The Indian Mujahideen: The New Face of Jihadist Consolidation

By: Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray and Dr. Shanthie Mariet D'Souza

On 29 February 2000, a one-page note, scribbled on a piece of paper, arrived at a newspaper office in Hyderabad, in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The "Indian Muslim Mohammadi Mujahideen (IMMM) has been formed," it announced. According to the note, the organization was "committed to eradicate the western culture from India" and, as a first part of this campaign, had bombed cinemas that ran pornographic films.1

The note ended law enforcement agencies' search for the perpetrators of a number of incidents that had taken place a month earlier. These included a bomb blast at a sweets shop owned by a sympathizer of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu right-wing organization with a pan-Indian presence; two unexploded devices recovered from a movie theater and a location near the high-security Defence Research and Development Organisation laboratory; and explosions at two movie theaters, one in Andhra Pradesh and the other in the neighboring state of Maharashtra. All of the recovered and exploded bombs had been devised from the same substances: potassium nitrate, potassium permanganate, aluminum powder, and sugar.

Less than two months after the note's appearance, the IMMM's chief, Azam Ghauri—who was also a top leader of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)—was killed in an encounter with police, and the threat from the IMMM was thought to be over.2 The IMMM, however, was only one of many offshoots of a larger organization, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI),3 that set about implementing SIMI president Shahid Badr Falahi's 1992 pledge: "Muslims organise themselves and stand up to defend the community."4 Security agencies were able to swiftly neutralize organizations like the IMMM and the Mujahideen Islam e-Hind (MIH), another SIMI offshoot, mostly because the groups sought instant publicity for their actions, which exposed them to the security establishment. Law enforcement agencies' experience with the Indian Mujahideen (IM) has proved to be different, however.

In the following three sections, we analyze the unique operational dynamics of the IM, which, we argue, are responsible for its cohesion as well as its success as a terrorist organization. On the basis of some recent findings, we examine the IM's cadre recruitment, explosives manufacturing, external and internal linkages, attack patterns, and attempts to transform itself from a guardian of wronged Muslims in India to an avenger of ill-treated Muslims worldwide. We argue that the IM's future and its success in carrying out attacks are critically linked to India's internal efforts to target the IM's unique strengths and neutralize the support that the IM receives from external sources.

The IM's Developing Ideology: Three Distinct Phases

On 17 July 2013, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the organization that New Delhi set up after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks as the primary agency to investigate all terrorist incidents in India, stated in its charge sheet that the IM "was formed in 2003 after ultra-radicalised Muslim youth segregated from the Students Islamic Movement of India."5 Similar to the IMMM and the MIH, the IM has its roots in the avowed need to radicalize the SIMI's plan of action even further. In 2001 and 2002, a rebellion of sorts was brewing within the SIMI. A faction broke away from the less-radical parent organization and sought new cadres who were already sufficiently radicalized; their extremism was further boosted by contact with external militants such as the LeT. This new faction became the IM. The IM, in a way, was also a result of the LeT's "Karachi Project," which had sought to raise a new network of jihadists.6 In its 17 July 2013 charge sheet, the NIA added that the IM cadres "do not believe in India's Constitution and IM's members nurse communal hatred against the Hindu community."7

Since the IM had been formed on an agenda of waging a violent war against Hindu India, no spell of moderate militancy separated the IM's birth from its first act of violence. Within a relatively short time period, however, the IM underwent three distinct phases of ideological expansion: traversing from a narrow India-centric ideology to revenge-seeking and eventually embracing the concerns of Muslims in other countries. This is not to suggest that the IM abandoned or progressed beyond any of the causes that it initially championed. Rather, it acquired new additional causes to fight for. In effect, the IM's successes in the Indian theater and its constant ideological oscillation demonstrated the IM's widening profile and proclivity for becoming an integral part of the global jihad. Such a broadening of ideology was important, for it fit in well with the amplification of jihadist terrorism in South Asia, especially boosted by the prospects of instability in post-2014 Afghanistan.

Guardian of Wronged Muslims in India

According to an estimate by an intelligence agency,

By 2005, the IM had firmly established a complete terror outfit, with different sections in charge of providing manpower and sourcing explosives and bomb components. A specialist computer-services cell was already in place. Different leaders were already travelling countrywide, liaising between cells.8

The IM's war on Hindu India began in 2005 with a string of urban attacks, which included serial explosions in the national capital, Delhi—two bombs exploded at busy marketplaces and a third exploded inside a Delhi Transport Corporation bus, killing 62 people.9 There was some question about who had carried out the attacks. The LeT was initially suspected. A Delhi Police special cell team also claimed to have killed the mastermind of the blasts in an operation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2007.

In 2006, the IM carried out serial bombings in the Hindu pilgrimage town of Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Three explosions, one in a crowded temple and two in a railway station, killed 21 people and injured 62 others.10 In 2013, an arrested IM cadre who had participated in the 2006 bombings told his interrogators that the timers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used in the Varanasi blasts were similar to the ones used in the 2005 Delhi blasts.11 Since the formation of the IM had remained unannounced, these attacks were thought to have been perpetrated by Pakistan-based outfits, like the LeT, and the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami. The fact that the LeT was still perpetrating large-scale attacks, like the July 2006 explosions that targeted the train systems in Mumbai and killed 200 people, made the task of looking for another perpetrator seem unnecessary.12 Indian security personnel felt comfortable in the assumption that because the LeT was still active within India, the LeT must be behind the Varanasi attacks.

The IM's first-ever ideological affirmation came in the form of its first manifesto, which the group released in 2007 after it had bombed court complexes in Lucknow, Varanasi, and Faizabad. The manifesto claimed that the blasts were intended to "punish local lawyers" who had physically attacked some suspects who were being held for an abortive kidnap plot against politician Rahul Gandhi by the terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). The manifesto, however, spoke broadly of "wounds given by the idol worshippers to the Indian Muslims"13 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a disputed mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh that Hindu radicals had demolished in 1992 following violent countrywide communal riots. Emphasizing the miserable condition of the Muslims in the country, the manifesto concluded, "If you want to be a successful person in India, then you should be an idol worshipper and kill Muslims."14

The IM released two other manifestos in 2008 and 2010, following more bombings in Delhi and Varanasi, respectively. Both documents pointed at the role of "the Supreme Court, the high courts, the lower courts and all the commissions" for failing the Muslims in India. The 2008 manifesto, running nearly 14 pages and titled The Rise of Jihad, indicated that the bombings were carried out to avenge the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. "In the light of the injustice and wrongs on the Muslims of Gujarat, we advance our jihad and call all our brethren under it to unite and answer these irresolute kafireen [infidels] of India," it said.15 The 2010 manifesto, titled Let's Feel the Pain Together, said that the attack in 2010 served as a reminder to Hindus that the IM had "resolved that none of your mandirs [temples] will remain safe until and unless all our occupied Masjids [mosques] throughout India are returned back to the Muslims."16

When the IM targeted the Indian judiciary in explosions outside the Delhi high court in 2011, its attacks had already spanned the entire country and were being carried out in almost all of the major urban centers, including New Delhi and the country's financial capital, Mumbai. Attacks in Ahmedabad and Pune in the west, Hyderabad and Bangalore in the south, Patna and Bodh Gaya in the east, and Delhi in the north made the IM look like a pan-Indian outfit capable of taking its activities to almost any corner of the country. Among these attacks was a 2010 incident in which two bikers fired on tourists gathered at the gate of the Jama Masjid in the Old Delhi area. The drive-by shooting, the only attack of this nature carried out by the IM so far, was to be followed by an explosion, but the explosive, which was fitted into a car parked in the area, did not go off due to faulty circuitry. This attack was carried out on 19 September 2010, days before the opening of the Commonwealth Games in the national capital. Two Taiwanese nationals sustained bullet wounds.17

By the time of the Jama Masjid attack in 2010, the IM had stopped mailing its usual manifestos claiming responsibility for its attacks, so investigative agencies had to rely on interrogations of arrested IM cadres to unravel the intentions behind the explosions. The IM had also diversified its target selection, demonstrating that it was indeed willing to go after almost any target, with the sole intention of maximizing fatalities. Revenge against Hindus and the institutions facilitating the dominance of Hinduism over the Muslims remained the proclaimed raison d'être of the IM—at least for awhile.

Avenging the Deaths of Its Cadres

Over a period of time, the IM began perpetrating terror attacks even to avenge the deaths of its cadres, representing a drastic climbdown from its larger goal of fighting on behalf of the Muslim community. According to interrogation reports, the explosions in Pune, Maharashtra, on 1 August 2012 were intended to avenge the killing of imprisoned IM cadre Qateel Siddique by his cell mates in a Pune prison a couple of months earlier.18 The attack included five coordinated low-intensity explosions on a busy road in the heart of Pune, injuring one person. Another live IED was later recovered from the area.

Guardian of Wronged Muslims Worldwide

Within a year of the Pune attack, the IM had expanded its worldview, aiming to take up the causes of persecuted Muslims outside of India. Blasts that targeted the Buddhist shrine in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, in July 2013 were said to have been in response to violence against the Rohingyas, a Muslim population in Myanmar, by members of the ethnic Buddhist majority. Arrested IM cadre Umair Siddiqui told his interrogators that he had been approached by another IM cadre, Haider Ali, about the Rohingyas' situation, and both had finalized the plan to carry out the attack at the Buddhist shrine.19 Earlier, arrested LeT cadre Abdul Karim Tunda revealed that the LeT had also been part of the Bodh Gaya attack; during his interrogation, Tunda detailed the LeT's plan,20 in collaboration with the IM, to recruit Rohingyas and carry out the attack.

On 27 October 2013, explosions in Patna, Bihar, were reportedly carried out to protest communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.21 The recovery of a large amount of explosives at Ranchi, Jharkhand, on 4 November 201322 demonstrated the IM's plan to maintain the momentum in its violent campaign. Similarly, the recovery of documents from an IM safe house in Ranchi, including handwritten notes from IM members detailing future action plans, pointed to the possibility that the IM would carry out future attacks on Buddhist shrines, foreign tourists, and public installations in the state of Chhattisgarh.23

The IM's wide array of unconnected objectives underscores the fact that, instead of remaining a purely ideology-based organization with both local and global aspirations, the IM could be willing to carry out attacks for almost any cause that suits its convenience. Believed to be controlled by external forces (including the JeM, the LeT, and the Pakistani external intelligence agency known as Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI]), and to nurture the aspiration of making common cause with al Qaeda,24 IM leaders could be looking well beyond the traditional outfit that was triggering explosions only on behalf of wronged Indian Muslims. Although the IM is largely defined as an indigenous or homegrown terror organization within India, its leadership does not appear to be averse to eventually transforming the outfit into a pan-Islamist terrorist operation.

A Formula for Success: Three Operational Patterns of the IM

In this section, we show that, apart from its emergence as an alleged protector of Muslims' interests, the IM's success as a terrorist formation is based on three distinct operational patterns: its external support base and linkages, its unique and secretive recruitment drives, and its manufacture of explosives.

External Support Base and Linkages

As explained earlier, the IM is by no means the first-ever homegrown Islamist outfit to wage a war within India. It has several predecessors—the SIMI, the IMMM, the MIH, and the Al Ummah, an organization born in the early 1990s with the intent to radicalize Muslim youth in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. However, the way that the IM carries on with its shadowy bombing campaign, over a large swath of the country's territory, makes it a completely different, and far superior, entity than its predecessors in its organizational capacities and its ability to withstand the kinetic measures of the state.

Indian officials' assessments have routinely pointed at the IM's connections with Pakistan, contending that without the continuing assistance that IM leaders receive from India's western neighbor, the outfit's potency would have been far more limited. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's description of the IM says that it draws "motivation and sustenance from inimical forces operating from across the Western border."25 India claims that two of the IM's founders, brothers Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal, are based in Pakistan under the protection of state agencies including the ISI. Indeed, both Bhatkal brothers, along with top IM leaders such as Abdul Subhan Qureshi and Sadiq Israr Sheikh, have undergone training in the LeT camps in Pakistan.26 Their names are regularly included in the list of persons, both Indian and Pakistani nationals, whom India wants Islamabad to deport from Pakistani territory. Interrogations of arrested IM cadres have revealed that several persons within Pakistan have extensive connections with the IM outfit. The Indian home minister has claimed that a number of IM cadres "were sent to Pakistan for training in weapon and explosives" and investigations "will throw valuable light on the role played by elements based in Pakistan in fomenting acts of terrorism in India."27

Pakistani nationals have taken a direct part in a few of the IM's operations in India. Among the six IM cadres arrested in the 2010 Jama Masjid attack in Delhi was a Pakistani operative.28 Zia-ur-Rehman (alias Mohammad Waqas), who served as the principal explosive assembler for the IM and was arrested in the Indian state of Rajasthan on 21 March 2014, also is from Pakistan. Inversely, the IM's Pakistani connection is a natural corollary of the fact that its leaders are based in Pakistan and their actions are believed to be directed by the state and by allied non-state agencies like the LeT. According to a report, the LeT and the ISI could have influenced individuals and modules within the IM, even to the point of promoting specific attacks.29 However, whether such nexus, safe haven, and ad hoc support translates into "strict command and control over the entire IM network, which is significantly decentralised," as the report claims, remains a matter of debate.30

Contrary to the definitive official assertions linking the IM to its Pakistani sponsors, some recent accounts have pointed to a significant level of autonomy and self-sufficiency in the IM ranks and to the outfit's ability to carry out attacks without any external help. Stephen Tankel's extensive 2014 report on the IM suggested that this jihadist movement constitutes "an internal security issue with an external dimension."31 Indian media reports have also underlined that the IM "works on its own and recent attacks have shown that they have carried out blasts with no support from Pakistan."32 Theories about the functional independence and self-sufficiency of the IM explain, to an extent, the IM's unique operational dynamics and success.

At the same time, however, none of the reports and theories points to a severing of ties between the IM and its Pakistani mentors. On the contrary, the IM's achievement of a level of self-sufficiency indicates the fruition of the LeT/ISI strategy to portray the IM as a wholly homegrown terror formation—a key ingredient of Pakistan's clandestine destabilization project, known to Indian officials as the Karachi Project. In the words of an unnamed intelligence official, "While it would not be right to say that there is no Pakistan patronage any more, the fact is that Inter Services Intelligence, the Pakistani spy agency, and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba have ensured that the IM becomes self-sufficient."33 IM cofounder and senior leader Syed Mohammed Ahmed Zarar Sidibapa (alias Yasin Bhatkal, hailing from the same village as the two Bhatkal brothers), following his arrest on 29 August 2013, revealed that the IM wished to become a part of the global jihad. The realization of such an arguably pretentious and grandiose dream can only be facilitated by the LeT.

Cadre Recruitment, Modules, and Linkages

Key to the functional efficiency of the IM is its somewhat unique, personalized recruitment campaign targeting small, Muslimmajority towns and villages in different parts of India. Available data suggest that select senior leaders of the IM were assigned to be at the center of highly personalized and closely guarded micro recruitment drives that targeted technically savvy and educated youth, who were to function as attack planners, and petty criminals and the less educated, who would function as the more dispensable logistics providers and explosive planters. Available listings of IM cadres include men as young as 18 years of age and middle-aged men past 50 years.

IM modules comprising both tech-savvy and illiterate individuals sprang up in many of the medium-size and smaller cities of India. Each module is based on a formula: keep the cadre profile small and maintain a mixture of new and energetic as well as experienced individuals. The modules' cadres come from rural as well as urban areas, such as Azamgarh in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is known to have contributed a large number of jihadists to the Indian theaters of conflict, and Seethio, a nondescript village in Jharkhand state that is far away from the radar of the Indian intelligence agencies. The IM had set up a module in Ranchi, Jharkhand, code-named Machhli-5 (Fish-5), to assassinate Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).34 According to intelligence sources, a module had also been planned in Nepal.35

Each IM module replicates the model popularized by al Qaeda: it is functionally independent, although finances are centrally disbursed by the IM's top leadership. Such functional independence maintains a regime of insularity between the modules, protecting the other modules and the IM in the event that a particular module is compromised.

The IM's seemingly uncomplicated organizational model, however, achieved some degree of complexity with reports of a three-way split within the IM in late 2008. On 14 May 2008, a day after the IM executed serial explosions in the city of Jaipur, killing 80 people and injuring 216 others, an e-mail sent to the media claimed that the IM now had three wings: "the Shahbuddin Ghouri group to attack southern India, the Mahmood Ghaznavi group operating in north India, and the Shaheed Al Zarqawi group that executed suicide attacks."36 The IM's identification of the three groups, which were named after historical Muslim invaders and al Qaeda leaders, was mostly a propaganda exercise. Later in 2008, however, the IM is known to have split into three factions in actuality.

Following the Batla House encounter in New Delhi in September 2008, in which two IM cadres were killed and two others arrested, IM founding members Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal, based in Pakistan, are believed to have tried to gain complete control over the IM's operations. This initiative, which was accompanied by allegations of improper spending of funds by Iqbal, created a rift between the Bhatkal brothers and senior member Amir Reza Khan. Khan decided to operate separately with his own set of people and formed the second IM faction. The third faction of the IM is headed by Mirza Shadaab Beg and Mohammad Sajid, both hailing from Azamgarh.37 Beg and Sajid are part of the first IM module that executed blasts from 2006 onward at various places, including in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Mumbai, and Delhi. Beg is also accused of having participated in the 2007 blasts in Gorakhpur and Varanasi. Despite the divisions among the IM factions, available evidence suggests that the factions' top leaders maintain their independence while remaining in constant communication with one another, seeking advice and assistance.38

Although the SIMI effectively disbanded itself in 2001, following its official proscription in India and subsequent governmental actions targeting SIMI cadres and facilities, it continued to provide significant support to the IM cadres. According to an estimate, by 2000, roughly three years before the IM's creation, the SIMI had some 400 ansars (full-time workers) and 20,000 ikhwans (sympathizers) in addition to a cell for young children aged seven to 11, called the Shahin Force.39 This significant mass of people comprised lower-middle- and middle-class families who were energized by the message of Islam's preeminence over the decadent and immoral West and a polytheistic Hinduism. It would be correct to assume that by the time the IM achieved some influence in 2005, most of the SIMI cadres who had not become foot soldiers of the IM became its ikhwans. The SIMI cadres continue to provide shelter and gathering space for IM cadres who are attempting to evade security forces following an operation. Among the many examples of this collaboration between the two groups is an episode in which four IM operatives involved in the Patna explosions in October 2013 were hidden in Chhattisgarh for a fortnight by a group of erstwhile SIMI activists.40 According to intelligence sources, certain IM cadres are responsible for maintaining a steady linkage with the SIMI. These include Hyder Ali, who is wanted in connection with the Patna explosions,41 and Abu Faisal, who is suspected of devising a plot to kill three judges because they handed down an allegedly pro- Hindu judgment in the Babri Masjid bombing.42

Tools of Terror

Aside from the lone drive-by shooting incident at Jama Masjid in Delhi in 2010, the IM's modus operandi has involved planting explosives in crowded places and is geared toward two objectives: maintaining the bomb planter's anonymity and maximizing casualties. Within this tightly defined mode of operation, the IM has benefited from its highly diversified, flexible, and cost-effective explosives manufacturing process.

To begin with, the IM's mode of manufacturing explosives involves a central bomb-making expert, believed to be Mohammad Waqas, the IM Pakistani national. Waqas was described as suffering from a facial paralysis that necessitated frequent visits to doctors within India, a story that allowed Waqas, over time, to pass on his techniques to a select band of Indian IM recruits during his stays in the country. This group included Yasin Bhatkal, one of the IM's founding members. To carry out explosions on an array of targets while maximizing fatalities, the IM requires a large number of IED assemblers to fulfill the needs of its different modules. After his explosives training with Waqas, Bhatkal in turn went on to train other IM cadres in the techniques.43

The strategy of having an array of explosives assemblers, however, backfired to some extent. Starting in 2010, three of the IM's bombing campaigns—at the Jama Masjid, Pune, and Bodh Gaya—were largely unsuccessful. Many of the planted explosives either could not be detonated or were ineffective in their impact. Forensic experts who examined the unexploded bombs identified problems in the circuitry of the devices, among other issues. It is probable that the learning process for IED assembly in these cases was somewhat incomplete.

On many occasions, senior leaders like Yasin Bhatkal also doubled as planters of explosives,44 indicating that the IM is indeed non-hierarchical and fully geared toward achieving its objectives. This further upholds the organization's operational principle of keeping its module strength small and maximizing the output of every member.

The IM has also experimented with establishing central manufacturing units for explosives. Indian officials raided at least four such facilities: one on the fringes of the Bhadra forests near Chikmagalur, Karnataka, in 2008; another in the Meer Vihar area of Nangloi on the outskirts of New Delhi in 2011; and two more in 2013, in the southern coastal city of Mangalore, Karnataka, and in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. As many as 90 ready-to-use IEDs were recovered from the raided facilities in Mangalore and Hyderabad.45 Also recovered from the Mangalore facilities were 50 magnets. Interrogation of Yasin Bhatkal revealed that the IM had planned46 to develop sticky IEDs and use them on freight trains that carried petroleum products, in an attempt to turn the entire train into a mega bomb.

The IM has manufactured its explosives predominantly using locally available chemicals. As a result, its IEDs contain less research department explosive (known as RDX), which has to be imported from foreign countries and is thus both harder to procure and more easily traceable than local products. Ammonium nitrate, which continues to be available in the Indian markets even after a 2011 sale ban by the government,47 has remained a primary component in the IM's explosives throughout the group's bomb-making career.48 On some occasions, nitro-gelatin sourced from private suppliers49 has also been used in IM explosives. Police sources reveal that the IM may be using stolen industrial explosives as well for manufacturing its IEDs.50 While the explosive content of the IM's IEDs has remained more or less the same, the IM has attempted to bring sophistication to the manufacturing process by experimenting with a variety of timers.

Some Shortcomings of Indian Law Enforcement Agencies

Unlike the conflict-affected regions in India's northeast, the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the states affected by left-wing extremism, where New Delhi uses a mix of force and development-centric approaches for conflict resolution, there isn't an official Indian policy toward violence perpetrated by the Islamists. Some of the key elements of the investigative agencies' anti-IM policy include pursuing IM cadres who are involved in particular attacks and targeting their networks, financial channels, and explosives manufacturing. Strengthening intelligence, hardening targets, and recruiting security-force personnel have also been key strategies to neutralize the IM game plan. This largely reactive approach has appeared successful in the event of a terrorist arrest, seizure of explosives, or raid of a module, but looks far less successful when the IM has managed to carry out its bombings.

Apart from India's inability to pursue the IM leadership based in Pakistan and the largely unresponsive attitude of Islamabad toward antiterrorism, Indian law enforcement agencies' overall policy suffers from three interlinked primary shortcomings: limited knowledge of the IM, increasing sectarian polarization in Indian politics with regard to the IM, and the Indian culture's apathy toward in-depth research on counterterrorism.

Limited Knowledge of the IM

Although hundreds of IM and SIMI cadres have been arrested since 2008 in connection with the bombings, including many who provided logistical assistance to the bombers and IM leaders, there is little indication that the agencies have developed any significant understanding of the IM's modus operandi, recruitment patterns, and funding. Only part of the problem has been addressed since the NIA came into existence in 2009 and was assigned to investigate the IM attacks. The NIA has struggled to gain adequate cooperation from the state police departments, and has been handicapped by botched investigations conducted by state counterterror units into a number of IM attacks prior to the NIA's formation. The unique and highly diversified operational tactics of the IM have created additional roadblocks for the NIA, even as NIA agents pursue leads generated from arrests of individual cadres.

The 29 August 2013 arrest of IM cofounder/leader Yasin Bhatkal has been the biggest achievement so far for the NIA vis-à-vis the IM.51 According to a statement issued by India's home minister, Bhatkal was arrested along with his associate Asadullah Akhtar (alias Tabrez) while "planning to meet in East Champaran area (near Raxaul), Bihar to plan/execute some terrorist acts."52 Other media reports, however, indicated that both of these terrorists were arrested in Nepal and deported to India. The Nepalese government has denied that the arrests occurred on its soil, while at the same time asserting that no anti-India activity would be allowed in Nepal.53 The confusion around the exact location of the arrest notwithstanding, Bhatkal's arrest provided the intelligence agencies with some new inputs regarding the operational dynamics of the IM organization. The NIA nevertheless has struggled to transform those inputs into tactical advantages against the outfit. It is not clear whether the huge workload of the NIA, which is in charge of a large number of terror incidents in addition to the IM's activities, is taking a toll on the agency's capacities.

Increasing Polarization with Regard to the IM

The IM's activities have increased the polarization of Indian politics along sectarian lines, with Muslim groups doubting the existence of the IM and Hindu groups calling for strict action against it. This political polarization has, to an extent, forced the security agencies to scale down the intensity of their investigations into the IM's activities.

The Urdu-language newspapers of India, some prominent Muslim organizations, and even some Indian national ministers continue to insist that there is no such thing as the IM. For example, an article in the October 2012 Milli Gazette, a Muslim magazine, said that the IM "is a fictitious organisation most possibly created by the Indian Intelligence Bureau to justify the repression and terrorisation of the Indian Muslim community in the name of fighting terror."54 In October 2013, a number of Urdu newspapers and periodicals rejected reported linkages between the Muzaffarnagar riots and the explosions in Patna. Dismissing the conclusion that the IM could have been responsible for the explosion, one of these publications noted, "Political link of these blasts cannot be ruled out. In the past too, several blasts which were thought to have been perpetrated by Indian Mujahideen mercenaries were actually the handiwork of Hindutva terror groups. This fact must be kept in mind while investigating Patna blasts."55

In July 2013, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), an Islamic organization in India, sent a letter to the general secretary of the ruling Congress Party insisting that Muslims of the country, particularly its educated class, feel that no organization by the name of " ‘Indian Mujahedeen' exists in the country."56 In the same month, K. Rahman Khan, the union minister for minority affairs, went on record to say that he's skeptical that the IM exists because "nobody knows what it is, where it was formed, and who runs it." "The Muslim community," he continued, "is not buying its existence."57 The political implications of such statements could have had a significant impact on the official policy of the Indian government.

Indian Culture's Apathy toward Counterterrorism Research/h5>

Although the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and the intelligence agencies are largely insular institutions and fairly impervious to interventions from outside the country, the efforts they have made to delve deeper into the IM's operations have been thwarted by a general cultural disinterest in strategic research. Research institutions and think tanks in India have often shied away from research on terrorism. In the absence of primary, field-based research—a dearth reflected by the fact that one lone book on the IM has been published so far—the ill-informed news media have dominated reporting on security issues. Known mostly to publish what the intelligence agencies feed them on a regular basis, the Indian media's pervasive lack of knowledge on the IM has been illustrated by news headlines that speculate on the future of the IM's activities. Attributed to police sources, these headlines have ranged from the grand to the benign and include plans to detonate a "small nuclear bomb,"58 hijack an aircraft,59 abduct politicians,60 and hire sharpshooters to kill BJP leader Narendra Modi.61 Some outlets have even published grandiloquent articles speculating that the IM might carry out a "9/11 type of attack."62

The Prognosis

The threat from the IM could easily transform into a much larger menace if this terrorist juggernaut remains unaddressed both inside India and in countries like Pakistan, where key IM leaders are based. While arrests of IM cadres within India may provide temporary setbacks for the IM's plan of action, its expanded presence in multiple Indian states makes it elimination-proof. Terrorist groups like the LeT are willing to play a supporting role to the IM, as long as the latter continues to inflame the Muslim-Hindu divide in India and batter the country with its hate and bombing campaigns. The year 2014 and beyond could prove to be important for the IM's future, especially if instability in Afghanistan continues to fuel the capacities of Pakistan-based terrorist groups as well as the IM.

The IM will maintain its status as the lead jihadist outfit in India in the time to come, unless India can focus on strengthening its current weak points: the NIA's knowledge gap regarding the operational dynamics of the IM, political polarization regarding the IM, and a lack of in-depth research on the evolving threat of Islamist groups.

About the Author(s): Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is a Singapore-based security analyst and consultant, and a visiting fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. He previously served as a deputy director in India's National Security Council Secretariat. Prior to this, Dr. Routray worked at various think tanks, including as the director of the Institute for Conflict Management in Assam, India. Dr. Routray has conducted extensive fieldwork in India's northeast, and in the states affected by left-wing extremists. His writings have appeared in several international publications, including Jane's Intelligence Review, the Asia Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. She is presently working on projects relating to transition and prospects for long-term stabilization of Afghanistan; the regional dynamics of the Afghan insurgency; and India's security, aid, and foreign policy. Among her most recent published works is Afghanistan in Transition: Beyond 2014? (Pentagon Press, 2012), and she co-edited Perspectives on South Asian Security (World Scientific, 2012) and Saving Afghanistan (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 2009).


1. Praveen Swami, "The ‘Liberation' of Hyderabad," Frontline 17, no. 10 (13–26 May 2000):

2. George Iype, "Azam Ghauri: The ISI Kingpin," Rediff, July 2000: Ghauri had fled from India following the 1993 series of explosions in Mumbai and had secretly returned to his home in Andhra Pradesh in 1998.

3. The Students Islamic Movement of India was funded by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in the late 1970s. It was intended to work among Muslim students to create what it saw as "Islamic consciousness" and to engage in peaceful missionary work among non-Muslim students.

4. In 1992, Shahid Badr Falahi asserted that the Muslims and Islam were being targeted by Hindu militants in league with agencies of the state. Hence, he declared, "It is high time that Muslims organise themselves and stand up to defend the community." See Yoginder Sikand, "The SIMI Story," Communalism Combat 15, no. 133 (July–August 2008):

5. "Our Stand Is That IM Is a Banned Outfit, Says MHA," Hindu, 23 July 2013:

6. David Headley, the Pakistani-American jihadist who played a major role in the success of the 2008 Mumbai attack, told his interrogators that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with assistance from the Pakistan military, ran two such projects that used Indian Muslim youth to carry out sustained terrorist attacks on Indian soil. See Praveen Swami, "Delhi Arrests Cast Light on Jihadists' ‘Karachi Project,'" Hindu, 1 December 2011:

7. Ibid.

8. Based on the authors' interview with a senior Indian intelligence official, New Delhi, 21 December 2013.

9. Rahul Tripathi, "Indian Mujahideen behind ‘05 Delhi Blasts, Not LeT," Indian Express, 7 October 2013:

10. "Bomb Blasts Rock Varanasi, 21 Killed," Hindu, 8 March 2006:

11. Tripathi, "Indian Mujahideen Behind ‘05 Delhi Blasts."

12. Following the trend of blaming the LeT for all major attacks on the Indian urban centers, the investigators even blamed the outfit for the September 2006 attacks on the town of Malegaon that killed 20 people. Subsequently, a number of Muslim suspects were arrested. Only years later, it was revealed that a Hindu terror group was behind the attack. See "Key Accused Manohar Singh Admits Involvement in 2006 Malegaon Bomb Blasts," India Today, 30 December 2012:

13. Shishir Gupta, The Indian Mujahideen: Tracking the Enemy Within (New Delhi: Hachette India, 2011), 187.

14. Praveen Swami, "Was the Indian Mujahideen Made by the 2002 Gujarat Riots?," First Post, 23 July 2013:

15. Praveen Swami, "‘Indian Mujahideen' Claims Responsibility," Hindu, 27 July 2008:

16. Praveen Swami, "Indian Mujahideen Manifestos Attacked Judiciary," Hindu, 8 September 2011.

17. "Bhatkal Sent to Judicial Custody," Business Standard, 10 January 2014:

18. "Terror Suspect Killed by Fellow Inmates in Pune Jail," Hindu, 8 June 2012. In its charge sheet, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad claimed that "the blast was conducted to take revenge for the death of Qateel Siddique." See "ATS Files Charge Sheet in Pune Blasts Case," Hindu, 2 May 2013: http://www.thehindu. com/todays-paper/tp-national/ats-files-charge-sheet-in-puneblasts- case/article4674936.ece

19. Abhishek Bhalla, "Bodh Gaya Blasts Executed to Avenge Attack on Rohingyas in Myanmar, Says Terror Suspect," India Today, 6 January 2014:

20. Neeraj Chauhan, "Tunda Hints at Rohingya Link in Bodh Gaya Blasts," Times of India, 19 August 2013:

21. Marya Shakil, "Patna Blasts: Suspect Claims Motive Was to Avenge Muzaffarnagar Riots," IBNLive, 28 October 2013:

22. "Patna Blasts Probe: Nine Live Bombs Found in Ranchi," MSN News, 4 November 2013: patna-blasts-probe-nine-live-bombs-found-in-ranchi

23. P Naveen, "Sanchi Stupa on Terror Blueprint of Indian Mujahideen," Times of India, 7 December 2013:

24. Neeraj Chauhan, "Indian Mujahideen Would Be under al-Qaida: Riyaz Told Yasin," Times of India, 3 November 2013:

25. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, "Speech of Union Home Minister," news release, 21 November 2013:

26. Swami, "Was the Indian Mujahideen Made by the 2002 Gujarat Riots?"

27. "Yasin Bhatkal a ‘Big Fish' for Indian Security Agencies: Sushilkumar Shinde," Daily News & Analysis, 31 August 2013: indian-security-agencies-sushilkumar-shinde-1882526 . All Indian Mujahideen (IM) cases are being handled by the National Intelligence Agency. Ongoing investigations into some of the bombings carried out by the IM are revealing details about IM leadership, funding, and other dynamics. Some charges have been brought. The arrest and subsequent interrogation of top leaders of the IM in recent times have also revealed new information about the group.

28. "6 Arrested for Pune Blast, Jama Masjid Attack," IBNLive, 30 November 2011:

29. Stephen Tankel, Jihadist Violence: The Indian Threat (Washington, D.C.: Wilson Center, 3 January 2014):

30. Ibid., 73.

31. Ibid., 74.

32. Vicky Ninjappa, "‘Self-sufficient' Indian Mujahideen Feels Pakistanis Are Brothers," Rediff, 7 January 2014: http://www.

33. Quoted in Ninjappa, "‘Self-sufficient' Indian Mujahideen." See endnote 6 for more on the Karachi Project.

34. Alok K N Mishra, "Indian Mujahideen's Ranchi Module Formed to Assassinate Narendra Modi, Accused Reveals," Times of India, 31 October 2013:

35. Rahul Tri, "IM Planned to Set Up Module in Nepal, Got Support of ‘Like-minded' to Aid Terror: Yasin," Indian Express, 7 January 2014:

36. Gupta, The Indian Mujahideen, 189.

37. "Indian Mujahideen Group Capable of Striking from Pakistan," Times of India, 20 January 2014.

38. Several instances of this communication between the top leadership have been verified by the security agencies, especially following the arrest of some key IM functionaries.

39. Sikand, "The SIMI Story."

40. Manish Kumar, "Patna Blast Accused Stayed in Raipur for Two Weeks, Sheltered by Alleged SIMI Members," NDTV, 18 November 2013:

41. Devesh K. Pandey, "NIA Fears IM Members Might Flee to Nepal," Hindu, 17 November 2013:

42. P. Naveen and Anuraag Singh, "Abu Faisal, Mastermind of Khandwa Jailbreak Arrested with Two Others," Times of India, 24 December 2013: Abu-Faisal-mastermind-of-Khandwa-jailbreak-arrested-with-twoothers/ articleshow/27833725.cms. This article refers to the Babri Masjid mosque incident as the Ram temple case.

43. Rajiv Kalkod, "Patna Blasts Mastermind Perfected Bomb- Making in Chikmagalur," Times of India, 30 October 2013:

44. Several instances of senior leaders like Yasin Bhatkal planting the IEDs are available. See, for example, "Bhatkal Planted Bombs at Stadium?," New Indian Express, 26 January 2014: http:// Bombs-at-Stadium/2014/01/26/article2020870.ece . See also Vicky Nanjappa, "Yasin Bhatkal Blows Up German Bakery Blast Probe," Rediff, 3 October 2013:

45. Neeraj Chauhan, "90 ‘Ready-to-Use' IEDs Found at Indian Mujahideen Hideouts in Mangalore, Hyderabad," Times of India, 16 September 2013.

46. Rajesh Ahuja, "IM Plans to Use ‘Sticky Bombs' on Oil Tankers," Hindustan Times, 16 January 2014.

47. In July 2011, the Indian government brought changes to its Explosives Act, 1884, which requires that any substance with more than 45 percent ammonium nitrate be treated as a banned explosive under Section 17 of the Act. As a result, higher and potent (45 percent or more) grades of ammonium nitrate are treated as dangerous to life or property. But there is no ban on the sale of inert-grade (less than 45 percent) ammonium nitrate, since the chemical is also widely used as a cheap fertilizer in the country. See Aman Sharma, "Govt Bans Open Sale of Ammonium Nitrate," India Today, 28 July 2011:

48. Sushant Kulkarni, "Ammonium Nitrate, Not RDX Used in Bombs," Indian Express, 11 September 2012.

49. "Man Who Gave Gelatine to Bhatkal on ATS Radar," Times of India, 25 January 2014.

50. Sandeep Pai, "Stolen Industrial Explosives Used in Terror Strikes," Hindustan Times, 9 November 2013:

51. The 21 March 2014 arrest of the IM bomb maker known as Waqas (Zia-ur-Rehman), and the 25 March 2014 arrest of Tehseen Akhtar (the IM's operational chief; alias Monu) were carried out by the Rajasthan police and Delhi police, respectively.

52. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, "Press Conference by Union Home Minister," news release, 7 September 2013:

53. "No Anti-India Forces Will Be Allowed to Stay in Nepal: Madhav Prasad Ghimire," Zee News, 16 January 2014:

54. "Why Indian Mujahidin Is Banned?," Milli Gazette, 1 October 2012: news/4129-why-indian-mujahidin-is-banned

55. Mohammed Wajihuddin, "No Link between UP Riots, Patna Blasts: Urdu Press," Times of India, 31 October 2013:

56. "Indian Mujahideen Fictitious; Being Used to Sully Image of Muslims: JIH,", 24 July 2013: mujahideen.html

57. "Muslims Believe That Indian Mujahideen Doesn't Exist, Says Rahman Khan," India Today, 27 July 2013: http://indiatoday.

58. Neeraj Chauhan, "Indian Mujahideen Wanted to Nuke Surat, Yasin Bhatkal Tells Cops," Times of India, 30 December 2013:

59. Shubham Ghosh, "IM Keen to Repeat 1999-like Air-Hijacking to Free Bhatkal," Oneindia, 17 January 2014:

60. "IM Wants to Kidnap CM to Free Bhatkal, Claim Delhi Police," Millennium Post, 20 January 2014:

61. Pallavi Sengupta, "IM Operative Assigned Narendra Modi's Assassination," Oneindia, 28 January 2014: http://news.oneindia. in/india/im-operative-assigned-narendra-modi-assassination- 1384684-lse.html

62. "Indian Mujahideen Planning 9/11-type Attack," India Today, 6 January 2010:'Indian+M ujahideen+planning+9-11-type+attack'/1/78012.html

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