'Gunmen aim to halt India's international ties'

US, UK, Israel ties targeted, but Israelis not the "main focus," Indian defense source tells 'Post.'

mumbai terror 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
mumbai terror 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The multiple terror attacks that have rocked India's financial capital Mumbai were aimed at halting India's increasingly close relationship with the US, Britain and Israel, a senior Indian defense source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, noting that nationals of each country had been targeted. The attacks were also aimed at fomenting strife between India's well-integrated, sizable Muslim minority (third only in size to the Muslim population of Indonesia and Pakistan) and the Hindu majority, according to Colonel Behram A. Sahukar, who has extensive practical experience in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in the Indian subcontinent. "There have been growing strategic ties between India and the US... and growing ties between India and Israel," Sahukar said. Indian-Israeli relations have "been getting stronger by the day," Sahukar noted, though he stressed that this did "not come at the expense of India's relations with Arab countries." Americans, British nationals and Israelis had been singled out in Mumbai as a result "of the closeness of their governments to us," Sahukar explained. The attackers perceive India's close ties with these countries and its partnership in the global war on terror "as a war against true Islam," he added. Sahukar, a former Fellow in Terrorism and Security Studies at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and a researcher at the United Service Institution of India in Delhi, said the raid and hostage-taking attack on the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai was an opportunistic act by a jihadi group with ties to radical elements in Pakistan. At the same time, however, Israelis were not the main focus of the terror onslaught, he added. "This particular attack was expanded to include the Chabad House, but the [main] targets were Americans, and British nationals, because the UK is seen by the radicals as a poodle of the US," he said. "If they wanted to hit Israelis they would hit Goa [south of Mumbai] or Manali [northeast of Dehli]," Sahukar said, naming hugely popular destinations among Israeli backpackers, where signs in Hebrew are commonplace, and where Sahukar said locals have even begun speaking some Hebrew because of the large numbers of Israelis passing through. Sahukar said the attacks may have been launched by a coalition of home-grown Indian jihadi sleeper cells and Pakistan-based radical elements. "The involvement of Pakistan is evident from the rubber dinghy boats found near the Mumbai waterfront, and past history shows that a sophisticated operation to coordinate and plan these simultaneous Fedayeen [martyrdom] attacks is necessary for sustainability and staying power," he added. The attacks could also be linked to a group associated with Omar Sheikh, the man who beheaded the Jewish American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Sheikh, together with Maulana Mazood Azhar, were released by India in exchange for the release of 180 passengers on a flight hijacked by Muslim radicals in 1999. "Omar Sheikh was later implicated in the murder of Daniel Pearl, and Mazood Azhar formed the Jaish e Muhammad group, which in conjunction with the Laskar e Taiyyaba launched several Fedayeen attacks against India's Parliament in December 2001, and in Kashmir since 1999," Sahukar said. "This is not the first time that Westerners have been targeted, but it is the first time that they have been targeted on this scale and in such a violent manner," he added. Sahukar recalled how in June 1991, seven Israelis and one Dutch tourist were kidnapped from a houseboat in Srinagar, Kashmir. In the subsequent scuffle, one Israeli was killed and the others escaped. Other attacks on Westerners followed. Sahukar said terrorism was now engulfing large cities in India due to crackdowns on trouble spots like Kashmir in recent years. "This is shown by recent attacks in Gauhati and two other towns in Assam, Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Htderabad, Mumbai and also Delhi," he said. "Terrorists will also use India's vast and vulnerable coastline to introduce radical Islamists and explosives, in conjunction with home-grown terrorists and the activation of home-grown Indian Muslim militants," Sahukar stated. The name of the group which has claimed responsibility for the attack, Deccan Mujahideen, "does not really mean very much," according to Sahukar, who said the name appeared to be a front for members of the Indian Mujahideen and the banned terrorist organization Students' Islamic Movement of India. The extremists are seeking to play off Hindu-Muslim tensions, which came to the fore in 1992, when Hindu radicals destroyed the renowned Babri Masjid mosque built on top of a Hindu holy place. Ten years later, 58 Hindus were burned alive by Muslim rioters in a train car in Ghodra. That incident was followed by dozens of attacks on Muslims by Hindus in the state of Gujarat. Sahukar expressed hope that Hindu militants would not fall into the trap set by jihadis by alienating India's moderate Muslims. Sahukar regularly visits Israel to participate in conferences held by the Interdisciplinary Center's Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya. "If anything, these attacks will bring India even closer to the US, UK, Israel and even Pakistan in its fight against terrorism in general and Islamist terrorism in particular," Sahukar predicted.