Business Week : Why Delhi Bombings Target Business

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why Delhi Bombings Target Business

In strikes against busy markets and upscale shops, the shadowy Indian Mujahideen is going for "maximum chaos" and "maximum financial damage," police say

by Mehul Srivastava | September 14, 2008

New Delhi—A day after five controlled explosions ripped through busy markets and a commercial district in India's capital, killing at least 23 people, Indian officials were engaged in a frenzied hunt for clues that, so far, has been fruitless.

But even as police detained as many as 18 suspects and questioned their one credible witness, a 12-year-old balloon seller, it became clear that in choosing their targets, the perpetrators repeated a now-familiar pattern. Instead of attacking the familiar symbols of the Indian state, they mostly selected locations that symbolized India's newfound affluence and economic might.

In Connaught Place, the geographic center of the city, two bombs exploded near the entrance to the largest station in the city's metro system, built recently at huge expense and to be completed to coincide with the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Nearby, another bomb exploded on a main road surrounded by the tall buildings and cramped offices that have mushroomed during India's growth. At an up-market shopping area in posh southern Delhi, a smaller blast blew out the windows of Reebok, Levi Strauss, and Swarovski shops, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter who was at the scene. And in Karol Bagh, in the northwest quadrant of this hectic and disorganized city, the bombs blew up in an area best described as a global bazaar—featuring cell phones smuggled in from China, blue jeans from America, computer chips from Taiwan, and furniture from Malaysia.
More Bombs Defused

"It's the same thing again and again," says a senior official with Indian Police Service, who had briefed the Indian Cabinet on the bombings on Saturday. "This group [Indian Mujahideen] doesn't attack Parliament or police stations. They go directly for maximum chaos and maximum financial damage."

The Indian Mujahideen remains a shadowy organization about which not much is known. But in Jaipur, a popular tourist spot west of Delhi, and in Ahmedabad, a prosperous city in one of India's most rapidly industrializing states, the organization claimed responsibility for bombing similar locations—killing at least 108 and wounding many hundreds more, all in the past year. A third series of similar attacks in Bangalore, India's outsourcing capital, in which eight small bombs exploded, killing one person, is suspected to have been masterminded by the same group.

The group, which e-mailed a warning to several media outlets five minutes before the blast, is relatively new, according to an official with the National Security Guards, which on Friday defused three other bombs, including one near a famous movie theater a few hundred meters from an initial blast. "We've seen the same kind of bombs before," he said, asking not to be quoted by name because NSG officials are forbidden to speak with the media. "You can learn how to make these in two days from the Internet. The difficult part is the coordination, which indicates that at least 15 or 20 people could have been involved in the final stages of the operation."
Ties to Pakistani Militants?

In the e-mail, published Sunday by the Hindustan Times and some TV channels, the group included an infamous photograph of a Muslim man in Gujarat pleading with an anti-Muslim Hindu mob as it burned and rioted its way through Ahmedabad in 2002. "Eye for an eye," said the e-mail. "The dust will never settle down."

In the past decade, India has been among the top three countries in the world affected by terrorism, as measured by casualties, according to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, which tracks media reports on the subject. Just over 1,600 people have been killed since January 2007, according to the portal.

But experts draw a sharp line between those targeted by left-wing extremists, known as Naxalites, who openly attack industrial projects (BusinessWeek, 5/7/08) and Islamic militants like the Indian Mujahideen, who are suspected of having ties to Pakistani militant groups. "Their aim is the same—create havoc, kill innocent people, cause economic damage—but their motivations are so far apart that it's doubtful that they even speak to each other," said an official with the Intelligence Bureau, who asked not to be named because the bomb blasts were a politically sensitive matter.
Malls Frisk Shoppers

In major metro areas in India, large businesses are mindful of the fact that they might one day become a target. Visitors to movie halls and modern, American-style malls are frisked by uniformed security guards almost as efficiently as at India's airports. Large corporations are asked by police officials to prepare emergency evacuation plans in the case of a bombing. "We worry about being considered a target," says an official at Infosys Technologies (INFY.O), India's outsourcing giant. "Of course we worry. We are large, visible, and everybody knows our name. But you take precautions."

Delhi police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat says there was no intelligence indicating why financial and commercial locations had been chosen for the attacks, saying the investigation was focused simply on cracking the case. But outside Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, where most of the victims were brought, an official with the Home Affairs Ministry, which handles internal security, says the reasons were apparent. "Terrorists pick the most visible targets of a nation's strengths. India is an economic power, and that makes its enemies jealous," he says, asking not to be identified because the issue is expected soon to be addressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Inside the hospital, where blood streaked across the floor to a room full of injured victims, the question of motive was immaterial. Bheem Kumar, a rickshaw puller who says he was thrown several feet by the impact of blast, sat holding his bandaged head and arm, waiting for his family to find him: "How do I earn without my rickshaw? What do I eat?"

Srivastava reports for BusinessWeek from New Delhi.