Pakistan may not attempt another 26/11, expect smaller attacks

Written by: Col R Hariharan
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There is no doubt the Coast Guard and the intelligence and security agencies, involved in the sinking of a suspected Pakistani fishing boat carrying possibly four terrorists and explosives off Porbandar coast on the intervening night of December 31, 2014, and January 1, deserve a pat on the back.

Defence ministry's timely statement

The media went into high decibel, quoting invisible "sources," calling it a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists' attempt to re-enact the 26/11 Mumbai attack in Gujarat. However, the MoD came out with a timely statement to put the incident in perspective and counselled patience while evidence was being collected and intercepts were analysed to draw firm conclusions.

Pak likely to attempt smaller attacks

Of course, the inevitable post mortem of the incident is being carried out in the media. I also find a few blank spaces in the operation as it unfolded. This is inevitable in any such action full of high drama and great, though grainy visuals. By the time the full picture emerges there may not be many takers for it.

So it might be consigned to the pages of Wikipedia to be dusted up when the next incident of this kind takes place.

But such incidents have to be studied in the light of developing trends in jihadi terrorism. A major trend is new players like Boko Haram and ISIS, with ideological kinship (however garbled) to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, stealing the "show," by carrying out spectacular acts of terrorism of unmatched brutality and barbarism targeting thinnocent and helpless people.

Despite this, the Nizam-e-Shahi seems to be intact because conservative Islamic clergy has not unanimously condemned their actions carried out in the name of Islam.

Pak may opt for soft targets for our security system is improving everyday

Translated to Indo-Pak setting, we can expect Pakistan based and supported terrorist to carry out attacks, not necessarily like the 26/11 attack because our security systems are improving day by day. They could choose soft and vulnerable targets which will get the terrorist the maximum exposure.

There are too many such potential targets for the state to give full protection. And this vulnerability gives the terrorists the advantage of surprise, so essential for success in increasingly hostile and well-knitted security environments.

Terrorism in small doses

Another emerging trend in jihadi terror is carrying out acts of terrorism in small doses. They are carried out by stand-alone tech-savvy individuals, brainwashed by high profile jihadi propaganda in the social media. The propaganda provides not only a veneer religious justification but also the know-how for carrying out such acts.

This method is particularly useful in high security environment. In one of the most successful acts of this kind, an experienced American army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hassan, who was brainwashed by jihadi terrorism, went on a shooting spree killing 13 people and injuring scores of others in Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009.

Trend gaining popularity the world over

Since then, this trend is increasingly being noticed in the US, UK, Xinjiang (China), Germany and France and inevitably in India too, though we do not seem to be taking it seriously.

Spectacular terror strikes take months of planning

Spectacular terrorist acts like the 9/11 and 26/11 attacks require months, at times even years, of careful planning. They often need international sources of information and complicated logistics. Meticulous execution by a motivated team with special skills is a must for success.

Also needed are special equipment and tools which would ensure that no tell-tale tracks are left behind for intelligence agencies to pick up. They also have built in vulnerabilities that expose them to hostile infiltration into their ranks.

Small terror attacks require none of this

But a small act of terrorism needs none of this. All it requires is a single motivated individual with the knowledge to make an improvised bomb from materials we use every day in our homes (method available on the internet). And his action could throw the administration in a tizzy and give the ministers apoplexy.

One home grown example is the December 28, 2014, blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) in a Bengaluru street that killed a woman nearby. [1 killed in IED blast in Church Street, Bengaluru]

A single motivated terrorist who had made the device at home could have done the job. Though it was not a spectacular terrorist attack it had a nationwide fall out.

It kept the police busy not only in Bengaluru or Karnataka but also in Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh because the IED - a pipe bomb - was similar to the one used in the Chennai train blast on May 1, 2014. Five SIMI fugitives of Faisal gang who had escaped from Khandwa prison in Madhya Pradesh are suspected to have triggered the Chennai blast.

Small terror strikes have almost similar impact

Small terrorist acts need not even involve IEDs and may not even be legally classified as an act of terror. But the impact is almost the same. They can spread panic among people in a matter of hours and tie down local and national security apparatus for days.

Remember, the incident last year when an inflammatory jihadi message asking for revenge against people of the Northeast for killing of Rohingiya Muslims in Myanmar that spread through social media in Bengaluru?

The state government was paralysed into inaction because strictly speaking it was not an act of terror. But it drove hundreds of fear stricken migrant labourers from the north-east to flee the city to go back to their home states.

In a diverse nation like India, a combination of such small acts carried out in tandem with big ticket terrorist operation would probably be the next trend in jihadi terrorism.

[Col R Hariharan, a retired MI officer, served as the head of intelligence with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 90. E-mail: Blog:]

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