A second deadly bombing of a major Indian city in two months exposed the country’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks almost three years after a siege of Mumbai spurred an overhaul of security and intelligence agencies.
A bomb hidden in a briefcase killed 12 people and injured 76 outside New Delhi’s High Court yesterday, the worst strike in the capital in three years. After a smaller explosion at the same site in May, Delhi police didn’t meet a request for closed circuit television cameras that may have deterred the assailants, Rakesh Tiku, chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi, said by phone.
India has suffered six terrorist attacks since November 2008 when the government pledged to improve policing and intelligence after Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people during a siege of the country’s financial capital. Poor training and a lack of resources mean security forces aren’t equipped to head off attacks, ensuring India is still a “soft target” for terrorism, say analysts like S. Chandrasekharan.
“Even after a number of attacks, the risk of terrorism is not taken seriously enough,” said Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group. “Security personnel aren’t disciplined. So this is the price you pay.”
Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said yesterday that progress had been made. “In the last few years, several measures have been taken to strengthen Delhi police,” he said. “Despite the capacity that has been built and despite Delhi police remaining on high alert, the tragic incident occurred.”
Yesterday’s attack “could have been averted if the police were more vigilant,” Tiku said.
A lack of metal detectors outside the court further stretched the security staff responsible for the safety of more than 3,000 people who work there each day, he said.
“This blast has taken place outside the secured area, before checking of people waiting to get entry passes starts,” Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman, said. The court premises “were fully secured.”
Police released a computerized sketch of two male suspects, one showing a 50-year-old with a beard and the other a 26-year- old. A preliminary analysis suggested a nitrate-based explosive, with traces of pentaerythritol tetranitrate, a plastic explosive, had been used in the attack.
Opposition politicians yesterday questioned why India remained unable to detect attacks and protect its citizens. “It is a kind of helpless situation,” Arun Jaitley, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said in parliament. “Have we become so vulnerable that terrorist groups can almost strike at will?”
Short of Police
Following the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which shattered peace talks with nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan, India created a federal agency to investigate terrorist strikes, strengthened coastal patrols, bolstered intelligence agencies and recruited more security personnel.
Chidambaram, who took over as India’s top internal security official after the siege, said last month the country’s states employed an extra 90,000 police officers in 2010. Still, 600,000 vacancies remained, he said, positions that would not be filled for another seven years at the current rate of recruitment.
India is short of police, deploying an officer for every 1,037 residents, compared with a global average of one per 333 citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a 2009 report. Ill-trained officers typically are on call 24 hours.
Yesterday’s attack was the worst in India since July, when 25 people were killed in Mumbai as three bombs ripped through the city during the evening rush hour.
“This is a cowardly act of a terrorist nature,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in televised comments from Bangladesh yesterday, as he ended a two-day visit. “This is a long war in which all political parties, all the people of India stand united so the scourge of terrorism is crushed.”
Authorities received a claim of responsibility from the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami militant group, the Press Trust of India reported yesterday. Chidambaram told parliament it was too early to identify those who carried out the bombing. Intelligence agencies had warned Delhi police in July of a risk of a terrorist attack “emanating from certain groups,” he said.
Another Islamic militant group, Indian Mujahideen, sent an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attack to Indian media today. U.K. Bansal, the country’s internal security secretary, said in televised comments they are investigating this claim.
Harkat is an Islamic militant group originally from Pakistan that Indian officials say used Bangladesh as a base for attacks in India, notably in 2007 and 2008, according to the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management. The Indian and U.S. governments have declared it a terrorist organization.
The explosion at about 10:15 a.m. yesterday was the deadliest in New Delhi since five bombs struck the city in September, 2008, killing 26 people and injuring 133. Indian Mujahideen, the group that is believed to recruit members within India, said it was behind those blasts.
While the organization may get support from Pakistan, it is an Indian network comprising men who may have been radicalized by anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002, according to a study by a government-backed research body in New Delhi, the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.
Lawyers gathered outside the court in New Delhi expressed anger over security failures. Police failed to carry out checks on people coming into the court as they lined up for entry passes at the main gate, Shyam Sharma, a 45-year-old lawyer, said in an interview as paramedics collected the injured. “It could happen again tomorrow.”
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