by B. Raman
A group of about 1500 Muslims staged an ugly demonstration outside the US Consulate-General in Chennai on the evening of September 14, 2012, in protest against a derogatory film on Islam and its Holy Prophet produced by an unidentified person in the US.
A video clip from the film with Arabic sub-titles uploaded on to the Internet has led to a series of anti-US demonstrations by Muslims in some countries of the world, with the demonstrations taking violent form in some places. During a demonstration outside the US Consulate in Benghazi in Libya on September 11, 2012, a small group of heavily armed Muslims launched a commando-style attack on the Consulate resulting in the death of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other US officials.
The involvement of the Ansar al-Sharia (Supporters of the Sharia), an affiliate of Al Qaeda, is suspected in the Benghazi attack. The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen, is also called Ansar al-Sharia. One does not know as yet whether the Ansar suspected in the Benghazi attack is the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda or whether it is a different organisation of Libyan roots.
The Bengaluru Police are presently interrogating 18 educated Muslim youths arrested in Bengaluru, Hubli, Hyderabad and Maharashtra on charges of conspiring to assassinate a number of Hindu personalities believed sympathetic to the Hindutva movement. According to the Bengaluru Police, the Muslim suspects in their custody were self-motivated by visiting the web site of AQAP in Yemen, also known as the Ansar al-Sharia.
Muslim fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan and West Asia , including the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organisation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), responsible for the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, had called for world-wide anti-US protest rallies against the film by Muslims after the Friday prayers on September 14.Media reports indicate that there was some response to this call in Jammu & Kashmir. Surprisingly and disquietingly, some Muslims of Chennai appear to have responded to this call after the Friday prayers in a local mosque.
To quote from the report carried by “The Hindu” on the protest rally in Chennai: “ A protest against controversial American film Innocence of Muslims turned violent on Friday when the US Consulate-General on Anna Salai here was attacked by hundreds of protesters who breached police security cordon with ease. A crowd of 1500 people from the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TNMMK) and a few other Muslim outfits targeted the mission. They pelted it with stones, burnt the American flag and pictures of President Barack Obama and damaged CCTV cameras, a police booth and instructions boards for visitors…. A large group raising anti-US slogans marched from outside New College in Royapettah towards the Consulate. Consulate security personnel shut the doors to bar their entry. Iron railings and paintings on the building’s compound wall were ruined. A small group tried to scale the Consulate’s wall on Cathedral Road and damaged the doors and glass panels of the security chamber.”
“The Hindu” has further reported as follows: “The State Intelligence had communicated a specific input on the possibility of an attack on the US Consulate in Chennai. However, the attack on the Consulate caught the police unawares as it was planned and well-organised with the protesters deviating from the original route to reach the target and having come armed with stones. Preliminary investigation revealed that a sizeable number of protesters came from the Tambaram side to join the main group of TMMK agitators. After burning a couple of US flags, they ran towards the Consulate raising slogans and stoned the building. They were joined by a few more youths from the Thousand Lights area.”
The details of what happened in Chennai disturbingly resemble what happened in the Azad Maidan in Mumbai last month and what took place in Benghazi on September 11.While a large number of Muslims were peacefully demonstrating or holding a meeting, small groups of violent Muslim youth entered the scene and tried to indulge in violence. While in Mumbai and Chennai, the Muslim youth who indulged in violence were armed only with stones, in Benghazi they carried rifles and rocket-propelled grenades resulting in fatalities.
South India has had a history of Islamic radicalism. A founding father of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was from Kerala. During the 1990s, a jihadi terrorist organisation called Al Umma was very active in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It carried out a number of acts of terrorism in Tamil Nadu, including the serial blasts in Coimbatore in February, 1998, coinciding with a visit of Shri L. K. Advani, the BJP leader, to that town. The Tamil Nadu Police managed to arrest the leaders of the organisation and prosecute them. It has become dormant as a terrorist organisation, but it is believed that some of those presently associated with the TNMMK were originally associated with Al Umma when it was active.
Ten years ago, the Tamil Nadu Police discovered an attempt by a Saudi Arabia based cadre of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) to float a new jihadi organisation in Tamil Nadu called the Muslim Self-Defence Force. It did not make much progress. It was reported that the investigations made by the Police in North India brought out that at least one training/motivational camp of the Indian Mujahideen was held in Kerala.
After the recent anti-Muslim violence in the Rakhine State of Myanmar and our Assam, an organisation based in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, came to notice for disseminating exaggerated accounts of the violence with the help of morphed images. The recent exodus of a large number of our citizens from the North-East working and living in Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad followed dissemination of motivated rumours warning of retaliatory attacks on people from the North-East. The people and cells behind this conspiracy have not yet been identified, arrested and prosecuted. And then, we had the arrest of 18 Muslim suspects with ideological vibrations for AQAP of Yemen.
The chain of developments outlined above indicate a web of Islamic radicalism in the South the full ramifications of which seem to have defied detection by the police and the central intelligence agencies. The well-organised and ugly protests outside the US Consulate in Chennai draw attention to the need to unravel and neutralise this web before it gets out of control and embarks on a path of AQAP style jihadi terrorism.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre