British plot puts Indian Muslims in terror focus

NEW DELHI - India had long boasted its huge Muslim population had never provided recruits for global Islamic extremist groups, but that belief seems shattered after Indian Muslims were arrested in an attempt to bomb Britain.

By (Reuters)

Published: Wed 11 Jul 2007, 12:17 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:07 AM

The country is home to more than 140 million Muslims, the world’s third largest Islamic population, and George W. Bush was reported as saying two years ago that its democratic credentials were proven by the fact that none of them had joined Al Qaeda.

Even when that comment was made, the writing was apparently on the wall.

Islamic radicalism, which had spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Kashmir, was finally finding root in India.

Some blame Pakistan for fanning the fire, but just as important was the alienation many Indian Muslims felt after communal riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

At the same time, television was beaming images of conflicts around the world where Muslims seemed to be victims of the West.

“Every concentration of Muslims in the world today is being actively targeted for recruits by Islamist radicals,” said Ajai Sahni of New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management.

“Each nationality would have come into play at a certain point of time in history and this is our turn, that’s it. Why should anyone be surprised?”.

Indian Muslims had already been providing recruits for Pakistan-based militant groups and been implicated in last year’s serial bombing of commuter trains in Mumbai, Sahni said.

Three Indians are among eight people arrested in Australia and Britain for the failed attacks in London and Glasgow, and experts say there may be links to Al Qaeda.

Kafeel Ahmed, a 27-year-old engineer, and his doctor brother Sabeel, 26, were arrested in Britain, with Kafeel identified as the man who crashed a flaming jeep into Glasgow airport.

A third suspect, Mohamed Haneef, also a doctor, was arrested in Australia.

Muslims make up about 13 percent of India’s officially secular but predominantly Hindu population — giving it the third largest Islamic population after Indonesia and neighbour and rival Pakistan.

“Wake-up call”

Religious tensions have never been far below the surface and bloody Hindu-Muslim clashes have occurred frequently since the partition of the subcontinent on communal lines.

But even a violent revolt against New Delhi’s rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which erupted in 1989 began as a separatist movement and took on a religious flavour only after the involvement of Pakistani militant groups, analysts say.

It was only in the era of Washington’s “war on terror” that Indian Muslims began to sympathise more with pan-Islamic causes, fuelled by what some say the influence years of funding by Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi Muslim sect — which shaped Osama bin Laden’s world view — had on Indian madrasas.

“If they are involved, I will not be surprised,” said Kamal Farooqui, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, referring to the three Bangalore men.

“Whatever has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and now Iran ... every Muslim is feeling bad about it,” he said, but added that only a “miniscule minority” could take to violence.

Police in Bangalore said they had seized CDs containing material about Islamist conflicts in Chechnya and Iraq from Kafeel’s house.

Some political analysts also blame the rise of Hindu nationalists in India in the early 1990s, the destruction of an ancient mosque by Hindu mobs in 1992 and the Gujarat riots in 2002 for a growing sense of hurt and anger among Indian Muslims.

One reason that pro-Al Qaeda cells had turned to Indian Muslims could be that Western countries had stepped up surveillance of the Pakistani diaspora, blamed for terror plots in the past, said B. Raman, a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency.

“Instead of continuing to be in denial that Al Qaeda...can make an impact on the mind of Indian Muslims, the government... should take the wake-up call from the U.K. seriously and strengthen the capability of our intelligence agencies and police,” he wrote in the Times of India.

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