Places of worship are soft targets
Terrorists have in the recent past been moving from one religion to another and from one location to another. After Thursday’s attack on the Ajmer dargah, security officials are convinced the answer to the problem of terrorism lies not in searching for specifics of each incident but in the overall ideology that dictates jihad.
The Sufi shrine was the fourth religious place to be targeted in 18 months. First, there was the twin blasts in Varanasi — one of them at the Sankat Mochan temple — that left 20 people dead in March last year. The very next month, low-intensity explosions in Delhi's Jama Masjid injured 14 people. Five months later, explosions rocked the textile town of Malegaon in Maharashtra on a Friday coinciding with the Shab-e-Barat festival, leaving 38 bodies in its wake. Then there was the blast and subsequent police firing at Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid this May that killed another 14.
The common thread running through all these attacks: an attempt to disturb communal harmony. A home ministry spokesman sees a similar intention behind Thursday’s blast: “It seems to have been an attempt by anti-national elements to create communal disharmony and panic.” Minister of State for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal also suspects it was a terror attack.
Earlier this month, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil had identified religious places as possible targets of terrorists and asked security forces to take the necessary precautions.
Security experts, however, point to other equally powerful reasons that could be at play. They say an attack on a shrine seen as a deviant from the puritan form of Islam serves the purpose of intimidating the community. According to intelligence agencies, terror groups like the Lashker-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have already spoken out against the Sufi strain of Islam.
The second reason, according to Institute for Conflict Management executive director Ajai Sahni, is that organisations use attacks to announce their presence and get more recruits. He adds that it should be kept in mind that terrorists who believe in the extremist ideology that inspired jihad, by and large, see Indian Muslims as deviants, not devout Muslims.