New Delhi: India had long boasted its huge Muslim population had never provided recruits for global Islamic extremist groups, but that belief seems shattered after Indian Muslims were arrested in an attempt to bomb Britain.
The country is home to more than 140 million Muslims, the world’s third largest Islamic population, and US President George W. Bush was reported as saying two years ago that its democratic credentials were proven by the fact that none of them had joined al Qaeda.
Even when that comment was made, the writing was apparently on the wall.
Islamic radicalism, which had spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Kashmir, was finally finding root in India.
Some blame Pakistan for fanning the fire, but just as important was the alienation many Indian Muslims felt after communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. At the same time, television was beaming images of conflicts around the world where Muslims seemed to be victims of the West.
“Every concentration of Muslims in the world today is being actively targeted for recruits by Islamist radicals,” said Ajai Sahni of New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management. “Each nationality would have come into play at a certain point of time in history and this is our turn, that’s it. Why should anyone be surprised?”
Indian Muslims had already been providing recruits for Pakistan-based militant groups and been implicated in 2006’s serial bombing of commuter trains in Mumbai, Sahni said.
Three Indians are among eight people arrested in Australia and Britain for the failed attacks in London and Glasgow, and experts say there may be links to al Qaeda.
Kafeel Ahmed, a 27-year-old engineer, and his doctor brother Sabeel, 26, were arrested in Britain, with Kafeel identified as the man who crashed a flaming jeep into Glasgow airport.
A third suspect, Mohamed Haneef, also a doctor, was arrested in Australia.
“If they are involved, I will not be surprised,” said Kamal Farooqui, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, referring to the three Bangalore men.
Some political analysts also blame the rise of Hindu nationalists in India in the early 1990s, the destruction of Babri Masjid by Hindu mobs in 1992 and the Gujarat riots in 2002 for a growing sense of hurt and anger among Indian Muslims.