Indian authorities have arrested 350 people in connection with Tuesday’s train bombings in Mumbai. The arrests came as investigators were looking into a possible link with one of the several Kashmiri militant groups fighting for independence from India for the Himalayan region. The blasts, which ripped apart the first-class compartments of two trains, killed at least 183 people and injured another 700. They came just hours after suspected Islamist militants killed eight people, seven of them tourists, in five grenade attacks in Srinagar.
The spotlight of blame fell initially on a Pakistani terrorist group known as Lashkar-e-Toiba, (“Army of the Pure” in Farsi language). They are the armed wing of the Pakistan-based religious organization, Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI)—a Sunni anti-US missionary organization formed in 1989. Their earliest role was as fighters in the Mujahideen resistance against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s. It now has several thousand members in Azad ("Free") Kashmir, Pakistan, and in southern Jammu and Kashmir and Doda regions and in the Kashmir valley. Most of these members are veterans from the Afghan campaign. The L-e-T’s goal now is not just to remove India from the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Lashkar's ‘agenda’, as outlined in a pamphlet titled “Why are we waging jihad” includes the restoration of Islamic rule over all of India.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir where more than 45,000 people have been killed in the Muslim separatist revolt since 1989. Although a peace process has improved relations between India and Pakistan over the past two years, tensions remain, largely over the disputed Himalayan region. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both countries claim the region in full.
Lashkar-e-Toiba (sometimes transliterated as 'Lashkar-e-Taiba') has been blamed for several major attacks in India in recent years, including bomb blasts in New Delhi in October last year which killed more than 60 people. However the group have categorically denied any role in the bomb blasts in Mumbai and described the attacks as "barbaric" and "outrageous”.
"These are inhuman and barbaric acts. Islam does not permit the killing of innocent people," a man who identified himself as "Doctor Ghaznavi", spokesman of the Lashkar-e-Toiba said.
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf banned LeT, along with four other Islamic groups, in January 2002 following US pressure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The Jama'at-ud-Da'wah (JUD) is believed to be an LeT front although the JUD have denied it. According to their website the JUD is a “movement that aims to spread the true teachings of Islam”. The JUD is popular in Pakistan for providing free medical care and education for the poor. The leader of the JUD, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed (pictured), is also believed to be the leader of the LeT.
Tuesday’s bombing is the first major terrorist incident in Mumbai since August 2003. In that incident, the city was hit by two powerful car bombs that struck within minutes of each other. The death toll in this incident was 44 and up to 150 people were injured. Lashkar-e-Toiba were blamed for this as well as a string of other attacks in Bombay in the months leading up to the 2003 bombing.
The LeT is financed by its contacts in Saudi Arabia as well as its donation campaigns with overseas Pakistanis, especially middle class and wealthy Punjabis in Britain, Australia and the Middle East. According to Jane's Terrorism & Insurgency Centre, Osama bin Laden has also financed LeT activities until recently. Under the banner of JUD, it uses an outreach networks of schools, social service groups and religious publications to attract and train recruits for jihad in Kashmir and elsewhere.
The ultimate goal to impose Sharia Law on India. India has 137 million Muslims, the third largest Muslim country in the world. But that is only 13% of the population and the Hindu majority will never accept Islamic Law. Mumbai has one of the largest populations of Muslims in India and the Bollywood industry stars mostly Muslim actors. The choice of Mumbai as the bombing target is unlikely to be accidental. The so called 'Bombay Riots' of 1992-93 were racially motivated. It is critical now that the city moves back to as normal a footing as quickly as possible so that neither side of extremists can gain traction.