In spite of multi-million investments, investigations into 5 urban terrorist attacks since 26/11 continue to flail about in dark

In spite of massive investments in investigation and counter-terrorism intelligence capabilities since 26/11, police forces across the country have made little progress in identifying the perpetrators of the five major urban attacks which have taken place since then.

The attacks include the February 2010 bombing of the German Bakery in Pune; the April 2010 serial bombings at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, the drive-by shooting at Delhi's iconic Jama Masjid in September 2010, and the December 2010 bombing at the Shitla Ghat in Varanasi.

In May this year, a car bomb planted outside the Delhi High Court, mercifully caused no loss of life, apparently because the electronic circuits in the explosive device malfunctioned in the extreme heat.

The National Investigation Agency, set up with fanfare in 2009 to assuage public anger over a similar series of failures leading up to 26/11, has been assigned three of these cases — but it is yet to register success.

In 2010-2011, the latest annual report of the Union Home Ministry records, large investments were made in “new measures to meet the grave challenges posed by global terrorism.” The report says the MHA's major achievements include the establishment of new rapid-response hubs for the National Security Guard special forces, and the establishment of an online National Intelligence Grid.

Experts say the poor dividends from these measures were predictable. “Even though both State and Central governments have been scrambling to set up all kinds of special counter-terrorism forces,” says Dr. Ajai Sahni, Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, “there has been no real effort to improve intelligence-gathering and investigations capabilities from the bottom-up.”

“No computer,” he points out, “is going to help you solve a case if you've got no worthwhile data to feed into it”.

Flailing investigation

Investigators believe all the five attacks are linked to members of the Indian Mujahideen — the Lashkar-e-Taiba linked terrorist group responsible for a string of attacks in several Indian cities between 2006 and 2008. Little hard evidence, however, has emerged to support the claims, though police say the available intelligence suggests that the organisation has been attempting to regroup.

Part of that evidence, the Gujarat Police say, came from Danish Riyaz, a software engineer arrested earlier this year on charges of having participated in the Indian Mujahideen's 2008 strikes in Ahmedabad.

Mr. Riyaz, the Gujarat Police claim, left his job with a software firm in Hyderabad soon after the bombings, and moved to Ranchi. There, he is alleged to have helped harbour several fugitive Indian Mujahideen figures — key among them being Abdul Subhan Qureshi, who liaised among the multiple jihadist cells which carried out the organisation's urban bombing campaign.

Police say that Qureshi left Ranchi for Nepal in 2008, tasking Mr. Riyaz with finding new recruits for the organisation. He, however, did not, according to investigators, have any success. “Local members of the Students Islamic Movement of India,” an official associated with the investigation said, “did not want anything to do with his efforts.”

Eight other alleged Indian Mujahideen operatives, three of them linked to the 2008 attacks in Gujarat, were recently arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police. Investigators say interrogation of the three men, Mujeeb Sheikh, Muhammad Faisal and Mehboob Malik, did not throw up any specific information that fresh attacks were being planned.

Police have been accused, with some reason, of attempting to manufacture evidence in an effort to conceal the lack of progress.

In May 2010, Mangalore resident Abdul Samad Siddibapa was arrested on charges have having carried out the attack — an apparent breakthrough that led the Union Home Minister to publicly congratulate State and Central authorities on “apprehending the prime suspect within hundred days of the incident.”

The Hindu, however, first revealed that Mr. Siddibapa, who had been interrogated several times for his possible connections with the Indian Mujahideen, had no connection with the incident.

Fabrication of evidence

Later, Mumbai Police investigators claimed to have evidence linking Latur resident Mirza Himayat Baig to the Pune bombing. In a charge sheet filed in December, the investigators said Mr. Baig was ordered to carry out the attack by Muhammad Zarar Siddibapa — Mr. Siddibapa's younger brother, who closely resembles a man captured carrying the bomb by closed-circuit television cameras.

The charge sheet also states that Mr. Baig was trained by fugitive Lashkar operatives Fayyaz Ahmad Kagzi and Zabiuddin Ansari, who are alleged to have been responsible for a series of strikes

Lawyers for Mr. Baig have, however, since said that Mr. Baig was in the custody of the Maharashtra's anti-terrorism police at the time the German Bakery was bombed.

Fabrication of evidence by the police forces is alleged to have undermined past investigations into several Indian Mujahideen attacks. Investigations by The Hindu, for example, revealed credible evidence that Indian Mujahideen operatives likely carried out the 2006 bombings of Mumbai's suburban train system — an offence for which several other suspects are now being tried.

The pictures of people injured or killed in the Mumbai bomb explosions may cause distress to readers. They are being published to show the horror, the trauma, and the human suffering inflicted by the terrorist attacks.

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