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May 18, 2007 | 17:18 GMT

India: The Mecca Mosque Bombers' Poor Tradecraft

Police forces were on high alert and security was tightened at potential targets in India on May 18 following the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Mecca Mosque in Hyderabad that left at least seven people dead and more than two dozen injured. Two more live IEDs reportedly were defused at the mosque, located in the Charminar area of Hyderabad's old city. Although it is unclear who is behind the bombing, the attackers' poor tradecraft indicates it was the work of a relatively inexperienced militant cell, and not one directly linked to one of India's more established militant groups. Regardless, the attack is likely to fuel Hyderabad's already tense relations between Hindus and Muslims. The IED exploded around 1:30 p.m. local time when the mosque was crowded with worshipers performing Friday prayers. The blast occurred near the Wuzukhana, a fountain inside the mosque entrance where worshippers wash their hands and faces before praying. The two other devices had been placed near the entrance to the mosque complex, though it is unclear whether the devices were meant to target arriving worshippers or first responders and fleeing worshippers following the initial blast. The failure of the other two bombs and the timing of the explosion indicate poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers. Poor design or workmanship in the detonation mechanism, remote controls or the actual composition of the explosives could have been what prevented the other devices from detonating. Moreover, the bomber would have wanted to maximize the casualty count, and would have timed the blast to coincide with the worshippers' arrival at the Wuzkuhana. Instead, the explosion occurred during prayers, when most worshippers already had washed and moved away from the fountain. Indian officials said the bomb would have killed many more people had it detonated a few minutes earlier, before prayers started. Because the bomb was detonated remotely, the bomber likely estimated when the fountain would be crowded, rather than having eyes on the target before triggering the device.
The Mecca Mosque, built in the 17th century, is the main, established mosque in Hyderabad. Rather than catering to one of India's many Muslim offshoot sects, which are considered heretical by orthodox Muslims, the mosque draws its congregation from the city's mainstream Sunni community. The attack, the third major bombing of a mosque in India in the past 13 months, follows the attacks against the Maani Mosque in Maharashtra state and the Jamia Mosque in New Delhi. In all cases, the bombs detonated during or after Friday prayers, when mosques generally are the most crowded. In many cases, attacks against mosques are followed by riots, reprisal bombings of Hindu temples, and communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. Hyderabad has seen militant activity before — and been the scene of some of the country's worst communal violence — but this is the first major attack against a mosque. Within minutes of the bombing, crowds of angry Muslims threw stones at Indian police, claiming they failed to provide adequate security. The police responded by deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets, reportedly killing four protesters. In response to the bombing and the subsequent police shootings, the Council for Muslim Unity, a mainstream Muslim group, has called for a general strike in Hyderabad, indicating the bombing will only add to the city's already high communal tensions.
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India: The Mecca Mosque Bombers' Poor Tradecraft
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