Mumbai probe eyes local Muslim group
India's Muslim community has a moderate reputation, but pockets of alienation exist in growing ghettos.
As the investigation into last week's bomb blasts gathers pace, authorities are probing a link between Pakistan-based Lashkar-i Tayyaba (LeT), the main suspect, and a banned Islamic organization in India called the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Tests confirmed Monday that the bombers used the powerful military explosive RDX, a weapon used before by the LeT. Indian investigators say they suspect that LeT provided the bombs, the funding, the target, and the know-how to SIMI, which in turn provided the people on the ground. Authorities have rounded up nearly 300 local men from Muslim suburbs like Mumbra – including 11 detained Monday near the Bangladesh border.
This thread of the investigation has Indians facing the uncomfortable possibility that international jihad may have found a receptive ear within pockets of a huge religious minority. Already, some politicians are calling for tougher antiterrorism measures. But Muslim leaders here express concern that a harsh police crackdown and tough rhetoric from politicians would only serve to alienate a community with a strong reputation for moderation.
"India's Muslims don't countenance the killing of innocent civilians, and Muslim leaders have come out in the open and condemned these attacks. The terrorists want communal riots. They want to divide us," says Abdul Rauf Khan, an imam in Mumbra.
After bomb attacks in Mumbai three years ago, India's stringent antiterrorism law – the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) – had been used with particular force against Muslims, resulting in arbitrary arrests, harsh interrogations, and detention without charge. POTA was repealed in 2004, and so far police tactics over the past week haven't been as sweeping. Many of the hundreds interrogated were let go in a few hours; only a few remain in detention.
Given the charged debate over POTA's repeal, Indian politicians may be loathe to reinstate it. But the controversial chief minister of Gujarat state traveled to Mumbai to publicly challenge Delhi to do just that – or allow state governments to pass their own versions.
"If we are allowed to enact such an antiterrorism act, Gujarat will be the first state to do so, and I will be the first chief minister who will show this country how terrorism is curbed and how to hang terrorists," Chief Minister Narendra Modi told an assembly Monday.
The timing and message of Mr. Modi's visit is seen as provocative by those who view him as complicit in communal riots that gripped Gujarat in 2002, leaving some 1,000 dead, mainly Muslims.
"It's a difficult time for Muslims in India after every terrorist attack," says Sayeed Khan, the founder of a nongovernmental organization MY India, an acronym for Muslim Youth of India – a name chosen to demonstrate that India's Muslims were Indian, and not Pakistanis, as alleged by some.
In times such as these, Mr. Khan says, people talk about Muslims disparagingly – and view them with suspicion.
"The terrorists are Muslims, and we're Muslims, too. That's our only fault," says Mohamed Tariq Qazi, a 27-year-old call center employee who was called in for questioning after the blasts.