Western nations issue advisory despite Indian assurances

New Delhi is concerned tourists will be repelled by Sunday's shooting after warnings that there is a high risk of a terrorist attack.

HYDERABAD, INDIA // Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the United States have issued travel advisories stating there is a high risk of a terrorist attack in New Delhi following the shooting of two tourists on Sunday. The Australian government urged visitors to pay close attention to their safety before the Commonwealth Games, while India appealed to tourists not to panic over "stray incidents".

"This attack on tourists shows desperation of those elements who want to create panic in the society by attacking innocent people. India is a safe destination and safety and security of tourists is an utmost concern of the government," said Kumari Selja, the minister for tourism. Two Taiwanese nationals, ages 26 and 27, were injured in Sunday's attack near the Jama Masjid, the capital's leading mosque. Both are being treated in hospital and one is said to be in critical condition.

A crude bomb, which was placed in a car about 100 metres from the incident, failed to explode properly but still set the car on fire. Security forces were already on high alert before the Games, which kick off October 3, with observers saying conditions in the capital will seem like there is an effective curfew during the event. "Schools are being closed, hundreds of traders have been forced to shut their shops, and thousands of beggars and labourers have been hounded away by authorities," said Rahul Bedi, a defence analyst for Jane's Information Group.

"These Games are going to be a security nightmare and the government [has] put in place an undeclared curfew to try to manage it." Media reports yesterday, citing unnamed intelligence sources, said five operatives of the Indian Mujahideen were wanted for the attack and may have had training from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba. However, experts continued to cast doubt on references to the Indian Mujahideen, despite an email to the media claiming responsibility in the group's name.

"The Indian Mujaheddin seems to be an organisation that exists more on paper than in reality," said Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow with the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. "It's an easily available, off-the-shelf label that can be used by small groups to link them to a broader story line. "Small cells that have their own interests and resources can link themselves to this label and give a sense of being part of a much larger struggle."

Evidence from a captured militant suggests that the name "Indian Mujaheddin" was actually invented purely for propaganda purposes during a campaign of bombings in 2007 and 2008 that included attacks on New Delhi, Bangalore and other major cities. Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy, who was arrested in October 2008, is believed to have been in charge of communications for the group's primary cell in Pune in the state of Gujarat. He told interrogators that the militants had originally preferred the name Isabah, meaning "companions of the Prophet Mohammed", but had decided to use "Indian Mujaheddin" because they felt it would work better in the media.

After many of those suspected of involvement in the attacks were arrested or killed by police in 2008, the remaining members are thought to have abandoned the communications strategy, fearing it had compromised their security. The unprofessional nature of Sunday's attack suggests it was unlikely to have been supported by the same militants. "This was a very amateurish kind of an attack," Mr Bedi said. "Using the Indian Mujaheddin name gives them a certain amount of publicity because people are familiar with it."

There are other possible flashpoints. On Friday, a high court is expected to rule in an 18-year-old case between Hindus and Muslims each seeking ownership of a religious site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The destruction of the Babri mosque there in 1992 led to weeks of rioting in which more than 2,000 people were killed. "There was also a threat against the Commonwealth Games in February from a group called the 313 Brigade, which has links to al Qa'eda," Mr Bedi said. "That is something you discount at your own risk."