The blasts that ripped through courthouse complexes in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow last Friday are chilling reminders that the country is still dangerously unprepared to prevent terror strikes and the tragic loss of life and economic havoc they leave in their wake. The blasts killed at least 16 people — many of them lawyers — and injured scores of others. From all accounts, the perpetrators parked bicycles laded with explosives in and around the court premises before escaping and probably triggered the explosions within minutes of each other in a coordinated attack. Although it is not clear who was responsible for the blasts, the fact that the explosions were synchronised to go off after the Friday prayers points to jehad groups who are known to organise such attacks on Fridays.
That the blasts happened soon after three suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) operatives — who allegedly planned to take some VIPs hostage and bargain for the release of jailed militants — were held in UP suggests the involvement of Islamist networks in the state. Intelligence agencies admit to having known for a while that Bangladesh-trained elements of these groups planned to target local lawyers, many of whom have refused to defend terrorism suspects. While it is true that it is not always possible to prevent attacks of this kind on soft targets, security agencies should at least be able to ensure a thorough investigation every time one occurs. Unfortunately, our security apparatus does not seem to have adequate technical intelligence capability to keep an eye on the activities of suspect networks within the country. The irony is that they otherwise routinely intercept the ‘chatter’ between terrorists in Kashmir and their handlers in Pakistan.
India’s increasing vulnerability to terrorist designs makes it clear that terrorists have a chillingly vast menu of soft targets to choose from. Therefore, it is crucial for major cities to take a closer look at how prepared — or unprepared — they are to terror strikes. TV grabs of last Friday’s blasts showed people collecting nails and shrapnel from the blast sites. This is not only an appalling breach of safety norms but also the destruction of key clues that could help forensic experts. It is high time authorities in major cities carried out emergency planning exercises, including mock terrorist attack drills, to make citizens better prepared for such crises.