Was the Indian bomb meant for Chabad?

By Saikat Datta in Pune and Demian Smith, February 18, 2010
Indian police inspect the bakery destroyed in a bomb last weekend

Indian police inspect the bakery destroyed in a bomb last weekend

Security officials are not ruling out the possibility that Chabad House was the real target of the bombing in India last weekend, as it was opposite the bakery which was destroyed.

Eight people were killed and scores were injured when a bomb ripped through a popular restaurant in Pune, east of Mumbai, last Saturday evening. The German bakery was located just a few metres from the Chabad-Lubavitch centre across the street.

"We recognised the sound of the bomb - it was like a Katyusha rocket sent from Hamas," said Rabbi Betzalel Kupchik. "We thought it may be a gas blast. A few minutes later we get the information it was a terror attack.

"When we found out there were no Jewish or Israeli victims, it was like Purim. Five minutes before the blast some Israelis were headed there, but they came into Chabad House instead."

The sound was like a katyusha sent from Hamas

The police have now posted a permanent guard outside the centre.

According to India's home secretary, GK Pillai, the terrorists chose the area because it was popular with foreign tourists.

While the Indian government has not yet determined who is responsible, officials said they were keen to speak to David Coleman Headley, a terror suspect of Pakistani-American origin with links to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toba (LeT) terror group.

Between 2008-2009, Headley allegedly spent long stretches in India, surveying various sites including the Taj Hotel and the Chabad-Lubavitch centre in Mumbai, which were attacked by the LeT terrorists in November last year.

The Chabad-Lubavitch centre in Pune had also been surveyed by Headley on March 16, 2009, according to documents currently with American prosecutors dealing with his case.

Indian investigators believe that a local group known as the Indian Mujahideen (IM), which was also responsible for previous bombing attacks in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Jaipur, carried out the bombing. One of the avowed aims of this group, revealed in its literature, is to target Israeli tourists in India.

For IM members and their LeT backers in Pakistan, India is part of a triumvirate, along with Israel and the US, which are inimical to the Islamic world. Activists in jihadi training camps are encouraged to target India and Israel. While India is depicted as a Hindu-majority state that commits atrocities against a Muslim minority, Israel is shown as a key ally and supplier of military hardware which illegally occupies Palestine.

In 2004, two terrorists were caught in Goa while surveying beaches frequented by Israeli and American tourists. A laptop recovered in Iraq also pointed to a plot to target Israelis, Brits and Americans in India.

Israeli tourists are relatively easy to target since there are many of them there and they tend to travel in groups. An average of 35,000 Israelis visit India every year as tourists.

Meanwhile, the local Chabad heads say they are not scared and do not anticipate a drop in visitors to their centre.

"Worry will not help," said Rabbi Kupchik. "God is running the world. Do your best and God will do the rest."

Last updated: 4:50pm, February 18 2010