Indian Police Hunt for Bombers

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 15, 2008

NEW DELHI, Sept. 14 -- A day after five serial bomb blasts rocked the Indian capital, killing 21 people and wounding about 100, police teams raided several neighborhoods Sunday and questioned a balloon seller, a street vendor and an auto-rickshaw driver. Authorities also examined scanty evidence from closed- circuit TV cameras and detained at least 10 suspects for interrogation.

A police spokesman, Rajan Bhagat, told reporters that the team had "strong leads."

Counterterrorism squads from two other Indian states flew to New Delhi to assist in the investigation. The bombs exploded in trash cans, on bicycles and on an auto-rickshaw in crowded marketplaces Saturday. Investigators said that ammonium nitrate was used as an explosive, packed with metal ball bearings, and that a timer device was used.

On Saturday, TV stations received an e-mail bearing the name Indian Mujahideen and asserting responsibility for the attacks. Similar e-mails, which describe the group as a "homegrown Jihadi militia of Islam" were sent just before a series of bombs exploded in July in the western state of Gujarat, killing at least 45 people.

A senior Home Ministry official said authorities are searching for a man they suspect is one of the chief conspirators behind the recent spate of attacks. Abdul Suban Tauqir, a software engineer, is suspected of having sent the e-mail on behalf of Indian Mujahideen by hacking into an unsecured wireless network in a Mumbai suburb.

Police say Tauqir, who was allegedly trained by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, also taught some Indian members of a banned students' group called the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

About 580 people have lost their lives in major bomb attacks in several Indian cities since October 2005. Although there have been no convictions in most of the attacks, police have repeatedly said that members of SIMI, which was banned in 2001, have been involved in either actively planning the bombings or providing logistical support.

Founded in 1977, the group worked openly on Indian college campuses to strengthen religious identity and conduct "character-building" activities among Muslim students. In the 1990s, the group began advocating the creation of an Islamic state in India.

When mobs of Hindu zealots demolished a 16th-century mosque in 1992, SIMI produced posters proclaiming: "The Revenge is Due."

Many people say the authorities are falsely accusing SIMI. In India's ruling coalition government, some political parties who draw a considerable number of votes from India's Muslim population of 130 million say innocent Muslims are being harassed under the guise of investigating SIMI.

But Indian officials say they have strong evidence of a SIMI link. "The group now calling itself the Indian Mujahideen is another form of SIMI," said P.C. Pande, the police chief of Gujarat state, in August. "After the ban in 2001, they converted themselves into many groups. It is very difficult to probe them because these organizations are no longer functioning on the surface."

The e-mail received Saturday bears the title "Eye for an eye." It gives a detailed 13-page critique of the Indian political system and news media reports of Hindu fundamentalism. It vows revenge on various state anti-terror squads. It calls the demolition of the 16th-century mosque "one of the most heinous crimes against the Muslim nation ever witnessed by history" and says that the group will make "you taste humiliation for generations to come."

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