Hyderabad: Indian government warned of impending terrorist attack

The Indian government said that it had received intelligence indicating an attack was in the works, and informed local police in several cities, among them Hyderabad, two days before the bombing.

Aijaz Rahi/AP
An Indian police official stands guard at one of the two bomb blast sites in Hyderabad, India, Friday. Indian police are investigating whether a shadowy Islamic militant group was responsible for a dual bomb attack that killed 16 people outside a movie theater and a bus station in the southern city of Hyderabad, a police official said Friday.

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Two bombs went off in the Indian city of Hyderabad yesterday, killing at least 16 and launching a fresh round of accusations at the government, which has been crticized for their efforts to rein in militants in the country and prevent attacks.

The two bombs, planted on bicycles, went off almost simultaneously yesterday in a market in a middle-class neighborhood in the IT hub, Reuters reports. No one has claimed responsibility. 

The Indian government said that it had received intelligence indicating an attack was in the works, and informed local police in several cities, among them Hyderabad, India's fourth most populous city, two days before the bombing. The New York Times reports that the arrest of four terrorists in October 2012 revealed that one of them had done "reconnaissance" of the same Hyderabad neighborhood that was targeted.

Bloomberg reports that it was India's deadliest bombing in almost two years. After the deadly 2008 shooting spree in Mumbai, which killed 166 people, the government vowed to make improvements to its intelligence and anti-terror operations, but there have been nine terrorist attacks since then, according to Bloomberg.

As Reuters notes, government effectiveness at preventing terrorist attacks is a major political issue in India, and the ruling Congress party has "had to fend off accusations... of being weak on security."

"The government's response is not adequate to the burning issue of terrorism. The government is taking it in a casual and usual manner," opposition party leader Venkaiah Naidu told reporters outside Parliament, reports the news agency Press Trust of India.

In this instance, the government has been particularly criticized for having prior knowledge of an attack and not doing enough to prevent it. “If you do not have any information it is an intelligence failure,” Ajit Doval, a former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, told The New York Times. “But if you have some information, and even then you cannot prevent the event, then it is the failure of the government.”

But another former official defended the government: "These alerts are so routine that you cannot act upon these," J. N. Rai, a former official with India’s Intelligence Bureau, told the Times. "With the use of technology and online communication, it has become rather more difficult" to detect and prevent planned attacks, he said.

Press Trust of India reports that the Home Ministry sent a "specific" alert to four cities – Hyderabad, Bangalore, Coimbatore, and Hubli – yesterday morning to warn them of "probable" attacks. All states received an alert on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20, that "Pakistan-based terrorist groups may carry out attacks in a major city" to avenge Afzal Guru, who was convicted of attacking Parliament and executed earlier this month, setting off days of clashes in Kashmir, as the Monitor reported.  

Kiran Kumar Reddy, chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, of which Hyderabad is the capital, defended local police's actions, saying those alerts were "general alerts which often keep coming from the Centre," according to the news agency.

N. Manoharan, an analyst at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based policy research group, told Bloomberg that yesterday's attacks "have the hallmarks" of the Islamic militant group Indian Mujahideen. “This kind of communally sensitive place, the use of detonators and timers, the pattern of the bombings and the fact that bombs were placed on cycles point the finger toward Indian Mujahideen,” Mr. Manoharan said.

The Christian Science Monitor's Shivam Vij reported yesterday on the skepticism surrounding that claim

"We don't know who the Indian Mujahideen is, which raises suspicions about such claims," says Delhi-based human rights activist Mahtab Alam, "Every time there is a blast the police say Indian Mujahideen and then they claim they have nabbed the Indian Mujahideen masterminds, til the next blast."

The group is composed of Indian men "radicalized" by anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002. It first came to light in 2008, after claiming several bomb attacks in cities such as New Delhi and Ahmedabad, according to Bloomberg.

India is incapable of stopping militant groups without specific, actionable intelligence, Manoharan says, and local police "are not trained or equipped well enough to meet this kind of threat."

Bloomberg reports that the country is short on police, with only one officer for every 1,037 residents. The global average is one for every 333 people, according to Human Rights Watch. The officers are often ill-trained and kept on for shifts that last 24 hours. According to the government, 600,000 vacancies remain in the police force.

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