Sunday, June 4, 2017

London Bridge and Borough Market Terror Attacks

The United Kingdom is facing the brunt of jihadi terrorism. Instead of being in denial, the government needs to introduce radical measures which may not be entirely in consonance with Western values of freedom and rule of law.

Attackers drove a van at high speed into pedestrians on London Bridge before going on a stabbing spree in the nearby Borough Market area on Saturday 3rd June 2017 at about 2210 hrs in what British authorities described as terrorist incidents. The attack lasted only about eight minutes before which the jihadis were neutralized. Authorities urged the people on Twitter to “run, hide, tell” if they were caught in an attack. Latest reports suggested that about seven people were killed and several injured and three attackers were also shot dead by the police.

The attacks come days ahead of a June 8 election and less than two weeks after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a pop concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England. Though there was no immediate claim of responsibility, it does not require a rocket scientist to determine who the attackers were.

The BBC showed a photograph of two possible London attackers shot by police, one of whom had canisters strapped to his body.

A Reuters reporter said some time after the attack began that he had heard loud bangs near the Borough Market area.

Witnesses described a white van veering into pedestrians near London Bridge and knocking over several people.

“A van came from London Bridge itself, went between the traffic light system and rammed it towards the steps,” a taxi driver told the BBC. “It knocked loads of people down.

“Then three men got out with hunting knives, 12 inches long and shouting "this is for Allah" went randomly along Borough High Street stabbing people at random.”

Islamic State earlier on Saturday sent out a call on instant messaging service Telegram urging its followers to launch attacks with trucks, knives and guns against “Crusaders” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

An elite Special Air Service - SAS - unit nick named 'Blue Thunder' is believed to have landed on London Bridge following the attack. Blue Thunder, who act on orders from the Home Secretary, are a 70-man strong unit formed after the 2015 Paris attacks and trained in tackling domestic terror scenarios.

Blue Thunder’s name comes from the unmarked blue Eurocopter Dauphin helicopter in which they travel. Photographs appeared to capture two of the aircraft landing on London Bridge shortly after the vehicle and stabbing rampage.

The civilian style helicopter is used to transport Special Forces troops around the country quickly and covertly. 

Similar attacks, in Berlin, Nice, Brussels and Paris, have been carried out by militants over the past couple of years.

“Following updates from police and security officials, I can confirm that the terrible incident in London is being treated as a potential act of terrorism,” Prime Minister Theresa May said.

London’s river Thames police said it was working with the lifeboat rescue service to help evacuate people caught up in the attack, described by police as a terrorist incident.

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer U.S. help to Britain. The White House said he had been briefed on the incidents by his national security team.

One woman told Reuters she saw what appeared to be three people with knife wounds and possibly their throats cut at London Bridge at the Thames river. Reuters was unable to immediately verify her account.


Police said they fired shots after reports of stabbings in the nearby Borough Market area. They also responded to an incident in the Vauxhall area further west, but later said it was unconnected to the van and knife attacks.

Streets around London Bridge and Borough Market, fashionable districts packed with bars and restaurants, would have been busy with people on a Saturday night out. BBC showed dozens of people, evidently caught up in the attack, being escorted through a police cordon with their hands on their heads.

BBC radio said witnesses saw people throwing tables and chairs at the perpetrators of the attack to protect themselves.

According to one witness, she saw a speeding white van veering into pedestrians at London Bridge. That witness told the BBC that the van hit five to six people. Reuters television footage showed dozens of emergency vehicles in the area around London Bridge. There were unconfirmed reports that it was a B&Q and Hertz van.

The incident bore similarities to a March 2017 attack on Westminster Bridge, west of London Bridge, in which a Muslim man Khalid Masood killed five people after driving into a crowd of pedestrians before stabbing a police officer in the grounds of Parliament.

Instead of being in denial, the government needs to introduce radical measures which may not be entirely democratic. These measures may include but may not be limited to deporting hate preachers, closing down places of worship where radicalism is fostered, curbing entry of so-called refugees/migrants and eliminating jihadis who have participated in the conflict in Syria/Iraq and returned to the UK. It is better to eliminate the terrorists before they cause mayhem than after carnage has taken place as it happened in the Borough market.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Beheadings at the Line of Control: Indian Countermeasures

India must not hesitate to use lethal force and other covert means to thwart the enemy’s design without fear of escalation and be prepared to fight a limited war under the nuclear shadow

Under the cover of heavy mortar fire, a Pakistani Border Action Team comprising Special Forces and jihadi elements in a pre-planned operation sneaked 250 metres across the Line of Control (LoC) into the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir and beheaded two Indian security personnel on 1st May. It is learnt that the incident occurred when an Indian patrol of 8-10 soldiers was checking the border fence, a perilous task involving physically moving along the fence, very close to the Line of Control (LoC) in the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch, to check for damage to the fence or its electronic sensors. Some media reports suggest that the incident occurred when a joint team of the army and Border Security Force had gone to check the veracity of an intelligence report that landmines had been planted by Pakistani troops on the Indian side. As per reports, at 0825 hours, Pakistani army's 647 Mujahid Battalion targeted India's forward post 'Kirpan' from its post 'Pimple' in Krishna Ghati sector.

According to the modus operandi adopted by Pakistani troops on forward posts, the exposed Indian patrol first came under intense fire from automatic weapons which Pakistani soldiers had stealthily deployed in temporary positions just across the LoC.

With two Indian soldiers injured in the firing, jihadi fighters of the BAT darted across the LoC under cover of firing by Pakistani troops, killed the personnel, beheaded them amd returned to their side of the Loc with heads as trophies.

The deployment of BAT is a well-rehearsed tactic by Pakistan that creates deniability by using jihadis to cross into the Indian side. In the event of any jihadi being killed or captured, the Pakistanis disown it as an infiltration attempt. The Pakistani regulars remain on their side of the LoC providing covering fire to the BAT. This tactic of mutilating Indian soldiers, though employed at the local commanders’ level has the full support of the Army’s top brass.

This was not the first time that Pakistan indulged in mutilating the bodies of the Indian soldiers on the Line of Control.  There have been three instances of this inhuman and despicable conduct since India conducted a surgical strike in the end of September 2016. This unsoldierly action has gone on unchecked primarily because the retribution by Indian forces has not had the desired effect. The response or punitive action by India has been too little, too late to deter Pakistan. India has several options before it to bleed Pakistan. The question is does it have the political will and the capability to execute such acts. Inadequate punishment fails to deter Pakistani violations, while an excess could set off a cycle of escalation that could spiral out of control. India is constantly mired up in this question of the kind of action it must adopt to punish Pakistani.

It is extremely imprudent if the Indian state were to sit and draw up a plan of action after every such cross border violation and inhuman conduct by the rogues from across the border. A blue-print or a Standard Operating Procedure must be in place to completely render the Pakistanis impotent of waging either an all-out war or an asymmetric war.

The Indian military does not have a tri-service plan for immediate retaliation to such inhuman violations. This would generally involve pre-selection of Pakistani Army or jihadi targets, earmarking of the aircraft or teams of Special Forces to hit the pre-determined targets and having defensive measures for possible retaliation by Pakistan.

The options, without elaborating the ways and means of executing them and at the cost of repetition, are firstly to target the terrorist leadership of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Hizbul Mujahideen and all Kashmir and India-centric groups based in Pakistan and Af-Pak which are involved in bleeding India. Secondly, assassinate the top brass of the Pakistani ISI in Pakistan or outside. Thirdly, target Pakistani interests worldwide by means of sabotage and assassination. Fourthly, repeated pre-emptive strikes across the LoC and International Border targeting the terror infrastructure in Pak-Occupied Kashmir. And last but not the least swift retaliatory strikes in the event of any cross LoC violations very similar to Israel. These are extremely difficult options for which the political leadership and the military must be resolute and in sync with each other. And equally important is the fact that all arms of the military and civilian intelligence agencies must work in close coordination and in tandem.

India must reconsider reviving the Technical Support Division, a covert unit set up during the tenure of General V. K. Singh when he was COAS. (It was reportedly tasked with preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Main areas of operations were North and Northeast India, and against adversaries in neighbouring countries. The Army’s internal approvals for raising the TSD reportedly said it would “enable the Military Intelligence Directorate to provide a quick response to any act of state-sponsored terrorism with a high degree of deniability”. Such covert units are necessary to counter the threat posed by Pakistan and China though such units may be frowned upon in democracies).

It doesn’t need to be reiterated that India’s inconsistent Pak policy is one of the reasons for the current state of affairs. India cannot have trade ties and back channel talks when Pakistani policy has been to bleed India with a thousand cuts.  The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Today India neither has a strategy nor does it have tactics to deal militarily with Pakistan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Kulbhushan Jadhav: A Case of Pakistani Subterfuge

Pakistan is a rogue state which will stoop to any level and take recourse to any form of deception in order to achieve its “unholy objectives”

An Indian naval officer arrested last year and charged with espionage and sabotage was sentenced to death Monday, the Pakistani military said, a decision that is likely to further strain relations between the two nations.

The condemned naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested in March 2016 in Baluchistan, the restive province in South-West Pakistan, where a separatist insurgency has simmered for decades. While Jadhav was believed to be in Iran, running a cargo business or business to service dhows and ships from the port town of Chabahar, Pakistan claimed to have arrested him from the border town of Chaman in its province of Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan. Pakistani military officials described the capture of Mr. Jadhav as a major counterintelligence victory. He was accused of running a clandestine terror network within the province and of participating in various activities meant to destabilize the country.

Pakistan has claimed that Jadhav had infiltrated into Pakistan for “espionage and terror activities” and was in touch with Baloch separatists. They also claimed that Jadhav was travelling on a false passport, which identified him as Hussain Mubarak Patel, a resident of Powai in Mumbai. Mr. Jadhav is also known to spell his surname Yadav.

The Pakistani military said Mr. Jadhav was a “spy” who “was tried through Field General Court-Martial,” referring to a court-martial trial of heinous crimes, dedicated to cases involving foreign agents and spies.

The Pakistani military also asserted that Mr. Jadhav confessed before a magistrate that he was assigned by India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, “to plan and organize espionage and sabotage activities” in Baluchistan Province and Karachi, the southern port city that is the country’s commercial hub.

India disputes Pakistan’s accusations, which has often been the case in the testy relations between the two estranged, nuclear-armed neighbors. India gave a starkly different version of Mr. Jadhav’s arrest and profession.

Indian officials accused Pakistan of kidnapping Mr. Jadhav, whom they described as a former Navy officer, and said that repeated efforts for access to Mr. Jadhav were denied.

According to certain media reports, Kulbhushan Jadhav had reportedly approached Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) a number of times but his offers were turned down by the agency. According to The Indian Express report, between 2010 and 2012, Jadhav repeatedly had wanted to offer his service as a freelance intelligence operative but the organisation rejected the offer citing it will be ‘too much of a risk’.

In 2010, he had given proposal to R&AW, that his dhow, the Kaminda, can be used as a tool to gather intelligence on Pakistan’s port project at Gwadar. But “R&AW had little interest in Jadhav’s intelligence-gathering proposals,” the report said. However Anand Arni, the long-serving head of R&AW’s Pakistan Desk, who had retired in 2012, said “I will only repeat what I said on Monday which is that Jadhav was not an asset of the agency. Retired officers are never made assets, and we would certainly never send anyone on a clandestine mission with an Indian passport. You are free to believe or disbelieve me,” the report said.
In a videotape released by Pakistan’s military last year, Jadhav says he was recruited by R&AW in 2013, 10 years after setting up his base in Chabahar. However, there is no officer, past or present, bearing the name he cites as his handler — Joint Secretary Anil Kumar Gupta. In the videotape, Jadhav also claims he had contact with National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval, who served as Director of the Intelligence Bureau in 2004-2005, before taking up his current assignment in 2014. There is no evidence, though of such contact, and intelligence insiders said it was profoundly unlikely an intelligence service’s asset would be granted an audience with the NSA.

It is extremely difficult to say with certainty whether the former naval officer was working for the Indian intelligence. It is plausible that Jadhav was conducting a legitimate business in Chabahar and was abducted from the Iran-Pak border by an extremist outfit called Jaishul Adil linked to Al Qaeda and thereafter sold to the ISI. Barring Pakistan’s assertion that he was involved in espionage, there is little evidence to show that he was involved in espionage.

Having got an Indian, and that too a former naval officer in their custody, Pakistan thought it may reap political dividends by accusing India of fomenting terrorism inside Pakistan. However, India has resisted this and till date has been exerting diplomatic pressure on Islamabad without resorting to a tit-for-tat. India made it known that it sought consular access to Jadhav on thirteen occasions and Pakistan refused to grant access to the prisoner; he was not permitted to legal representation and his sham trial was conducted in secret by a Field General Court-Martial. How New Delhi hopes to attain its objective of getting one of its citizens illegally detained by a rogue state with only diplomatic means is anybody’s guess. Pakistan is an entity which has scant respect for international law or any law for that matter; it does not give a damn for human rights of its own citizens much less of Indians accused of espionage in its custody. Alleged Indian spies like Ravindra Kaushik, Sarabjit Singh and many others have died in Pakistani jails in the past several decades. Expecting Pakistan to hand over Jadhav is like chasing a chimera.

If Jadhav ought not to meet the same fate as that of the legendary Israeli spy Elie Cohen, India needs to change track in dealing with Pakistan. India needs to pay Pakistan back in the same coin. One of Pakistani Army’s own needs to end up in Indian custody. Indian agencies have the wherewithal to make this happen. There already have been unconfirmed reports of the “disappearance” of a retired Pakistan Army Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Habib Zahir, a Pakistani artillery officer who may have worked as an undercover ISI agent runner in Nepal from Nepal’s Lumbini on 6th April. It is also being reported that this Pak officer was involved in the abduction of Jadhav. If India is not thinking on these lines it needs to start building its capabilities to conduct snatch operations not only in South Asia but beyond. Instilling fear in Pak’s military establishment is the only way in which India and Indians can be kept safe. In the meanwhile Pakistani subterfuge continues.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Attack Foiled in Antwerp

Belgium thwarted a repeat of Nice in Antwerp a day after Westminster was attacked by an Islamist terrorist. A French-Tunisian Islamist was arrested after trying to drive a red Citroën with French license plates loaded with liquid gas, a shot gun and knives into a crowd of shoppers in an attempted terror strike.

The suspected attacker named as Mohamed R, 39 year old French-Tunisian tried to mow down pedestrians on Meir, Antwerp's main pedestrian street on 23rd March 2017.

Source: Daily Mail

It was not immediately clear if the car contained any explosives.

The car was driven down the Meir street in Antwerp - the city's busiest pedestrian streets. 

Shoppers had to dive out of the way of the speeding car to avoid serious injury.

Belgian soldiers then forced the driver to stop, but he fled by running a red light as he made his way towards the Scheldt river.

He tried and failed to knock people down in the busy shopping area and fled the scene towards the city's port where he was arrested, according to Le Soir. 

The man was detained on St Michielskaai in Antwerp which is less than a mile away from the Meir, according to VTM.

The gas liquid was found in a canister, and as a result the case was handed over to the federal prosecutor's office, which usually deals with terrorism cases in Belgium. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Westminster 22/3

In 2016, it was Brussels 22/3 and one year later it is Westminster 22/3. A terror attack in the heart of London left five dead and nearly 40 injured

The London terror attack is a developing story and is reminiscent of the 2001 Indian Parliament attack though on a relatively lesser scale. The incident has taken place on the first anniversary of the Brussels attacks carried out by by Islamist militants that killed 32 people.

An assailant believed to be an Islamist (owing allegiance to ISIS) stabbed a policeman and was shot by police just outside Britain's parliament building in London on 22nd March around 2.40 pm in what police described as a "terrorist incident." It was later announced that the policeman Keith Palmer, 48 succumbed to his injuries.  It was reported earlier that two people died in the incident, according to Sky News, but the total number of casualties was unclear. Later it was reported that five persons including the police officer and the assailant were among those dead and around 40 were injured.

Amid confusing scenes, it appeared the incident may have unfolded in several locations, including on the nearby Westminster Bridge where eyewitnesses said a car had crashed into pedestrians. 
A 4x4 vehicle ploughed into the railings near Westminster Hall after mowing down pedestrians on the bridge.

Source: NYT Terrain and aerial imagery by Google
The yellow arrow indicates the route taken by the terrorist on Westminster bridge; the two yellow circles are the places where the car crashed and where the assailant was shot and the red spots show where the pedestrians were wounded.

Reuters’ reporters inside the parliament building heard loud bangs and shortly afterwards saw two people lying on the ground in a courtyard just outside, within the perimeter of the parliamentary estate.

A Reuters’ photographer said he saw at least a dozen people injured on Westminster Bridge, next to parliament.

His photographs showed people lying on the ground, some of them bleeding heavily and one apparently under a bus.

Witness reports suggested the assailant and the stabbed policeman were the people seen lying on the ground just outside the parliamentary building by Reuters reporters.

The House of Commons, which was in session at the time, was immediately suspended and lawmakers were asked to stay inside.

Prime Minister Theresa May was safe after the incident, a spokesman for her office said. He declined to say where May was when the attack took place.

Journalist Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail newspaper told LBC radio that he had witnessed the stabbing of the policeman and the shooting of the assailant from his office in the parliament building.

"He (the assailant) ran in through the open gates ... He set about one of the policemen with what looked like a stick," Letts said. 
Letts, said he saw a man in black attack a police officer outside Parliament before being shot two or three times as he tried to storm into the House of Commons, the Press Association reports.

"The policeman (Keith Palmer) fell over on the ground and it was quite horrible to watch and then having done that, he disengaged and ran towards the House of Commons entrance used by MPs (members of parliament) and got about 20 yards or so when two plain-clothed guys with guns shot him." 
He added: “As this attacker was running towards the entrance two plain clothed guys with guns shouted at him, what appeared like a warning, he ignored it and they shot him two or three times and he fell.” 

Reuters’ reporters inside parliament saw a large number of armed police, some carrying shields, pouring into the building.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish parliament suspended a planned debate and vote on independence as news of events in London came in.

Britain is on its second-highest alert level of "severe" meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

The identity of the suspected Islamist militant has not been released by the London Police for reasons best known. It is rather stupid on part of the authorities to suppress the identity merely because of suspected ISIS links. Suppression of essential information leads to speculative reporting. The attacker was briefly identified by Channel 4 News as a prominent British-born Islamist extremist but the broadcaster later reversed its report after other journalists disputed it on Twitter. BBC Pakistan correspondent Secunder Kernani said a “reliable source” told him that the man Channel 4 named was in jail.

The Islamist link was apparent from the choice of weapons, namely using a vehicle to plough into a crowd as in Nice and Berlin and a knife for stabbing which has been used in the past by Islamist terrorists in Israel and elsewhere. The ISIS link is further reinforced by the choice of the target, namely, the heart of democracy, the British Parliament and a street with a lot of pedestrians. ISIS, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba choose high value targets and public places frequented by a lot of people at any given point of time.

The police again had no business to refer to the attack as a "Lone Wolf Attack" or that only a lone attacker was involved in the absence of detailed investigations.

In May 2013, two British Islamists stabbed to death soldier Lee Rigby on a street in southeast London.

In July 2005, four British Islamists killed 52 commuters and themselves in suicide bombings on the British capital's transport system in what was London's worst peacetime attack.

Update: The identity of the assailant was released by the authorities. The name of the assailant is Khalid Masood, 52 from West Midlands who had a  criminal record but was not considered as a terror threat. According to sources, the terrorist was killed by the protection officers of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Update 25th March: According to security officials, the terrorist Khalid Masood was not a “lone wolf” and others had played a key part in indoctrinating him and helping him to carry out the deadly attacks in Westminster on 22nd March.

The disclosure that the British-born Muslim convert was likely to have been part of a wider conspiracy came as armed police detained 11 people in raids across the country with two of the arrests, including that of a woman, Rohey Hydara, a Gambian woman with whom he was living, described as “significant” in the investigation.