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175 Million New Recruits for Jihad?

By Todd Crowell

HUA HIN. Thailand - Many people in the US were surprised to learn that some of the alleged terrorists in the London and Glasgow attacks were medical doctors. But Asians were more interested to learn that they were Indians.

India has the world's second largest population of Muslims after Indonesia, but this is the first instance of Indian Muslims being involved in international terrorism. For example, not one Indian citizen is detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US keeps terror suspects.

Three of the core suspects in the London/Glasgow affair, Kafeel Ahmed, his brother Sabeel Ahmed and their cousin in Australia Mohammed Haneef all came from the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Although Mohammed and Sabeel were doctors, Kafeel was an aeronautical engineer.

The man that British authorities believe tried to ram his Jeep Cherokee into Glasgow International Airport had worked for Infotech an Indian outsourcing company based in Bangalore that designs aircraft parts for Airbus Industrie and Boeing.

All three had studied in Bangalore, which is India's information technology capital and probably its most cosmopolitan city, the poster-child for the "flat", globally connected world of which India has become an important part.

As far as anyone knows, the alleged terrorists did not come from some impoverished Muslim ghetto; nor did they get indoctrinated at madrassa religious schools. That's not to say that they were radicalized only after they emigrated to Britain and Australia.

Kafeel is reported to have undergone a radical transformation through fundamentalist organizations while studying engineering near Bangalore. He later joined the Tablighi Jamaat, which is usually described as a kind of missionary organization, but which some authorities believe has links to terrorism.

While in Bangalore, the brothers were expelled from their local mosque after loudly complaining that it was too permissive. They wanted the leaders to follow the strict Saudi Arabian brand of Wahhabism, which is not popular among India's 175 million Muslims.

Up to now, India's Muslims have been somewhat aloof to the call for global jihad. They did not flock to Afghanistan, like their co-religionists in Pakistan, in the 1980s to fight the Soviets. Indians tended to view that conflict as being in Pakistan's sphere of influence.

This is not to say that India is immune to terrorism. Mumbai, the financial capital has had deadly bombings in 1993 and 2006. A nasty Naxalite insurgency motivated by communism has killed thousands of innocents across the center of India. There are also occasional deadly spasms of sectarian conflict between Muslims and Hindus.
The July 11, 2006 bombing of the subway in Mumbai killed 209 people and injured 700. It was blamed on Pakistani elements linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence organization not on local Muslims.

In India Muslims have gone on rampages, but they have usually been tit-for-tat reactions to Hindu provocations, such as the 1992 destruction by militant Hindus of the Babri Masjid Mosque, which stood on ground sacred to Hindus. In other words, they were strictly Indian affairs.

"Indian Muslims, it seemed, were not drawn by calls for jihad or to join international terrorist groups," wrote Indian journalist Sudha Ramachandran in Asia Times Online. "That myth appears now to have been shattered."

Another myth shattered was the comfortable belief that Indian Muslims were immune to the siren songs of Osama bin Laden and company because India is officially a secular democracy rather than a military dictatorship like Pakistan.

British authorities, too, may have to rethink their assumptions. The combination of their professions and origins may have helped ease the Ahmed brothers entry into the country. It is reported that British intelligence had no inkling of the attacks until they occurred.

If would, of course, be a mistake to make sweeping generalizations about 175 million Muslims based on the actions of three of them. Nevertheless, the incidents will provoke some soul-searching in India and force anti-terrorism authorities around the world to recalibrate their suspect profiles.

Todd Crowell is an editor with Asia Times Online.

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