India investigates Delhi High Court blast amid public frustration over security gaps

As the investigation into the Delhi High Court blasts begins, the fact that India's track record of terror attacks has not led to substantial changes in security deepens skepticism that this time will be different, locals say.

Manish Swarup/AP
Officers of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) collect evidence from the site of a blast at Delhi High court in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Sept. 8. Indian agencies are scrambling for leads on the briefcase bombing outside the courthouse in the capital.

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

The Pakistan and Bangladesh-based militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), which has ties to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility in an e-mail for Wednesday's bombing in New Delhi that killed at least 12 people. A local militant group, Indian Mujahideen, also claimed responsibility in an e-mail Thursday.

As Indian authorities began investigating the incident, detaining three men today for questioning in connection to HUJI's e-mail, the public expressed doubts that the attack on New Delhi's High Court would be resolved or prompt any additional vigilance or security from the government.

The e-mail from HUJI was traced back to an Internet cafe in the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir, located in the Kashmir region. Police detained three men working in an Internet cafe there and are investigating the authenticity of the e-mail, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Indian Mujahideen (IM) also claimed responsibility for the attack in an e-mail sent today and refuted HUJI's claim, The Hindustan Times reports.

HUJI has claimed responsibility for attacks in India in the past, but not in recent years. Security sources in Indian-administered Kashmir expressed doubt about HUJI's claims because the group had not been active in the region for "some time." Security officials say the group would also not have used an Internet cafe to send a claim of responsibility, Reuters reports. If HUJI is actually responsible for the bombing of New Delhi's High Court, a fledgling reconciliation process between India and Pakistan could suffer.

Indians criticized the government for not implementing adequate security measures following the deadly shooting spree in Mumbai in 2008, or after bombings in Mumbai in July. Wednesday's bomb was detonated less than 1,000 feet from the site of a minor explosion at the High Court in May, The Hindustan Times reports.

"Given the precedent, one would have expected adequate security measures to be put in place to avoid a repeat. But despite the Delhi High Court being a high-value target in the heart of the national capital, not even rudimentary measures such as metal detectors or CCTV surveillance were in place. This speaks of an extraordinarily lax security culture," The Times of India writes in an editorial.

A column in the Indian newspaper The Hindu with the headline, "Delhi investigators hope for a miracle," makes clear the extent of public cynicism about the chances of this attack being solved. None of the attacks since the 2008 Mumbai attack have been resolved.

"… Officers are privately admitting the thing they need to secure a rapid breakthrough is a miracle.

In spite of massive investments in police infrastructure, deficiencies in investigative skills, careless preventive policing and a crippling lack of intelligence has meant not one urban terrorist attack since the November 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba assault on Mumbai has been solved.

New Delhi authorities, like their counterparts in other cities, demonstrated a blithe disregard of the threat. No closed-circuit television cameras were installed outside the court complex even after a car-bomb went off outside the High Court in May, failing to kill only because of errors in its fabrication. Faced with protests from lawyers and litigants, sources said, the police also failed to enforce parking regulations in front of the court — adding to its vulnerability."

Bloomberg reports that despite efforts to beef up its police presence and the creation of a new federal agency specifically to investigate terrorist attacks, there are 600,000 police officer vacancies. At its current number, India deploys one officer for every 1,037 residents. The global average is one per every 333 residents.

Public anger regarding the Indian government's inability to prevent regular terrorist attacks is strong, as shown in a blog post by contributor Prashant Agrawal on The Wall Street Journal's India-based blog, India Real Time.

Angry. Mad. Frustrated. I’ve lost count. Most of us have. What is this, the FY12 Q3 bombing? Isn’t it early? Shouldn’t this come a little later? Sometime after Diwali and before Christmas? Or should we just wait for the Q4 bombing?

A dozen more people dead, added to the hundreds who have died over the last decade. We will mourn them. The Prime Minister said what he had to say about not giving in. The word scourge gets trotted out again. The Home Minister says much has been done, more needs to be done. Does anyone even bother to pay attention? Do even the Home Minister and Prime Minister believe their own words?

After the most recent Mumbai blasts, the government had a sliver of an excuse in that the bombs were in crowded places. But this attack happened in a court, which should at any time have a strong security presence. And it was the Delhi High Court, no less – a place where a bomb exploded in May.

After that bombing, the Delhi police conducted a security audit and recommended the installation of security cameras. No surprise here, but there were no security cameras yesterday, only an old-fashioned police sketch of possible suspects. Let’s see if there are any cameras next month or next year.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.