It’s a tragedy that was relatively just a few years in the making. The attempted terrorist attack in Mangalore and another earlier one in Coimbatore points to a deep sickness quite at variance with the ethos that South India India once had— a strong ‘Live and let live’ approach.
The media has hailed the Mangalore incident as India’s first ‘lone wolf’ terror attack though mixed up with International terror links.
The truth is yet to come out but one thing is clear. After dozing for decades on the sidelines, at least a section of the Indian Muslim community seems to have gone the way of their brethren from Syria, Afghanistan, and other places. It's dangerous, and needs immediate action. It might even need immediate inaction, such as stopping political motor mouths from worsening the situation.
Media hailed the Mangalore incident as India’s first ‘lone wolf’ terror attack though mixed up with International terror links.
The suspect was the passenger—initially misnamed as Mohammad Sharif who travelled using a fake Aadhaar card and had been implicated in a terror case in Coimbatore.
What is worth noting is that Kerala has seen complete communal harmony before and since that event despite severe political use of minority politics.
The Pakistani hand remains a possibility, though given the internal flux inside the country, this is hardly the ideal time for a terrorist strike that can be credibly traced back. Besides, the police accounts seem to link this directly with Syria.
‘Explosive’ Details of Bomb-Planter Emerge
An auto travelling from Mangalore Railway Junction at Naguri, caught fire. In a country where such occurrences are routine, nobody paid much attention until a heavily pressure cooker bomb was found inside.
The suspect was the passenger—initially misnamed as Mohammad Sharif who it emerged, travelled using a fake Aadhaar card and had been implicated in a terror case in Coimbatore and most notably, seems to have planned the whole thing himself, buying material off the internet while the bomb design was possibly taken from the dark web.
That last fact could be a possible pointer. The main Islamic State in Syria, or its many copycat ventures in the region as well as Pakistani (and possibly other) intel agencies who use their name, could all have passed on a bomb design including the tricky part of how to make the actual explosive.
That is not easy, and involves use of fertilizer, or rather ammonium nitrate which is part of it together with other ingredients in an exact compound. Foul that, and the thing wont burst at all. Even then, a small initial explosion is needed to set off the explosive trail. It's not easy, and many an aspiring terrorist has paraded his dangerous toys without effect.
In this case, it seems that the explosive may have been made unstable due to the jolting of the autorickshaw in which case it could probably be gelatin. That’s as unstable as it gets, and the online writers of bomb books may not overstress this part given that their ‘customer’ is already shaky.
Gelatin for terror was most recently seen in the Udaipur railway line blast, where police seized 200 kg of gelatin near the site. Gelatin is used for industrial controlled explosions, and illegally by such violent characters such as the sand mining Mafia. In fact, gelatin sticks have been recovered time and again from such sites in Karnataka’s Mandya district, for instance.
The state has cracked down on sand mining recently. Crime and terror often go together. One want something the other has to sell. It could even be a bit of ideology but profit comes first.
‘Islamic State’ Links Suspected
Then there’s this sheer bizarreness of the whole event. The accused whose real name is now identified as Mohammed Shariq, seems to be an absurdly young boy in one image while another has him fiendish-looking in the traditional Islamic State picture of a ‘shaheed’ determined to kill himself and others.
It now seems that he had been out on bail for an earlier incident under the stringent UAPA ( Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) for writing graffiti on a wall warning the ‘Sanghis’ that they would be forced to invite the Lashkar e Tayyba(LeT) and the Taliban. He was arrested together with U Sadath Hussain – all of 50 years old when Shariq would have been just 20. They remained under detention for a year till both got conditional bail.
If follow-on events are a guide, Shariq probably became a hardened case in jail. He jumped bail, and thereafter managed to successfully travel across state borders with not just fake Aadhaar cards, but also fake PAN cards, and thereafter, was able to use bitcoins to finance himself. In other words, an extremely intrepid young man.
According to the Karnataka police, he was actually aided by at least two others also involved in the graffiti case but who fled to Dubai to then organise and fund the act. It appears all three had earlier carried out a trial blast in Shivmoga based on online manuals. All three were also reported to be part of a Telegram channel called Al Hayat run by the Islamic State through which they may have received basic information on bomb-making.
Syria Terror Ties Spelt Out
If all these are the facts, then firstly, the accused seems to have found it very easy to flee to Dubai which is the first step that needs to be examined as to how visas were provided to those with criminal records. Second, if there is an Islamic State link, then there needs to be clarity on just which one.
There’s the deadly core in Syria who surely know how to make up a bomb; then there are ‘affiliates’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, (Islamic State in Khorasan) who are presently focussed on Pakistan, and itself divided into at least four factions. At least one is under Pakistani influence.
The Pakistani hand remains a possibility, though given the internal flux inside the country, this is hardly the ideal time for a terrorist strike that can be credibly traced back. Besides, the police accounts seem to link this directly with Syria. In India, local police are nowadays, usually quick to point to an Islamic State link. Home Minister Araga Jnanendra meanwhile, hinted to a much larger plan.
How Is Kerala Connected To Bomb Mayhem?
It was not always so. A decade back, India was proudly telling the world that no Indians had ever gone to Afghanistan, Syria or any of the hotbeds of terrorist activity. In fact, no one from other states even visited Kashmir.
Something changed thereafter. That a module from Kerala – a state with a high education and human development index was found within Islamic State ranks in Kerala. Many were doctors and medical professionals who did not go to fight but to serve the Islamic cause. Cases were concentrated in Muslim-majority areas associated with West Asia migration, and not ( as popularly seen) at all common to the bloody 1921 Moplah rebellion.
What is worth noting is that Kerala has seen complete communal harmony before and since that event despite severe political use of minority politics. Police also found a serious social media network that pushed radicalism. Similarly, Dakshin Kannada has been far more prosperous than its neighbouring districts also benefitting from the Gulf boom, and barring oddly contrived communal riots in 1998, was peaceful.
Again, competitive communal politics raised temperatures, particularly after the chaos following the Hijab ban, which in turn was followed by a rash of murders including random targeting of the most innocent. The narrative was so widespread that a 13-year-old used an allegation of communal targeting to escape a poor academic record.
The local administration has been trying to restrain both communities from petty incidents like tearing down each others banners to vitiate the situation. And worst among these areas was Shimoga where violence erupted on the issue of a portrait of VD Savarkar between the BJP and the Congress. That is the hometown of 24-year-old Mohammad Shariq.
Can Police Action Diffuse Stray Radical Acts?
So here’s the thing. Preventing a virtual lone wolf is impossible even for the most sophisticated of police forces, let alone badly overworked and underfunded state police. It's impossible to undertake surveillance of 1.47 billion people nor is it desirable.
Remember, that is the Chinese way, and it hasn’t done them much good. In truth, the Karnataka police, and in fact, the Kerala police have done extremely well in the past, using counselling rather than the lathi to control radicalisation.
But they’re fighting a losing battle as long as politics preys on the issue. Prepare yourself. If present events are any guide, there’s worse to come. Much worse. After all, all it takes is a tap on the computer to get a bomb or diffuse the reason for it’s very existence. You choose.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)