Even as the terror strikes were occurring in Mumbai last week, a tragedy that was to leave nearly two hundred persons dead, an unknown entity called the Deccan Mujahideen had immediately claimed responsibility. Earlier that year India was witness to several other terror strikes in the provinces of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam and in the capital city of New Delhi that had targeted hundreds of people. All these were claimed by another entity that was unknown until then, the Indian Mujahideen. In all these cases, the claims of responsibility immediately invited a babel of voices with media persons and experts speculating on the rise of new groups and the spread of the jihadi movement across 'Hindu' India.
While in most terrorist attacks, investigation is seriously challenged - the trail of violence often destroying any admissible evidence and killing all witnesses - in the most recent case in Mumbai, events took an unexpected turn in favor of investigators. To the misfortune of the terror masterminds, one of their operatives was captured alive in the heat of battle. It was late night on the 26th of November when Kasab was overpowered while he was still firing bullets into the body of a police officer who had clutched the muzzle of his gun, refusing to let go. Kasab was immediately taken into police custody even as the terrorist siege of two luxury hotels was continuing in another part of the city. Interestingly, shortly after Kasab was captured, a person identifying himself as Abdulla Ghaznavi, a spokesperson for the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) contacted CNN to say that his group had no links with the Deccan Mujahideen. On behalf of the LeT he condemned the attacks and demanded an international inquiry into them. Thereafter the remaining terrorists who had been holding a few hostages at the luxury hotels began executing them, eliminating their ability to negotiate and to emerge alive from the siege of violence.
These dead men could carry no tales but why would the LeT take such precautions at anonymity? Why would it not wish to be associated with the terror strikes in India? For a group that has declared its prime objective to be the liberation of Indian Muslims and the destabilization of India, surely this was an event that would do their organization proud. The bomb blasts in the other Indian provinces were similarly praiseworthy, having succeeded both in terms of civilian casualty rates and also strategic assaults on key civic centers. When the intelligence community had inferred their involvement, and in the Mumbai case where investigations through the key captive Kasab had also established their connections with operational bases in Pakistan, why was the LeT hiding behind different aliases?
There have been two possible explanations that have surfaced amongst close observers and terrorism analysts in South Asia. The first points out that the apparent franchising of terror through multiple groups can actually confuse many people into believing that there are widespread and spontaneous violent upsurges by Indian Muslims across India. The second explanation underscores the need of the LeT to duck beneath the radar of counterterrorist initiatives that had named this organization amongst other note worthies that make up the US List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The second explanation also covers the need of other sympathizers, supporters or strategic partners of the transnationally influential LeT who may wish to forge alliances and consolidate their interests in neighboring countries like Afghanistan - thus playing a deadly game of deception by stroking relationships with the LeT in one theatre of conflict and simultaneously claiming ignorance about what the LeT may do through its aliases, in another theater of conflict.
However, a rose by any other name does smell and the so-called Deccan Mujahideen and the Indian Mujahideen have both had interesting links with the LeT that have been established with investigations. Since involvement of the LeT in cross border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has reduced, and since the organization has expanded its arena to the main economic centers of India, it has become increasingly important for the LeT to hide its hand. Feigning ignorance about the terrorism that it spawns in India is important for its strategic survival. Perhaps this is even more so today since six American lives were also lost during the Mumbai terror attacks. That particular aberration was never meant to come home to the LeT. They were casualties for which a fictitious Deccan Mujahideen was fully accountable.