Indian Decade

Signals From the Varanasi Blast

Despite the deadly attack in Varanasi, the Indian Mujahideen is clearly a much degraded terrorist force.

On December 7, 2010 a bombing in the holy city of Varanasi killed an 18-month-old child and injured as many as 40 people. Radical Muslim group, the Indian Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility.

The incident underscores several important points. First, it points to the substantially degraded capability of the Indian Mujahideen, a homegrown terror network that claimed responsibility for this act in its trademark email, which was sent from Mallad, Mumbai.

Although the Varanasi blast is a chilling reminder from the IM that it’s still around, it also shows that the outfit continues to be crippled, weak and disorganized since Indian security forces broke its backbone a couple of years ago after a spate of bloody attacks across the country.

There are three clues to the change—the timing of the blast, the nature of the explosive device used and the modus operandi.

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First, according to the Mujahideen’s email, the Varanasi blast was an act of retaliation against the demolition of the Babri Masjid (Mosque) back in December 6, 1992. But the fact that the perpetrators couldn’t execute their work on the actual 18th anniversary of Babri Masjid’s destruction on December 6 points to some definite chinks in the IM’s armour. Clearly, the terrorists weren't confident they could pull off a more symbolic attack on the actual day and so decided to wait a little.

Second, the improvised explosive device (IED) used in the attack, which was hidden in a milk container, was a low intensity one and didn’t have shrapnel or other projectiles like nails to maximize the ‘kill’ quotient. The explosion did cause the tragic death of a toddler, but the rest of the nearly 40 injured were able to escape with their lives. Had the IM been at its historic deadliest, the number of fatalities in Varanasi could well have reached three figures, especially considering that thousands of devotees were present at the Sheetla Ghat (memorial) at around 6:30 pm. In contrast, two explosions that rocked Varanasi previously on March 7, 2006 killed 28 people.

The single blast on December 7 therefore makes it pretty clear that the IM's capabilities have been substantially eroded since March 2006. Cobbling together a crude device and hiding it in a milk container at a crowded religious place isn't rocket science, and doesn't require specialists to plan and execute.

This is the third attack by the IM since February, when more than a dozen people were killed in a German bakery-restaurant in Pune and two Taiwanese tourists were shot at in Old Delhi on September 19, an act largely aimed at disrupting the Commonwealth Games.

But this latest incident suggests IM executed a hurried and ill-prepared plot more to show their presence to their alleged Pakistani masters than anything else. It’s probably their way of telling their believed handlers in Pakistan that they still have the guts, gall and grit and could do better if they had more funds. Indian security managers must take this cue.