By B. Raman
Statements and comments from Shri P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister of the Government of India , and officials indicate that the explosion in the well-known and well-frequented German Bakery of Pune around 7 PM on February 13,2010, was an act of terrorism. The case is under investigation by the local police and possibly too by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which came into being after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.
According to the latest information, nine persons, including one foreigner, died in the explosion, which appears to have been not a sophisticated one, that could have required any special training. The expertise involved could have been locally acquired. One must control the reflex to point an accusing finger at Pakistan.
The NIA’s first major investigation was into the travels and activities of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkare-Toiba (LET) and his associate Hussain Rana, also of Chicago, in India to collect operational information required for targeting by the LET. Some of the details collected by Headley were used by the LET in the 26/11 strikes in Mumbai. He had also collected target details about other places of interest including in New Delhi and Pune. These details had not been used till now though his interrogation by the FBI reportedly indicated that the LET was interested in another terrorist strike—-this time in New Delhi.
Among the targets of interest to Headley in Pune was the local Chabad House, a Jewish cultural-cum-religious centre, which is frequented by Jewish visitors to Pune and the local Rajneesh Ashram frequented by the Western followers of Rajneesh, an Indian spiritual guru, who used to live in the US and was the mentor of some sections of Western youth. Both these places reconnoitred by Headley were near the German Bakery, but neither of them was attacked on February 13. Instead, the German Bakery was targeted.
Why the German Bakery? Why not the Chabad House or the Rajneesh Ashram? Why only one explosion? Why not serial explosions well orchestrated as organised by the Indian Mujahideen in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and New Delhi between November 2007 and September,2008? Is it a lone wolf terrorist strike as one saw over Detroit on Christmas Day when a Nigerian tried unsuccessfully to blow up a US plane as it was getting ready to land in Detroit or did it involve a team of terrorists like the 26/11? What is the significance of the timing? Anything to do with the forthcoming resumption of Indo-Pakistan dialogue on February 25? The dialogue has been under suspension since 26/11. Did the timing have anything to do with the US-UK offensive against the Afghan Taliban in the Helmand province, which got going on Feb.13? Is it a carry-over of the anger against the Germans which Al Qaeda elements from Germany based in Pakistan’s tribal belt have been showing since September last? Should India go ahead with the Feb.25 talks with Pakistan or put them on hold till a clear picture emerges?
These are questions which have to be addressed by the NIA and the policy-makers in Delhi as the investigation makes headway. The Govt. of India should keep an open mind and look into all possibilities and should avoid over or hasty reactions. Reconstruction and investigation of the explosion should have priority and not retaliation against it.
Annexed for ready reference is an article titled “Al Qaeda Warns Germans, Cites Mumbai” written by me on September 21,2008.
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: [email protected] )
Al Qaeda Warns Germans, Cites Mumbai – By B. Raman
Al Qaeda has reportedly warned of a terrorist strike in Germany, similar to the past strikes by pro-Al Qaeda elements in Madrid (March 2004), London (July 2005) and Mumbai, if the German voters do not vote against the present Government of Germany in the elections being held on September 27, 2009.
The video message, the warning contained in it and the reference to Madrid are meant to influence the voting through intimidation and bring about a reversal of the German policy of participating in the NATO operations in Afghanistan. While the references to the Madrid and London attacks are clear, it is not clear from the message whether the reference to Mumbai seeks to recall the multiple explosions in suburban trains in July, 2006, or the commando-style attacks with hand-held weapons and explosives by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) on multiple-targets in November, 2008, or both. The responsibility for the July-2006 attacks has not been conclusively established so far.
The message seeks to give the impression of Al Qaeda being confident of carrying out its threat in reality if its warning is not heeded. A detailed analysis of the message by Nick Grace, an American counter-terrorism analyst, is available at the web site of the “Long War Journal” of the US, which monitors systematically all developments bearing on international terrorism. It may be seen at http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/09/al_qaeda_warns_germa.php. The “Long War Journal” and its analyses enjoy a very high level of credibility in international counter-terrorism circles.
According to the analysis by Nick Grace, the warning message has been issued by Bekkay Harrach, alias Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, a person of Moroccan origin, who grew up in Germany and then gravitated to Al Qaeda. He is presently believed to be somewhere in the Af-Pak region. Nick Grace points out in his analysis that this is the third warning issued by Harrach this year. Nick Grace says: “His previous warning to Germany, on Jan. 17, 2009, coincided with a massive car bomb attack on the heavily guarded German embassy in Kabul that was orchestrated by the notorious Haqqani Network. Four Afghan civilians and an American soldier died in the attack.” His mention of the Haqqani network refers to Jalalludin Haqqani and his son Serajuddin Haqqani, who are reported to be operating from the North Waziristan area of Pakistan. While some sources attributed the huge explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July last year to the LET, other sources suspected the Haqqani network to have been responsible. The Haqqani network is as close to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence as the LET.
To quote again from Nick Grace’s analysis: Harrach has “warned that if Chancellor Angela Merkel is reelected on Sept. 27, Germany will be directly attacked.” Nick Grace adds: “The latest video by Harrach is most striking because its themes and packaging are targeted almost exclusively for a Western audience. Speaking softly in fluent German, without the usual militant or religious props featured in past al Qaeda messages, he stares directly into the camera and only occasionally looks down to turn over the pages of his speech. He never wags his finger or raises his voice. The video carries no subtitling in Arabic. ”
The picture of Harrach as he appears in the video message has been reproduced by the “Long War Journal” along with the analysis. He is clad in typical Western attire with a suit and a tie. His attire reminds one of the attire worn by the volunteers of the Hizbut Tehrir, which advises its followers to avoid dressing themselves in a manner typical of Muslims. It is likely that if Al Qaeda already has its volunteers in Germany to carry out the threat they may not be attired like Muslims and they may avoid going to mosques and other places frequented by Muslims in order not to draw suspicion upon themselves.
If Al Qaeda carries out the threat, will it be an attack with timed explosives as in Madrid and Mumbai–July 2006 or a suicide attack as in London or a commando-style attack with hand-held weapons as in Mumbai–26/11? Will it be an attack confined to public transportation systems as in Madrid, London and Mumbai-July 2006 or will it be in public places as in Mumbai–26/11? These are important questions, which would certainly be factored into by the German counter-terrorism authorities while planning their strategy to frustrate the plans of Al Qaeda.
The message, as analysed by Nick Grace, carries an implied assurance that the town of Kiel might not be attacked. This assurance is puzzling because on August 20, 2006, the German police had arrested a Muslim from the Lebanon studying in the Kiel University on a charge of placing a timed explosive device (a suitcase bomb) on a commuter train in Dortmund on July 31,2006. It failed to explode. They managed to identify him through a closed circuit TV footage, which showed him placing the suitcase in a train. Another suitcase bomb, timed to explode at the same time, had been placed in a train at Koblenz. That too failed to explode. It is not known whether the police were able to identify and arrest the person who placed the second suit case bomb. The German media had reported that the identification of the first man was made possible by a tip-off from an unnamed foreign intelligence agency. These two incidents had indicated as early as 2006 that pro-Al Qaeda elements were wanting to target the public transportation system in Germany.
This is the second instance when there has been a reference to Mumbai in messages attributed to Al Qaeda. In a telephonic message to the British Broadcasting Corporation in the second week of February, 2009, Mustafa Abu-al Yazid, who has been projected since 2007 as in charge of Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan in liaison with the Neo Taliban of Mulla Mohammad Omar, warned India in the following words: “We send a short and succinct message to the Indian Government. The Mujahideen will never allow you to invade the Muslims and their lands in Pakistan. If you beguile yourselves into doing this, know well that you will pay a very heavy price, which you will regret much. We will call upon our whole Muslim nation, its Mujahideen and its martyrdom squads against you. We will strike your interests and your economic lifelines wherever they may be until you are demolished and bankrupt as America is being demolished and going bankrupt today. The Islamic nation which produced the audacious and heroic martyrs of Bombay, who struck you in the midst of your homes and humiliated you, is able to produce thousands more like them. You cannot be more powerful or have more ability than the Soviet Union which was destroyed on the rocks of the Afghanistan mountains nor Americans whose nose we rubbed in the dirt of Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.” The authenticity of the message could not be established.