Monday's attempted assassination of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi — and Tel Aviv's reflexive indictment of Tehran for the incident — threatens to put India bang in the middle of escalating tensions in West Asia and raises new fears about its vulnerability to international terrorism.
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Tal Yehoshua Koren, an embassy official who is also the wife of Israel's defence attaché, sustained serious injuries when a bomb fixed to her Innova car went off at 3.15 p.m., less than 500 metres from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's official residence. Ms. Koren was on her way to pick up her children from school.
The diplomat, who was travelling on the back seat, sustained serious injuries as the blast ripped through the vehicle's metal body. Her driver, Manoj Sharma, lost control of the car after the explosion, and was injured when it crashed into a road divider. Delhi residents Manjeet Singh and Arun Sharma, who were driving behind the van, were also injured.
Eyewitnesses said the injured diplomat and her driver were evacuated by passers-by. “People rushed to the car,” said bystander Ravi Singh. “An Air Force fire truck later doused the flames.”
Delhi Police Commissioner B.K. Gupta said eyewitnesses confirmed that “a device had been affixed to the vehicle by a motorcyclist” who passed the car. Police sources told The Hindu that they were sifting through high-resolution images obtained from closed-circuit cameras installed in the area.
Also on Monday, police in Tbilisi, Georgia, defused an identical magnetic explosive device shortly before the attack. Interestingly, similar devices have been used to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists in attacks in Tehran last year — attacks western media have attributed to Israel's secret service, Mossad.
Even as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran and the Lebanese group Hizbollah for the attack and vowed vengeance, intelligence sources in New Delhi said there had been no specific intelligence of a planned attack on the country's diplomats in India and no immediate leads on possible perpetrators. A Reuters report from Tehran on Monday night quoted Iranian officials condemning the bombing and denying any responsibility for it
An intelligence source said the mode of attack suggested the perpetrators had some degree of sophistication, having shown the capacity to lie in wait for a car with Israeli Embassy number-plates and tail it through heavy traffic. “It is possible the attack was rehearsed, in which case it would show up in past closed-circuit television footage,” he said.
No similar operation has been attempted by terrorist groups in India, bar a drive-by shooting at the Jama Masjid in New Delhi which took place on the eve of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Experts, meanwhile, said the attack demonstrated persistent deficiencies in New Delhi's emergency-response systems, noting that no lockdown of nearby roads was put in place even though the attack took place close to the Prime Minister's residence.
“The sad fact is that high-tech forces and centres are useless unless police capabilities are improved bottom-up,” said Ajai Sahni, director of the Institute of Conflict Management.
“If the police can't detect an abducted woman being driven around Delhi by rapists for three hours, they're not going to be able to find terrorists after a shootout either,” he said.