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Nov 27, 2008 | 02:26 GMT

3 mins read

India: The Militant Name Game

A group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mumbai, India, on Nov. 26. Though the name Deccan Mujahideen has not been used by an Islamist militant group in India before, the new name does not necessarily mean the group itself is new.
A group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the Nov. 26 Mumbai attacks, in which militants armed with AK-47s and grenades attacked hotels, a cafe, a cinema, a train station, hospitals and police forces. All attacks were focused on Western and economic targets, revealing a dramatic shift in tactics and targeting from Islamist militant groups operating in India. (click image to enlarge) Islamist militant groups in India have not used the name Deccan Mujahidden before, but the new name does not necessarily mean a new group has arrived on the Indian militant scene. India has a vibrant history of Islamist militancy. The traditional groups operated under the banners of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HUJI). These groups would both collaborate and compete with each other, but they all shared a lifeline that started in Islamabad with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Since 9/11, that link has become less defined. Facing pressure from both India and the United States, Pakistan banned LeT and HUJI (SIMI was already banned inside India) in an attempt to create more plausible deniability for Islamabad when these groups carried out attacks. Despite the bans, India still readily blamed Pakistan for attacks, pointing to the telltale sign of RDX (a military-grade explosive that would most likely be provided by a state sponsor like Pakistan) used in attacks to point the finger at Islamabad. Over the past two years, however, as the ties between the groups and the ISI became more strained (partly out of Islamabad's intent and partly out of Pakistan's preoccupation with its own jihadist insurgency), the Islamist militant groups operating in India have become more innovative in their attacks. They have relied more on commercial-grade explosives to create crude devices that can be placed in a bag and attached to a bicycle or auto-rickshaw near a target and set off with a timer. Of particular importance is the name Indian Mujahideen (IM), which has popped up more frequently in recent attacks. The name is designed to imply that the group is homegrown and is recruiting, planning and operating under the noses of the Indian security forces. The name Deccan Mujahideen — Deccan is a plateau region that covers most of southern India — suggests it is a more localized offshoot of IM, thus creating the impression that the group is proliferating into smaller branches. The name game is part of the groups' tactics to sow confusion within India's security apparatus. When members are arrested, they can intentionally lead Indian security forces down the wrong path by claiming they are from a new group, or deny membership in an organization to protect other group members. This is not to say that these groups no longer have a connection with the Pakistanis. On the contrary, Pakistan has a vital interest in supporting proxy militants in its rival's territory. That said, Pakistan's plate is quite full at the moment, with a weak and fractured government trying to fend off a raging jihadist insurgency and a severe economic crisis. The Pakistanis are unlikely to be itching for a fight with the Indians that could bring an additional threat to their border when their troops are already occupied.

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