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Explosions blamed on failure of intelligence

Before India's latest atrocity, 11 bomb attacks had killed 550 since October 2005, but not one case has been solved.

Security personnel search for evidence near a bomb blast site in Ahmedabad.
Security personnel search for evidence near a bomb blast site in Ahmedabad.

NEW DELHI // The serial bombings that ripped through western and southern India on two consecutive days last week, killing at least 47 people, wounding 160 and raising fears of a return to sectarian violence, have yet again sparked criticisms of the intelligence agencies and police.

The 16 bombs that exploded across Ahmedabad on Saturday night and the eight devices detonated a day earlier in Bangalore, India's information technology hub, are just the latest in a string of deadly attacks carried out in India by insurgents. Prior to that, since Oct 2005 around 550 people had been killed in 11 insurgency-related bombings across India, the most recent in May in the historic tourist city of Jaipur that killed 63. Despite hundreds of arrests, not one case has been solved and no convictions secured.

Each time, the response is the same: a massive police deployment; random checks on people, cars and vehicles; and close circuit televisions in public places. "These are part of a ritualistic set of actions intended to reassure people that the government is working to make their lives more secure," Pravin Swami, a security analyst, said. The reality, he said, was that such measures usually only affect innocent people, who are much easier to stop and harass, and never last more than a few days with the electronic gadgetry falling into disuse, disrepair or both.

Following the bombings in Ahmedabad, which were claimed by a little-known group called the Indian Mujahideen, which also said it carried out the Jaipur bombings, Shivraj Patil, the home minister, promised a "comprehensive plan" to deal with challenges presented by the meticulously planned bombings. Yet, he declined to elaborate on what it was and why it had taken his government over four years to put in place such a plan given the frequency of such attacks.

Over the last 14 years, 53,800 people, including 25,420 militants and 7,630 security personnel have been killed in insurgency-related incidents in the country, according to the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management. "There has to be some coherence in the national response to terrorism and only then can we devise protocols, strategies and tactics for an appropriate response," said Ajay Sahni, of the Institute of Conflict Management and an expert on terrorism in South Asia.

Home ministry officials in New Delhi declined to comment, other than to say investigations into the recent and other blasts were "ongoing". Under heavy guard, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, and Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress Party, drove to hospital grounds in Ahmedabad yesterday to look at buildings damaged in Saturday's blasts. In an emotional speech, Mr Singh said his government would "defeat" those behind the bombings, and called for better co-ordination between police and intelligence agencies. Gujarat state police said they had arrested between 10 and 12 people, who were being questioned.

Each individual state is responsible for maintaining its own law and order, although the federal government has recently come under pressure to reinstate a nationwide antiterrorism law, scrapped by Mr Singh's government in 2004. The law was criticised for giving police too much power to detain people without charge and allowing the abuse of government opponents. Analysts have pointed to the lack of co-operation among police and intelligence agencies as a reason for the lack of convictions in recent bombings. No state police force has its own intelligence data base and the one run by the country's Intelligence Bureau, India's version of the FBI, is underfunded and incomplete. Police said they rarely received warnings from intelligence agencies.

"The blasts [in Bangalore and Ahmedabad] indicate intelligence failure. The intelligence agencies are doing their bit, but that's not enough," said B Raman, formerly of India's external intelligence gathering agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, better known by its acronym, RAW. The two strikes were co-ordinated and linked, Mr Raman said, but each state would carry out their own investigation, making it difficult to pool crucial evidence that could provide leads and information for future cases.

Security officials believe Indian Mujahideen, or Islamic warriors, could be a front for groups operating from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, eager to foment sectarian tensions. Around 13 per cent of India's population of over 1.2 billion is Muslim. In a 14-page e-mail to several media outlets minutes before Saturday's bombings, the group said they were carried out to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in riots in 2002.

Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has been accused by human rights activists and MP's of connivance in the riots that killed more than 2,000 people, most of them Muslims. Bangalore is also ruled by the BJP. @Email:rbedi@thenational.ae