Ferreting out terrorists

Ferreting out terrorists
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First Published: Sun, Sep 14 2008. 10 45 PM IST

Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
Updated: Mon, Sep 15 2008. 07 00 PM IST
Serial bomb blasts and terrorists operating with impunity are now a constant feature in India. The Delhi bombings of Saturday are no exception. The inability of the country’s political and legal system to tackle the problem is abject. Coupled with technological deficiencies of the system, it is deadly.
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
On the last count 21 people had died in the five blasts in five locations in the Capital. At least 90 persons have been injured. The explosive used in the bombs, the email announcing the blasts and other facets of the case show it to be similar, if not identical, to the ones carried out in Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Bangalore. In spite of arrests in these cases and investigative leads, the masterminds have not been apprehended nor has the government been able to prevent more blasts from taking place.
This points to a failure at multiple levels: The failure of the law to serve as a deterrent and a punitive measure, the absence of technology to monitor potential target areas in real time and the lack of a systemic grid to keep a watch on suspect individuals.
The legal failures are primarily due to the absence of political consensus on stringent anti-terrorist laws. Whenever a strict law such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, is implemented, there are howls of protests from liberals and human rights activists. Politicians take the cue and that’s the end of such laws. In the absence of such laws, it’s well-nigh impossible to convict terrorists. For example, the emails sent before the Delhi and Ahmedabad blasts were sent by hacking into unsecured Wi-Fi networks. If the usual rules of evidence are applied in such cases, no conviction is possible.
Then there’s the larger issue of checking potential terrorists in their steps. Bombs used in the recent blasts had ammonium nitrate as the explosive material. Under the present circumstances, there is no way that someone buying a few kilograms of the material would raise alarm bells. It should. In Western countries anyone purchasing the substance can be tracked almost immediately. The requirement of a social security number, closed-circuit television images, address requirements, etc., ensure this. India lacks such an integrated system that makes this possible. Elements needed for such a system exist in India: PAN number, voter ID cards, etc., are around. What is needed is integration where all such information is mapped onto a central system. All purchases ought to be linked to at least one such identity element. This would help track suspects quickly and efficiently.
Can we tackle terrorism? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Sep 14 2008. 10 45 PM IST