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What's common to terror attacks in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan

Last updated on: May 27, 2009 18:57 IST

At least 35 persons -- many of them Lahore police officers – were reported to have been killed and over 200 injured in a swarm attack by unidentified terrorists in a busy area on the Mall Road of Lahore. A number of important government buildings housing the offices of the Lahore police, the Lahore office of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Lahore High Court are located around the area where a car suspected to be carrying explosives exploded when it was sought to be stopped by the police.

There have been reports of an exchange of fire between the security personnel posted in the area and an unidentified number of terrorists before the car exploded. There are no reports of any continuing exchange of fire after the explosion.

A building in which the emergency control room of the police, with a staff of 50, was located bore the brunt of the explosion and was totally destroyed. Other buildings in the area too suffered damages. No details are available regarding the damages, if any, sustained by the building housing the ISI office and whether there were any casualties.

Sections of the Pakistani media have reported that Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, the Amir of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political arm of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, who is under house arrest, was to appear in the court in connection on Wednesday with the hearing on a petition in which he has challenged his house arrest.

A swarm attack is a commando-style attack involving multiple targets and/or multiple modus operandi -- that is a mix of the use of hand-held weapons and explosives. Since the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 26, 2008, which was itself a major swarm attack, there have been six more -- three in Kabul, Kandahar and Khost in Afghanistan and three in Lahore including the latest one.

The two earlier swarm attacks in Lahore were directed at a Sri Lankan cricket team (March 3) and a police training a school (March 30). There were no multiple targets in the earlier two attacks in Lahore

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan headed by Baitullah Mehsud had claimed responsibility for the attack on the police training school. Pakistani authorities had suspected that the TTP was also responsible for the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. They seem to suspect the hand of the TTP in the latest attack also.

Different cities of Pakistan -- including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Sargoda -- have seen a never-ending succession of suicide and non-suicide attacks involving the use of car bombers and suicide bombers since the commando raid in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July, 2007.

During 2007 and 2008, the attacks were uni-targeted and mainly involved the use of explosives. They were not commando style attacks. They were often carried out by a single individual or by two persons. Commando-style attacks involving a group of persons is a phenomenon seen in India since 2001. One saw it in the attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December, 2001. Then in the attack on security guards outside the US Consulate in Kolkata in January, 2002, in the attack on a temple in Ahmedabad in September, 2002, and in the attack on a training centre of the Centre Reserve Police Force at Rampur in Uttar Pradesh on January 1, 2008. The originality of the Mumbai attack of November 2008 was that the attackers came by sea whereas those involved in the earlier attacks came by land.

Similar commando-style attacks had not been seen in Pakistan before 2009. The Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad were the prime suspects in the commando style attacks in Indian territory mentioned above. The Pakistani and Afghan authorities seem to suspect the hand of the Taliban in the attacks in their territory.

The increasing resort to commando-style attacks by different groups in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan gives rise to the following questions: Are they merely instances of copy-cat terrorism or is there a common training centre for different organisations? If so, who runs this centre? Is there a common command and control coordinating these attacks?

It would be useful for the investigating agencies of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to exchange notes on their respective investigations and to pick each other's brains. One should not fight shy of agreeing to a common brain-storming on the investigations.

B Raman