NEW DELHI—Indian Muslims are being recruited into terrorist networks that have spawned a surge of deadly attacks across the country, forcing the country to acknowledge the reality of homegrown Islamic terrorism.
"Reports ... suggest that terrorist modules and sleeper cells exist in some of our urban areas, all of which highlight the seriousness of the threat," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last week, warning of "a further intensification" of terrorism.
A court was scheduled Tuesday to hand down death sentences for six men in India's first major modern terrorist attack, blasts that killed 257 people in Mumbai in 1993. A Muslim-led organized crime syndicate arranged the attack as revenge for Hindu atrocities against Muslims.
Hindu extremists remain active and may have been behind an attack Friday, just three days after Singh spoke, in which two bombs killed more than 30 people in the majority Muslim city of Malegaon.
The focus of authorities in India, however, has long been Muslim militants from Pakistan who carry out terrorist attacks on Indian soil. Now, after a series of attacks in the past year, Indian authorities are waking up to the threat of homegrown Muslim terrorists.
India still accuses Pakistanis of coordinating most of the attacks, often fingering Lashkar-e-Tayyba, a Muslim militant group that's on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Lashkar denies involvement in the attacks in India.
Either way, what's changed is that the attacks, once carried out by Pakistani operatives, increasingly appear to be the work of locals.
"Lashkar has outsourced terrorism to these groups in the last two to three years," said Wilson John, a Pakistan expert at the Observer Research Foundation, a research center in New Delhi.
John and other analysts think that the strategy forms part of an effort by Pakistani groups to expand their activities beyond Kashmir, the disputed and predominantly Muslim territory that's divided between India and Pakistan. The effort appears to have culminated in a series of dramatic and deadly attacks in the past year.
_Last October, closely timed bombs killed more than 60 people in two crowded markets in New Delhi, India's capital. A third bomb went off in a bus but wasn't fatal.
_In December, a gunman opened fire outside an academic conference in Bangalore, India's high-tech hub, killing a retired professor.
_In March, two bombs killed more than 20 in a temple and a railway station in Varanasi, a major Hindu pilgrimage city.
_In July, at least 186 people died in seven near-simultaneous blasts on rush-hour trains in Mumbai, India's financial center, formerly known as Bombay.
"It's a clear pattern," John said. "It's not going to change. It will only increase. One doesn't know where next."
Local terrorists present a new and more difficult security challenge for India. They can strike more easily than foreigners and melt more easily into the general population. But a heavy-handed crackdown risks alienating the country's 140 million Muslims, who make up 13 percent of the population.
Some community leaders complained about police roundups of Muslims after the Mumbai bombings. Many of them were released later without being charged.
Singh addressed the issue at the end of his speech. "It is, hence, imperative that we embark immediately on a proactive policy to ensure that a few individual acts do not result in tarnishing the image of an entire community," he said.
Some experts suspect that the government's decision to develop closer ties with the United States may be helping militant groups recruit Indian Muslims.
"There is a certain anger against the United States, against the government of India for its policies," said Bahukutumbi Raman, India's former counterterrorism chief. "So some Muslims are more responsive to the propaganda coming from al-Qaida."
John traces Muslim anger to domestic roots, namely the anti-Muslim violence inspired by the Hindu nationalist movement. In one of the more notorious examples, Hindu mobs killed hundreds of Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Hindus also died in the violence.
(Moritsugu is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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