Local Jihadi network marks 'a whole new challenge'

India appears to be facing a homegrown terror apparatus for the first time, expert says.

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The little-known group that claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks across Mumbai, India Wednesday appears to be a jihadi "al-Qaida-like" group that is homegrown, a counter-terrorism expert told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The name of the group, the Deccan Mujahideen, indicates it is signaling that it is indigenous, since the Deccan Valley is a vast plateau in central India behind Mumbai, said Greg Barton, an Australian-based professor and expert on counter-terrorism and politics of the Muslim world. "This may well be the beginning of a new era in India," Barton said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "India has a lot of experience in dealing with attacks by separatist groups, Maoists, Marxist groups, Hindu fundamentalists and Islamist extremist groups, but it hasn't acknowledged dealing with a Jihadi homegrown network and that appears to be happening now. If that's confirmed, this is a whole new level of challenge." Indian authorities had long claimed that India did not have a problem with homegrown militias, only with radical Jihad Islamists that come from Pakistan, Bangladesh or elsewhere, he said. India is widely believed to have the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. While the name Deccan Mujahideen has not been used before, a group called the "India Mujahideen" has been involved in terrorist attacks against Indian nationals earlier this year. The term mujahideen means fighters in Arabic and was usually associated with Islamic groups who see themselves as freedom fighters or holy warriors, Barton said. "It seems quite likely that [Deccan Mujahideen] is either connected with that group or it is the same group, but we won't know for sure until after the interrogations" of the surviving suspects, he said. In addition, the nature of the attacks was "brazen and skillful," indicating that some very experienced fighters were involved, he said. It is thus likely that the perpetrators had experience fighting in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al-Qaida was born and maintains a stronghold. It was also fairly easy and cheap to travel between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said. In addition, the terrorists singled out British and American citizens, which brings to mind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - also a cause of al-Qaida. "It doesn't mean that it is al-Qaida, or that it is linked to al-Qaida but it shares that ideology, or 'al-Qadaisms,' as some people put it," Barton said. "It may be a source of inspiration or assistance; there may be some rivalry with them. But there seems to be some sort of parallel with al-Qaida activity," Barton added. A British security official told the AP that, though it is too early to know for sure, the attack doesn't look to have been directed by al-Qaida's core leadership. But he said the fact Westerners had been singled out suggested it was inspired by Islamic extremist ideology. Westerners in India's financial center were targeted in the spectacular attack comprised of multiple, simultaneous assaults - a signature of past al-Qaida actions including the September 11 attacks. But the Indian attack was carried out by gunmen and not the suicide bombers frequently employed by al-Qaida and its affiliates. AP contributed to this report.