The Latest Terrorist Attack In India

Neil Simpson 17 February 2010

Pune, the cultural capital of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, suffered a terrorist attack on February 13th, killing 9 and leaving around 60 injured.

The blast came amidst a thawing of relations between India and Pakistan, despite the Mumbai attacks of 2008 which halted diplomatic talks. The Pune blast has not affected the resolve of the Indian government to open a dialogue with Pakistan proposed for February 25th, however. One senior official noted that the ‘diplomatic initiative’ cannot be allowed to pass to terror groups.

It has recently emerged that a source, who contacted The Hindu newspaper on behalf of a previously unknown group, Lashkar-e-Taiba Al Alami, has claimed responsibility. Calling from the North Waziristan tribal area, the source cited India’s refusal to discuss the Kashmir issue as the reason for the attack.

Lashkar-e-Taiba Al Alami has splintered from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group widely suspected for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The source pointed to LeT’s decision to work closely with the Pakistani governmental intelligence as its reason for the split. This would suggest a divergence of opinion in the LeT about the direction of Pakistan’s proposed negotiations with India.

The LeT has recently spoken of extending its Jihad to Pune, and its involvement has not been ruled out. This has raised questions over the role of David Coleman Headley, an American-Pakistani who allegedly defected to the LeT, from being a U.S. informer. Headley has been implicated with the Mumbai atrocities last year and is known to have twice visited the site of the Pune attack, as recently as March 2009. He is currently in U.S. custody, and the Indian government is planning to seek access to him. Indian Home Secretary, Gopal K. Pillai, said there is definitely a Headley link.

Headley has also revealed to U.S. intelligence information about a ‘Karachi project’ run by the LeT which aims to attract disgruntled Indian youths. Pune, a cosmopolitan university town which attracts a large amount of foreign business would thus prove an ideal target. Intelligence services in India have also began to monitor the Islamic Students Congregation; an organization based in Pune, and compromising of Arab students.

Indian intelligence sources have also been criticised for failing to prevent the attack. Just days before U.S. defence Secretary Robert Gates visited India last month, the U.S. had warned New Delhi that terrorist attacks on Pune and Mumbai were likely. Nevertheless, Pune was also flagged as a potential terror target several days before the attack by a recently-arrested LeT commander for South India, Sheikh Khaja Amjad.

Neil Simpson