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Firstpost: Wagah suicide attack: With Kolkata on alert, India fears it will be targeted next

This article was originally published in Firstpost, on 5 November 2014.

Sunday’s lethal suicide bombing attack at Wagah in Pakistan, very close to the Indian border, has set alarm bells ringing in India, though New Delhi can take relief from the fact that there has not been a single ‘jihadist’ suicide bombing in India yet.

The only incidence of high-profile suicide bombing in India is the 21 May, 1991 attack on Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, in which the former prime minister was assassinated. But that was not a jihadist act as the perpetrators were highly trained assassins of the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

This writer asked a top security honcho in the Indian government whether he recalled a single jihadist suicide bombing attack in India and he responded in the negative.

The UK-based internationally active NGO – Action on Armed Violence – in its well-researched paper, “A Short History of Suicide Bombing”, published on 23 August 2013 gives an exhaustive account of suicide bombings since the first such attack on 13 March, 1881 in Russia till the contemporary times. However, India does not find any mention in this paper which can be read here.

The biggest threat to India from the Wagah attack is that such a lethal modus operandi of jihadist terror outfits has come so worryingly close to the Indian borders and thus the possibility of this menace coming to India cannot be ruled out.

There have been several suicide attacks in India and even worse kind of suicide operations: fidayeen attacks. The parliament attack, the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008, the Kaluchak massacre are among such high-profile fidayeen attacks – a modus operandi wherein terrorists are on suicide mission and fight the security forces till their last breath to maximize the kill quotient but do not kill others simply by blowing themselves up.

This is precisely the worry of the Indian security establishment. It is a matter of when, not if, that suicide bombings make a presence in India? This is the question uppermost in the minds of Indian security officials after the Wagah incident.

Another gnawing worry for India is whether the recently launched India-specific Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is in some way behind the Wagah attack.

While AQIS has maintained a stony silence on the Wagah carnage, three factions of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a pro-al Qaeda outfit, have claimed responsibility for the attack. These three TTP factions are: the Mehsud Group (which claimed to have carried out the Wagah attack in retaliation to killing of its chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in Pakistan last year); Jundallah (against Pakistan military’s recent operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan); and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar group (also against military operations in North Waziristan).

The AQIS has not launched any attack in India yet despite its pronounced focus on India ever since its existence came to be known in late August this year.

The question is whether the AQIS launched the Wagah attack as a prelude to similar or even fiercer attacks in India, even though the involvement of AQIS is yet to be established.

AQIS, like a large number of other jihadist outfits, has a thriving base in Pakistan but is not known to have a network in India yet. Probably, the outfit plans to use its Pakistan base to hit at Indian interests.

The first attack of AQIS in Pakistan came days after its formation, when on 2 September its operatives killed Brigadier Fazal Zahoor, an officer of the Pakistan Army for his alleged role in killing of several innocent women and children in Waziristan. The second attack of the AQIS in Pakistan was even more audacious when its cadres unsuccessfully tried to seize control of PNS Zulfiqar with the ultimate objective of launching missiles from the Pakistani warship at the American warships berthed nearby.

AQIS seems to be having a fetish for naval operations and targets and may well be having trained cadres being guided by former naval officers.

Tuesday’s big development of intelligence warnings of terror threat to Kolkata port and the high alert sounded at the port should be seen in this context.

The Indian intelligence and security set-up is keeping its fingers crossed over the next possible moves of terror outfits. Their worst fear is that jihadists may be weaving an intricate terror web to come up with a big bang operation.

Indian intelligence agencies must have employed all its resources by now to glean every bit of information about the Wagah attack. It is possible that the latest intelligence on possibility of terror attack on Kolkata Port may have come from such an effort to put the Wagah zigsaw puzzle in the Indian context.

The AQIS must be high up on the Indian security radars.

Read more about AOAV’s work on IEDs and suicide bombings.