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The Delhi terror trail

Some thoughts on the HuJI & IM emails, and the on-going investigation.

Investigation into the heinous attack on the Delhi High Court that left 11 dead and several injured has begun.  At the center of this investigation are two emails alleged to have been sent by Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and, subsequently, by the Indian Mujahideen (IM).

The email alleged to have been sent by HuJI was via Gmail.  Based on this article by DNA, NIA and Delhi Police investigating the terrorist attack traced the email to a cybercafe in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir.  The owner of the cybercafe, Mehmood Khawja and two others are reportedly being questioned.

A couple of important points need to be noted about the ongoing investigation.  First, Gmail is a free, web-based service provided by Google, whose mail servers reside in the U.S.  As such, these mail servers and the data they contain are subject to U.S. law. In the event that the Government of India would need access to any of this information, it would need to make a formal request, justifying its need to access a third party’s data, to Google via the U.S. government 1.  If this has indeed happened and has resulted in India obtaining data pertinent to this email, then it bodes very well for the Indo-US counter-terror cooperation.

This is especially impressive, since Indian investigators were able to gain access to the alleged HuJI mail account within the span of 3 hours (the email was sent 3 hours after the blast and investigators had access to the account’s password 3 hours subsequent to that, as indicated in DNA’s account).  Now, it is entirely also possible that Indian investigators were able to guess the account’s password, but the gut feeling of this blogger is that the explanation provided by NIA and Delhi Police stretches credulity.

Next, Toral Varia, journalist with Rediff has a good comparative analysis of the emails sent by HuJI and IM to ones previously sent by these groups.  The article points out discrepancies in typefacing and format — even spelling (the IM email misspelled mujahideen as “Muzahideen.”) — from threats previously received from these groups.  Therefore, it would appear that these emails were sent by people who may have not had prior knowledge about a pending attack on Delhi High Court.

It must be noted that Indian Mujahideen has sent as many as five emails claiming responsibilities for various attacks. All the emails were drafted with precision using PDF files, various fonts and colours, Urdu script, a proper signature, a well researched list of recipients, and sent minutes after a terror attack was executed. All the mails were signed by ‘Al ARBI.’

Content for the Indian Mujahideen mails was usually written in impeccable English, interspersed with the verses from the holy Koran, a picture of the Gujarat carnage, references to ‘atrocities on Muslims’ amongst other inflammatory literature.

However, one look at both the emails, that have been sent claiming and counter claiming responsibilities for Wednesday’s blast, and the first impression is that the mails have perhaps been sent by an amateur. [Rediff]

At the same time, it is also equally important to not discredit these leads based on prima facie evidence.  Unfortunately, some TV news anchors are dismissing these emails as “prank emails.” It would be dangerous to categorize them as such.  Now, the fact the senders of the HuJI email were traced down as quickly as they apparently were leads us to believe that the senders weren’t very technically adept.

Those who follow the modi operandi of jihadi groups know that the first rule that today’s terrorist learns is cyber cover and concealment.  This might possibly indicate that the senders of the email were either not very well trained, or not directly linked to the perpetrators of the attack.  However, this shouldn’t necessarily mean that these correspondences were “prank emails,” as the entire purpose of the emails might have been to deliberately mislead investigators.

Finally, we must recognize that we must give investigators the time and space to fully and thoroughly investigate the attack. Delhi Police has been (quite fairly) criticized for not learning from the lessons of the past and not taking the necessary precautionary measures to deter the attack.  We also know all too well that not one terror attack in India since 2005 has been resolved.  But at the same time, let’s not play judge, jury and executioner before we’ve given the NIA and DP the opportunity to investigate.  In this regard, the media should take it upon itself to play a more constructive role.

1 Some readers have brought Google’s “User Data Requirements” (LT vinay and @_g0nz0_) to my attention. It would appear that Google has established processes allowing governments to access private user data. Based on the language, it appears to be broad enough to access to email, without the involvement of the U.S. However, both GoI and Google would have to be astonishingly effective were the entire process, from request to receipt, accomplished within the span of 3 hours.

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We Are Also Victims of Terror

“We’re also victims of terror”.  This phrase has come to be used quite liberally by Pakistani leaders (civilian and military), usually in response to an incident on foreign soil that invariably involves their citizens.  It has always surprised me that our leaders and media have never called them out on this bogus statement.  At best, the statement is an unintentional gaffe.  At worst, it’s a calculated oversimplification, regurgitated with the intention to mislead.

Terrorism is a very broad term, and one that has been made popular by the Bush Administration to almost always mean Islamic terrorism, perpetrated against the West or Western targets.  Therefore, the 9/11 and 7/7 attackers in New York City and London were “terrorists”, while those that attacked Mumbai last month, were merely “gunmen” or “militants”.  Theoneste Bagosora’s people, who butchered 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in the worst genocide the world has seen in decades, were Hutu “militia”.

“The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.”

— Asif Ali Zardari, “The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too“, New York Times (12/8/2008)

Even the term “Islamic terrorism” is a very broad generalization.  It is precisely the obscurity of this term that allows Pakistan the convenience of hiding their incompetence and/or connivance with the ruse that they are victimized by the same groups.  This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.  In terms of pan-Islamic interests, Al Qaeda is the most significant organization that Pakistan today battles in NWFP.  Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were trained and equipped by the CIA and the ISI to fight against the “Godless” Soviets.  When the Soviets withdrew, they turned around and bit the hands that fed, as it were.  Pakistan today fights the Taleban and Al Qaeda, not because they have ideological differences with them, but because they were forcefully dragged into the “War on Terror”.    It is interesting though that in the many tapes that he has released to Al Jazeera, bin Laden has rarely ever mentioned Kashmir or India.  This isn’t because he doesn’t have anything against India (he clearly does) , but because his immediate priorities are different.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Bacha Khan, aka Frontier Gandhi

Khan Abdul Ghaffar "Bacha" Khan, aka "Frontier Gandhi"

In Baluchistan, FATA, and NWFP, a region that boasts of colonial-era heroes such as Bacha Khan (“Frontier Gandhi”), the theater of violence is limited in scope to the aspirations of the tribes and ethnicities in the region. They do not think of themselves in being part of a pan-Islamic struggle against the “infidels”, but as good Waziris and Baluchis fighting for autonomy to preserve their way of life.   For them, the tribe is more important than the concept of the nation, which they dismiss as a western concoction.  Therefore, those suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (e.g., Baitullah Mehsud) were motivated by a perceived threat to their way of life by a liberal, decidedly pro-western politician.  Despite the gradual radical Islamization of these regions, there is no direct threat to India emanating from the various tribes and groups.

However, there are two types of terror groups in heartland Pakistan — those who seek to act in Pakistan, and those who seek to use Pakistan as a base to act elsewhere. The fight to act in the heartland is along inter-ethnic (Shias vs. Sunnis, Pashtuns vs. Sindhis, Sindhis vs. Mohajirs, etc.) and anti-government lines, and includes terror organizations such as Lashkar-e-Omar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.  The Mariott bombings in Islamabad in September 2008, were, by many accounts, perpetrated by terrorists opposed to the political process of Pakistan.  Other radical actors, such as the Ghazi brothers who held out in the Lal Masjid in 2007, fought for a more fundamental implementation of Islam in Pakistan, and were against Parvez Musharraf’s quasi-western “enlightened moderation” policies.  Although JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar is said to have delivered speeches at the Lal Masjid, the interests of Pakistan’s new adversaries in the heartland, again, are confined to the politics of Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are different.  That they enjoy the protection of the ISI and elements of the Pakistani army highlights the impotence of the country’s civilian leadership.  JeM’s objectives include the liberation of Kashmir and its subsequent incorporation into the dominion of Pakistan.  Its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, was languishing in an Indian jail before he was set free by India in exchange for the lives of Indian civilians aboard Indian Airlines flight 814, which was hijacked to Kandahar by JeM in 1999.  To show gratitude for his release, Azhar sent his thugs around in 2001 to attack the Indian Parliament.  Similarly, LeT’s objectives are clear — the liberation of Kashmir (a goal closely aligned to Pakistan’s own objectives), and the Islamization of South Asia (i.e., wiping out Hinduism).  Indeed, the group’s founder, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, appears to have no quarrels with the State of Pakistan, and considers himself a patriotic Pakistani — a very different view indeed from the other terror groups that denounce political division as a western idea, and see themselves as warriors of the Muslim brotherhood.

In summary, yes, Pakistan, you are a victim of terror, but, no, it isn’t the same kind of terror, and it isn’t being perpetrated by the same terrorists. Seven years ago, you called the people who attacked India “freedom fighters”.  You offered them “diplomatic” and “moral” support.  So let’s be clear: the people that attacked Mumbai, attacked Mumbai — not Karachi.  They attacked India, not Pakistan.  And while Asif Ali Zardari paints his nation as a victim on the international stage, Lashkar’s aiders and abettors, citizens of his country, under the protection of the very agencies that he supposedly oversees,  are busy plotting their next big bloody assault on India.

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