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Intelligence gap glare on sleuths

New Delhi, Aug. 26: The twin blasts that ripped through Mumbai yesterday have once again exposed the chinks in the country’s intelligence network.

The failure to provide “actionable or real time intelligence” by either Mumbai police or the central agencies is all the more glaring because the city has been rocked by a series of similar blasts since last December.

The last explosion was on July 28, when two persons were killed and more than 30 injured after a bomb went off in a bus at Ghatkopar, the scene of a similar blast last year. At that time, both the police and counter-intelligence agencies had agreed that the blast was the work of not one militant group but a number of outfits working in tandem.

Abu Hamza, who was arrested for alleged involvement in last year’s bomb blast in Ghatkopar but escaped from custody to Saudi Arabia, was said to be one of the links.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba as well as activists of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India had collaborated to carry out the earlier strikes, it was believed.

The question now being asked is if these groups were suspect, why were their members not watched, picked up and arrested. Intelligence officials, however, say that if they arrest people on the basis of what they surmise, the entire press and political establishment would accuse them of harassment. “We have no choice but to wait till we get hard evidence before we take action,” said an officer. “It becomes doubly sensitive because many of those involved belong to a minority community.”

Intelligence officials are unwilling to take the blame for failing to prevent yesterday’s blasts. “Of course, the police and local administration were alerted. The blasts did not take us by surprise. Mumbai police were aware of this but, in a huge city, is it possible for the police to guard each and every crowded road and junction' No police force in the world can do so,” said a senior officer.

Although he conceded that there was “scope for improvement”, the officer added that so far they have been able to stop “target killings”, explaining it as assassination of government leaders and top politicians.

“Counter-offensive action is the best prevention. We have to strike at the terrorist modules and stamp them out,” the officer said.

adding that Indian democracy and the strong tradition of human rights in the country often stood in the way of pre-emptive action.

But sections within the government, including senior bureaucrats, scoffed at the suggestion. “Whenever police have hard evidence on which they can act, they do so. There is no need to blame the country’s democratic set-up for their failure,” a home ministry official said.

“Nobody can blame them when they pick up the right persons. Questions will naturally be raised if, in the name of fighting terrorism, innocent people are picked up,” he added. “The fact is the intelligence was nebulous and very generalised.”

Ever since the Gujarat riots, intelligence agencies have warned of revenge strikes by extremist groups in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi and other metros. But this kind of general assumption can be made even by ordinary citizens and can barely help the police to prevent attacks.

The sleuths, however, claim they have busted hundreds of terrorist modules all over the country and thus reduced the number of attacks. “Nobody ever talks of the ones we have busted,” a police officer said.

Earlier this year, Delhi police, acting on information about a possible bomb attack around India Gate, helped to pre-empt it by cordoning off the entire area and deploying hundreds of policemen around the lawns and on a section of Raj Path.

There was no way anyone could approach within a hundred yards of India Gate. The area remained sanitised for nearly 10 days. This was because the police received credible intelligence.

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