Andhra Pradesh, with a population of nearly 7 million people, has a clear history of communal violence between the Hindus and Muslims. Media reports quoting intelligence sources suggested the existence of several IM sleeper cells in the state. Previously, even the 2002 and 2007 blasts in Hyderabad were linked to this group.
IM is believed to be born out of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and has been active in India since 2007. A block of hardline Islamic militants reportedly broke off with moderates in SIMI and formed the IM, after the 2002 Godhra communal riots. Although the group has been striking targets prior to 2008, they formally announced their existence in emails sent to the media houses ahead of the 2008 Jaipur blasts.
The organization was banned in India in June 2010 and was also declared as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the U.K. in 2011. The group operates through sleeper cells that remain silent or subdued in the background. These sleeper cells are activated at the time of attack or other militant operations.
“Many of the sleeper cells of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and IM are still active in Hyderabad and we are regularly monitoring them,” a police officer told leading South Indian daily Deccan Herald.
Security experts believe the failure of the government to prevent such attacks despite repeated warnings indicates inherent flaws in India’s infrastructure to fight such terror networks and their ghastly attacks. Any general information on security threats also cease to hold impact given the size of the country and the federal law enforcement system.
“In the absence of specific intelligence inputs, India remains unable to check militant groups. Local police are not trained or equipped well enough to meet this kind of threat,” Manoharan explained.
India has multiple agencies to address terrorist activities and lack of coordination among the different agencies pose a huge obstacle to combat terrorism.
“Having multiple agencies that claim to tackle terrorism isn’t enough if the police forces on the ground aren’t strong enough,” Bharat Verma, an expert on defense matters, told CNN-IBN news.
Further, the local police force appears handicapped owing to staff crunch and lack of training in terror combat. A Human Rights Watch report explains how India has an officer deployed for every 1,037 residents, while global average is one officer per 333 citizens.
A preliminary investigation report on the Hyderabad bomb blasts also point to the lapses in police coordination and the local police’s ability to correlate and collaborate the warnings with the pointers.
Apparently, wires of the security camera in the site of the bomb blast were cut off four days prior to the attack. Although the traffic police was aware of incident, they made no attempt to repair the instrument or investigate.