By B. Raman
The wife of the Israeli Defence Attache in New Delhi, her Indian driver and two bystanders on the road were injured on February 13, 2012, when what was believed to be an explosive-cum-incendiary device attached to the rear of her car as it stopped or slowed down near a petrol service station about a km from the Israeli Embassy exploded. The scene of the blast is located in a high-security area where the tightly-guarded house of the Indian Prime Minister is located. The car—a sports utility vehicle—was engulfed in flames, but did not explode into pieces, thereby indicating that the incendiary effect was more than the explosive effect.
Access control in front of the Israeli Embassy is generally very tight. It would, therefore, be very difficult for a terrorist to approach the vicinity of the Embassy and plant a bomb on a vehicle or otherwise cause an explosion. The wife of the Defence Attache is also a diplomatic member of the staff of the Israeli Embassy. She was reportedly going to the American School to pick up their children when the explosion took place.
The police believe, on the basis of eye-witness accounts, that a motor-cycle borne terrorist neared the car as it stopped or slowed down, attached the improvised explosive device (IED) to the rear of the car and sped away before the explosion took place. The indications till now are that only one terrorist was involved.
Since the blast took place almost instantaneously after the terrorist attached the IED to the rear of the vehicle, the IED would appear to have been triggered off by an instantaneous timer or a mobile phone.
The car did not enjoy any protection. Nor was there any Israeli security guard inside the car. Since the driver was an Indian, it is unlikely that he was an Israeli security guard. In view of the tight security outside the Israeli Embassy, it would have been difficult for the terrorist to have waited on his motor-cycle outside the Embassy and then followed the car. He must have waited at a point where he could not be observed by the Israeli security personnel posted outside the Embassy and neared the rear of the car as it approached the scene where the blast took place.
The incident had not been planned as a mass fatality attack. It was more a targeted attack to kill an Israeli diplomat. It is not clear whether the terrorist knew that the car belonged to the Israeli Defence Attache. Possibly not. It appears to have been a random attack on a car bearing the CD number plate of the Israeli Embassy.
The attack coincided with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of a senior leader of the Hizbollah in Damacus and the first anniversary of the death of two Iranian nuclear scientists in Teheran due to a similar explosion caused by a sticky bomb. Iran had blamed the Israeli intelligence for these incidents and had threatened revenge. A similar explosion due to an IED attached to the car of an employee of the Israeli Embassy in Tibilisi, capital of Georgia, was averted the same day due to the timely detection of the IED and its neutralisation before it could explode.
Israeli leaders and officials have blamed the Iranian intelligence and the Hizbollah for the successful attack in New Delhi and the attempted one in Tiblisi. They have claimed that these two incidents came in the wake of two other thwarted attempts a few days earlier in Bangkok and Buenon Aires. They have threatened reprisals against Iran and the Hizbollah.
The Hizbollah had operated in the 1990s in Bangkok and Buenos Aires and was known to have a local support base in Tibilisi. But it had neither operated in New Delhi in the past nor was it known to have sleeper cells in India.
Unless the terrorist involved is arrested and interrogated, it would be difficult to say whether he had come into India from outside to cause the blast or whether he is an Indian Muslim recruited by the Hizbollah for the attack.
In the 1990s, there were instances of Shia terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, but there had not been an incident of Shia terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K in the past. In the past, there was no evidence of any plans of the Hizbollah to attack Israeli nationals and interests in India, but Al Qaeda was known to have planned to carry out an attack on the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi before 9/11, but it could not carry it out. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who had orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes for OBL, had reportedly told the US interrogators that before 9/11 he had visited New Delhi to explore the possibility of attacking the Israeli Embassy.
The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba’s attack on the Narriman House in Mumbai, housing an Israeli religious-cum-cultural centre, during its terrorist strikes in Mumbai on 26/11, was the first instance of a terrorist attack on Israeli targets in Indian territory outside J&K. In the early 1990s, there was one attack on Israeli tourists in Srinagar by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
David Coleman Headley, of the Chicago-based secret cell of the LET, who is a US citizen of Pakistani origin, was reported to have told his US interrogators that at the instance of the LET in Pakistan, he had visited the Narriman House to collect operational intelligence to facilitate an attack. He also reportedly said that during a subsequent visit to India after 26/11, he had recceed other possible Israeli/Jewish targets in India for possible future attacks.
All such past evidence was attributable to the interest of Al Qaeda and the LET, both Sunni organisations, to carry out terrorist strikes against Israeli/Jewish targets in India.
There had been no evidence in the past of similar interest of Shia elements in India in carrying out attacks on Israeli nationals and interests. There is no Shia terrorist organisation in Indian territory outside J&K. Even the one in J&K has been dormant for some years. It had never come to notice for any contacts with the Hizbollah.
While there has been no Shia terrorism in Indian territory in recent years, there is Shia terrorism in Pakistani territory carried out by an organisation called Sipah Mohammad and by another organisation also called the Hizbollah in the Kurram agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Kurram has had a history of violent incidents between Sunni terrorists supported by the Taliban and Shia terrorists allegedly supported by Iran. None of these groups had so far come to notice for any links in the Shia community in India.
In June 2010, there were unconfirmed reports attributed to Pakistani security agencies that Mohammadi Ali Hammedei, a Hizbollah terrorist who had spent some years in jail in Germany for his suspected involvement in a hijacking incident before he was released, was killed in a US Drone strike in the FATA. However, the US did not confirm this incident. It was not clear whether he was living in Kurram or elsewhere in the FATA after his release from jail in Germany.
If it is finally established that Iran, through the Hizbollah, was involved in the terrorist attack of February 13, it would have two implications for India. Firstly, it would indicate that the Hizbollah probably now has support elements in the Indian Muslim community. Secondly, it would indicate the involvement of the Iranian intelligence in orchestrating terrorist attacks on Israeli targets in India.
Till now, the attention of Indian counter-terrorism agencies was mainly focussed on Pakistan-based Sunni terrorist organisations and their supporters in the Indian Muslim community and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which was supporting them. Hereafter, they also have to focus on the Hizbollah and the Shia terrorist organisations of Pakistan and their contacts in the Shia community in India and the Iranian intelligence (mainly of the Revolutionary Guards) which possibly uses them.