L’affaire Coimbatore blasts: In search of dangerous jihadi links

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For a nation that has been one of the most terror afflicted in the world, it is baffling that there should be so much speculation about the Coimbatore car blast of 23 October 2022 which killed one Jamesha Mubin. It is plain providence that the explosion did not take place as was planned, and had the suicide attack gone off as it was expected to be perpetrated them scores of people including devotees flocking the Kottai Eswaran temple would have fallen prey to the sinister design.

Indeed, the manner in which the car was loaded with explosives — three steel drums bearing potassium nitrate, aluminium powder, sulphur, charcoal, nails and ball bearings — the blast could have created grave damage to the temple and the market place in front of which the incident took place. However, what is not baffling is the manner in which the authorities are reacting to the latest incident of Islamist terror attack. Insouciance has become a norm with the state apparatus, and this time around it took a former Intelligence Bureau special director and present governor of Tamil Nadu, RN Ravi to query — in the aftermath of the blast: “Those involved in the car explosion were on our radar in the past. Where did we miss? Did we lose our monitoring system?”

Indeed, it is such a question from a former sleuth that should be in the scanner of those charged with acting as watchdogs and ombudsman for government action, or in this case inaction. State action, in any event, has been one of stimulus-response and every agency in the country worms out of the woodworks only when there is non-state action. It is wondered whether there would be real perspective planning in India — despite the fact that there are mechanisms to the effect in almost all wings and branches of the state machinery.

Long ago, when this author was advising the state on security, he was told by a senior functionary in the intelligence wing that his advisory to the government was one that used to invariably state, “Terrorist action is expected ahead of Diwali”. Once confronted, the functionary did not bat an eyelid to inform this author, “I always give out such alert notices before important dates. It might just come out to be true, you know.” Queried further as to what would happen if an incident does not occur as he had predicted; the functionary simply shrugged and said, “We’ll simply say we prevented it.” In any event, that is about the only mirth or “humour in uniform” that this author is capable of in this column which is devoted to grave threat to the nation.

Islamist terror action in India is not a new phenomenon. The Coimbatore car bomb was not the first and it would not be the last. Every time an event takes place, the speculation about the identity of the perpetrators ranges from a near-abroad directive to a terrorist group that has a global identity to one that is home-grown. For some reason or the other, such blasts are always attributed to a group when it is very well known that Islamist terrorism is no longer a compartmentalised affair.

The attack was an expected one, especially in the wake of the crackdown on the Popular Front of India (PFI) in the closing days of September 2022! Spectacular attacks were being expected in any event. The mass arrests of the PFI and its affiliates and the consequent banning only expedited the process. Incidentally, the Coimbatore attack failed not because of state vigilance or action but because of the ineptitude of Jamesha Mubin. It is mirthful that the failure is being attributed to the fact that Mubin “learnt” the art of bomb-making only from the YouTube and had not taken any specialised training. Such statements are idiocy at their best and are made without recourse to any investigation or forethought. Bomb-making in today’s age is learnt precisely from such easily available source as the YouTube and the intending perpetrator does not have to travel to Dera Ismail Khan and train under the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or its surrogates such as Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan to learn how to manufacture and set off explosives or for the matter undertake lessons in anything from drone attacks on government infrastructure and market places to carry out high grade assassinations.

It must also be reiterated that in an anti-India context the most important aspect that must be borne in mind is that the situation can no longer refer to separate tanzeems. The agenda, as aforesaid, is now being guided only by Al Qaeda-ISIS combine and even PFI was but a “silhouette fusion” of the two. Islamist terror action has always been driven by a unique concept of “sleeper cells” working independently of one another. The uniqueness of the movement is that no conventional command and control exists, and each tanzeem/module/cell follows a set of general political motivation, and not instruction.

The coordination system between the groups (despite the fact that they are all subservient to al-Qaeda-ISIS) is untenable—groups have their own agenda and have their own system of functioning. Say the banned Islamist outfit, Al Ummah wants to bomb a hotel in Bengaluru, a place which is traditionally the hunting grounds of another Islamist terror group, it does not have to take the aid of the tanzeem which usually operates there, but can act independently, seeking assistance from even non-traditional underground organisations in the city, or in the case of the recent Coimbatore blast, an illegal Bangladeshi population driven mafiosi in Tamil Nadu. In other words, inter-changeability has become the prime strategy. A member of one tanzeem can operate under the banner of another tanzeem, and there are no longer strict compartments from which a puritan operates.

With the deconstruction of the Islamist paradigm after the failure of Operation Inherent Resolve, boundaries have ceased to exist not only between countries, but also between tanzeems. Only the methods are different, and individual Islamists can innovate on their own for carrying out an operation. There are no patterns of discovery, apart from a decisively anti-India/anti-kafir agenda. Indeed, this author would not be surprised if the Coimbatore conspiracy was hatched by Islamists from Bangladesh, albeit with Indian surrogates, who are increasingly becoming subservient to the near-abroad and al-Qaeda-ISIS direction.

It would, therefore, be sensible to institute non-orthodox methodologies and analyses when action and motivation of such groups are taken into consideration. The non-comprehension of the new paradigm and the driving force of the agenda is perhaps one of the reasons why the authorities have not been able to unearth clear links in the recent Coimbatore incident. The accent should be to avoid patterns and search for unorthodox links.

The author is a conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books. Views expressed are personal.

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L’affaire Coimbatore blasts: In search of dangerous jihadi links
L’affaire Coimbatore blasts: In search of dangerous jihadi links
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