Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, ICM & SATP
At least two monks, a Burmese and a Tibetan, were injured in a coordinated terror attack, in and around the Mahabodhi Temple (the Temple of the Great Awakening, where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment) Complex at Bodh Gaya in the Gaya District of Bihar on July 7, 2013. The Bihar Police has confirmed that ten low-intensity serial blasts occurred between 5:30 and 5:58 am at and around the World Heritage site. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde confirmed, "Today I have the information of 10 blasts. A total of 13 bombs were placed there… Two persons have been injured – 50 year old Dorji and Bala Sanga (30)." Two live bombs were detected and defused at the Complex, while a third bomb was recovered near the Royal Residence hotel at Baiju Bigaha village, about four kilometres from the Mahabodhi Temple.
Examination of three unexploded bombs revealed that small LPG cylinders had been used as containers to pack explosives suspected to be a mix of ammonium nitrate, potassium and sulphur, and, according to the National Security Guard’s explosive experts, “it would be wrong to call the bombs crude”. Sources suggest that this is the first time gas cylinders have been used as containers for explosives. Investigators believe that the damage could have been far greater, but for the humid conditions currently prevailing in Gaya, which may have affected the explosive materials. Some instructions in Urdu were reportedly found along with the bombs recovered and defused in Bodh Gaya, including instruction to target Bara But (big statue) and 'bus', while another message declared that the operation was intended to avenge what had happened in Iraq.
The incident has provoked the usual speculative storm in the media, this time about the opening of a ‘new front’. Bihar has not witnessed any major Islamist terrorist attack in the past, and Buddhist sites across India have also remained exempt from such strikes. Again, the usual clamour about security and intelligence failures has also been raised. Fairly specific intelligence regarding an imminent threat to the Bodh Gaya site in particular, and Buddhist targets in general, particularly in the wake of the organized attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, had been communicated to the Bihar Government. Despite these, rudimentary processes of access control and surveillance appear to have been ignored, even as the terrorists succeeded in planting at least four explosive devices within the core area of the shrine.
Rarely has precedent intelligence been as specific as it was in the case of the threat to Bodh Gaya. Most significantly, Indian Mujahiddeen (IM) operatives Syed Maqbool, Asad Khan, Langde Irfan Mustafa, Imran Khan and Syed Feroz aka Hamza — all arrested by the Delhi Police Special Cell in September-October 2012 — had revealed during interrogations in October 2012 that Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad and Buddhist Temples in Bodh Gaya had been reconnoitered by them on instructions from Pakistan-based IM founder Riyaz Bhatkal. Crucially, twin blasts had been engineered in Hyderabad's Dilsukhnagar on February 21, 2013, resulting in 17 killed and 117 injured, confirming the reliability of the disclosures. Other targets where the four had carried out reconnaissance included Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and Sadar Bazar; Mumbai’ McDonald restaurant at Andheri Station, shops near the Santa Cruz Station, the Dadar Bus Stop, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Panvel Station, as well as some areas in Bandra and Jogeshwari. All these are crowded public places which could be expected to yield significant mass casualties in the event of an attack.
All the reconnaissance operations were approved by the Bhatkal brothers, and sources indicate that a meeting for the Bodh Gaya survey was held in Hyderabad in 2012 at the house of Obaid-ur-Rehman, a key accused in the Dilsukhnagar twin blasts. Delhi’s Special Cell had sent an intelligence advisory in October 2012 to Bihar's Director General of Police and the Gaya Superintendent of Police, warning about a possible strike.
Significantly, again, during the a National Investigation Agency (NIA) team’s interrogation of the 26/11 Mumbai attack accused David Headley in the US in June 2010, Headley had claimed that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had prepared a video on the Mahabodhi Temple and was planning to trigger blasts there.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) had also warned Bihar twice over the past three months that Bodh Gaya was on the hit list of terrorist groups, with sketches of two suspects sent just a fortnight before the attack. These reports had even been published in the media, specifically mentioning the targeting of Buddhist Temples in reaction to alleged atrocities on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Indeed, the threat to Bodh Gaya in particular, and to wider Buddhist targets in general, has been some time in existence. Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed had tweeted, on June 14, 2013, "Indian government is working in cahoots with Burmese Government to wipe out Muslim population of Burma"; and again, "It is also an obligation on the whole Muslim Ummah to defend the rights and honour of Rohingya Muslims in Burma."
Even earlier, Ustad Farooq, the head of Al-Qaeda’s ‘preaching and media department’ for Pakistan, had warned, in September 2012, that the killings of Muslims in Myanmar and Assam “provide impetus for us to hasten our advance towards Delhi… I warn the Indian Government that after Kashmir, Gujarat… you may add Assam to the long list of your evil deeds.”