New Delhi: The lack of progress on investigations into recent terrorist attacks is persuading security agencies to consider the possibility that they were conducted by independents with little connection to networks or organizations usually held responsible for carrying out such acts.

Seeking leads: A file photo of security men at the Delhi court blast site. By Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Three high-ranking government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, separately confirmed that these were the lines along which investigators were leaning.

“It is really worrisome. We believe that some four-five like-minded people, who have no criminal record or links with terrorist organizations, get together and execute a terror attack," said the first official. “And since their names are not mentioned anywhere, they remain anonymous, making it almost impossible to identify them."

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Indian investigators believe motivated individuals rather than organized groups may be responsible for recent terror attacks.

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Those behind the attacks subscribe to extremist ideology without the benefit of any indoctrination or training, representatives of the key investigating agencies said.

Some experts were sceptical about this line of reasoning, saying it could merely be reflective of how clueless the investigating agencies were.

“It is speculative that some social disgruntled elements could have done it," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management. “It is also possible that the investigative agencies do not have any knowledge of terrorist organizations behind the attacks."

While criticizing the security agencies for leaking aspects of the investigation, Sahni said it was unlikely that people without bomb-making training could set off such devices.

On the other hand, terrorist organizations have used gullible people to help them execute bomb attacks, Sahni said.

Among the cases in which investigators are leaning toward the independents theory is the Delhi high court blast that killed at least 15 people on 7 September.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Aamir Abbas, Abid Hussain and Wasim Akram Malik for the attack. The investigators said Malik, a Kishtwar resident studying unani medicine in Bangladesh, was a key link in the conspiracy behind the blast. Abbas and Hussain are accused of sending emails taking credit for the attack to media groups after the 7 September blast.

According to news reports, which Mint could not independently verify, Malik told investigators that he conceived the attack after reading about the prospect of Afzal Guru’s mercy petition being turned down in June this year. Malik decided to target the judiciary as he believed Indian courts are unfair, The Indian Express said on 1 November, citing anonymous NIA officials. Malik considered Guru, convicted for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack, a hero.

Malik and two others had no prior connection with any terror outfits, although his younger brother Junaid is believed to be an active member of banned outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, said investigators. Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several such attacks previously.

A senior NIA official said the news reports on Malik were “more or less true".

“The involvement of disgruntled elements is one of the strongest possibilities that we are exploring in our investigation of the Delhi high court blast," he said. “The same could also be the reason that investigations of so many terror attacks in the last two years have hit a dead end."

NIA investigations have not found any substantial leads since the arrest of the three.

“Malik took inspiration from Afzal Guru. There could be many more like him. These days bomb-making is not rocket science," said the official cited first.

In the last two years, 58 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in seven terror attacks. These began with the 13 February 2010 blast at the German bakery in Pune in which 7 people were killed and 20 injured. There were twin blasts at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on 17 April last year. A bomb went off at Varanasi’s crowded Sheetla Ghat on 7 December 2010, after which a minor explosion took place in a car parked outside a Delhi police station on 19 September 2010.

An explosive device went off outside the Delhi high court on 25 May 2011. That was followed by three blasts in Mumbai that claimed the lives of at least 26 people on on 13 July 2011. Then came the 7 September Delhi high court bomb blast.

Some of these cases are being investigated by the state police and the rest by NIA, but there haven’t been any breakthroughs. Home minister P. Chidambaram said as much at his monthly press conference on 31 October.

Another high-ranking security official said no conclusions had been made as yet.

“We have been debating about the possibility of disgruntled elements, but nothing could be said with full conviction at the moment," according to the official.

This could also be a diversionary tactic by terrorist groups, he said.

“This could also be a ploy by terrorist organizations to avoid their names (emerging), as pressure has been mounted on them after the 26/11 Mumbai attack," he said. They could be using people seemingly unconnected to them and executing the attacks.

The trend was seen in the failed attempt to blow up Glasgow airport and terror strikes elsewhere. Iraqi doctor Bilal Talal Samad Abdullah was convicted in 2009 of trying to blow up Glasgow airport in June 2007. According to media reports, Abdullah was not associated with any terror group.

At his trial, Abdullah said he was seeking to avenge the destruction of Iraq, first through sanctions including medicines, the rise of leukaemia among children that he blamed on depleted uranium armour-piercing shells used in the 1991 Gulf War, and for the destruction of infrastructure during the US and British 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“A misperception of justice combined with anti-social traits and the lack of empathy force such people to take extreme steps," said Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist at Max Healthcare.

Until now, terrorists who have attacked India are said to have been trained at camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) or Mudrike in Pakistan.

Those who used to be sympathizers may be now performing the acts themselves, said S.D. Pradhan, a former deputy national security adviser.

“Earlier, there used to be people who were motivated by the terror outfits and provided terrorists shelter and other logistics," he said. “Now, manyeducated people from middle-class families get themselves motivated after reading on the Internet."