Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hyderabad Bombings

Terror re-visited the southern Indian city of Hyderabad around 7.00 pm on 21st February after a five year hiatus with two massive explosions triggered by tiffin-carrier bombs planted on bicycles near an intersection in a densely populated Dilsukhnagar area leaving about sixteen dead and more than 100 injured. The first bomb exploded in front of a restaurant called Anand Tiffin Centre near the Konark theatre and the other exploded a few minutes later at a foot over bridge, near the Venkatadri theatre, about 150 metres away from the site of the first explosion.

Dilsukhnagar, in the eastern part of Hyderabad, is an education and commercial hub with several computer coaching institutions, theatres and fruit and grain markets in the vicinity. There is a temple in the neighbourhood where devotees congregate on Thursdays.

According to media reports, the Dilsukhnagar a Hindu-dominated locality with a history of communal tension has been on the terrorists' radar for long; at least since 1999 when a bomb was planted near a Hanuman temple. The device was detected in time by the police.
Although intelligence agencies are not rushing to a conclusion about the perpetrators of Thursday’s terror attacks, their suspicion of India Mujahideen's role is derived from the fact that the terror outfit had targeted precisely the same spot — near the foot over bridge in Dilsukhnagar — on August 25, 2007 when IM carried out serial blasts in Hyderabad.

During their interrogation in 2008 in connection with their involvement in the serial attack on Hyderabad the year before, two members of IM — a Indian proxy of Lashkar-e-Taiba which was launched to cloak Pakistan's involvement in the terror campaign against India — confirmed that Bhatkal was the mastermind.

The suspicion is derived also from the testimony of the three alleged IM terrorists to Delhi Police in October 2012. Imran, Tabrez and Syed Maqbool told the special cell that they had been assigned by Bhatkal to do a recce of Dilsukhnagar and other communally sensitive areas in Hyderabad. The duo – Syed Maqbool and Imran who were arrested by the Delhi Police for their involvement in the Pune bombings of August 2012 – revealed that they also did a recce of Hyderabad’s Begum bazaar and Abids area on a motorcycle.

Given the nature of intelligence available to the central agencies and / or the state police, can it be said that specific intelligence was not available? Specific intelligence does not mean that the intelligence agencies will always get information on the specific target/s which will be attacked and the timing of the attack. It is foolish to assume that the input will state that a bomb would be placed near the foot over-bridge in Dilsukhnagar. At the same time, if alerts pertaining to specific targets are issued at regular intervals, it may be difficult to place the specific targets under surveillance 24x7. In the present case, it appears that neither Delhi Police nor the central agencies and the Andhra Police who participated in the interrogation of Maqbool and Imran Khan in October 2012 could pick up the leads and deduce that Dilsukhnagar could be targeted.  A leading national daily in its edition dated 23rd February 2013 reported: “A team led by Superintendent of Police (Intelligence) B Sumathi spent several days in Delhi interrogating Maqbool and Khan soon after they were arrested by the Delhi police’s Special Cell in October 2012.”
An officer from Hyderabad said, “This information was never shared with us by the Delhi police. We cannot go by media reports and if there was a specific mention of Hyderabad, it ought to have to been communicated to us officially.”

The Delhi police, however, maintained that the tip-offs were passed on. An officer said that information was given promptly to the Maharashtra police and they in turn even released pictures of Waqas and Tabrez, who are being considered as suspects in the Hyderabad blasts.

According to Delhi police officials, the local police and special cell (Hyderabad) had information about Maqbool. They should have followed up the case as soon as he was arrested and sought more details.

This information had also been passed on to the Intelligence Bureau, which had issued alerts to many police stations including Hyderabad, they claim.

The analytical abilities of the security agencies based on available inputs were found to be lacking. The bulk of the blame lies on the Andhra Pradesh police for not having analyzed the information available first-hand and for failing to initiate pro-active steps to foil the attack. In the present case, an oft-quoted charge of lack of coordination between various state police and the central intelligence agencies cannot be leveled because personnel of the AP police were directly involved in the interrogation of Syed Maqbool and Imran Khan in Delhi. However, the AP police denied being informed by Delhi police about the information derived from the two suspects.

Assuming that the media reports were misleading or untrue, the AP police will still have to be held responsible for the failure to pick up ground intelligence and activation of a terror module in communally sensitive Hyderabad.

An oft asked question is why India fails or has failed to control terror, be it indigenous or sponsored from across the border? Though there are no straight answers, certain changes are necessary in the manner in which Indian agencies combat terror.

Firstly, as has been repeatedly mentioned in this blog, India has created far too many agencies with over-lapping responsibilities in collection of intelligence and for counter-terrorism. In the ultimate analysis, as was the case in Kargil, responsibility for collection of the intelligence and its dissemination cannot be fixed or attributed to a single agency.

Secondly, it is essential to shift the emphasis from intelligence collection through electronic means (ELINT) or communication intercepts (COMINT) to collection of intelligence through human assets (HUMINT). No intelligence agency can combat terror successfully without HUMINT. Today, India’s intelligence lapses are largely due to lack of human penetration of terror cells or modules. Only human assets can provide timely and accurate information on targets likely to be attacked. The US which relies on sophisticated technology for intelligence gathering and for countering terrorism, relied on human agents to track down Osama bin Laden. While India can go in for National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) – an intelligence sharing network that collates data from stand alone data bases of the various agencies and ministries of the government, it is absolutely necessary to focus on grass root intelligence gathering. This in effect would mean that the beat constable of the local police station is vested with the responsibility of cultivating and tapping local resources for information. [In Mumbai, Anti-terror Cells (ATC) have been set up in every police station for this purpose]. 

Thirdly, Indian agencies are unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past. Hence, they are prone to repeating the same mistakes. The findings and recommendations made by Inquiry Committees which are set up to probe lapses after major incidents of terror are never made public and thus it is unclear whether any recommendations have been ever implemented. In India, committees are constituted more to lessen the political fallout and assuage public ire rather than for strengthening the system.

Fourthly, as a democracy, there is a need to enact a law in order to have better control and supervision of affairs relating to intelligence agencies. A parliamentary over-sight will ensure that misuse of intelligence agencies is minimized and there would be greater accountability to the nation.

Lastly, the citizenry through seminars and programmes need to be made aware of terror threats and the need to be alert and most importantly must be encouraged to interact with the local police. A tip off from an alert citizen is as important as any intelligence input sourced from an agent. Today there is a wide gulf between the public at large and the police, with the common man unwilling to repose faith in the police. If the existing trust deficit between the citizens and the police is minimized, community policing can reap rich dividends in the area of detection of terrorist crime and its prevention.


Pete said...

Hi Kumar

Your post has a wealth of detail and tightly argued commentary not present in mainstream media articles (or my own offering :).

In terms of Islamic terrorism the US and Australia have the advantages of:
- relatively few Muslims,
- Muslims are usually part of the inclusive national "meltingpot"
- no land borders with Muslim countries,
- no border with a country (Pakistan) that uses terrorism as a Cold War tactic
- much more money per capita to channel into counter-terrorism(CT), and
- as you have well illustrated much more coordinated CT resources, including humint.

Islamic terrorism of course is not the only type with rightwing anti-government being very significant in the US.

With the addition of other types of terrorism and domestic insurgencies (eg. Naxalites) India probably has the heaviest CT burden of any democracy. India being a democracy probably is a disadvantage CT wise, for example in comparison to China's crushing of Muslim identity and rights.

Overall India may therefore always have significant levels of terrorism. But as you've outlined the security response can be better coordinated particularly in terms of proactive intelligence.



Kumar said...

Hi Pete
Thanks for the generous words of appreciation. I entirely agree with your views. India's geographical location makes it vulnerable to terrorism fomented by radical Islamists, groups like LTTE and the various militant outfits in India's North-East who are backed by the ISI and China. Given this unenviable position, India needs to continuously be on guard and is also forced to combat these groups militarily. Believe me, internal security issues have become a big challenge for India's security forces in the last decade or so.