When three bombs tore through Mumbai on the rain-drenched summer's evening of July 13, more than a few people in windowless Washington, D.C., offices probably stopped eating their breakfasts, their hearts beating a little faster. If the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had hit the city once more, the beleaguered government in Delhi, sensing post-Abbottabad opportunities, might have felt compelled to strike out across the border.
As nameless Indian and American officials began hinting in anonymous press leaks that the "domestic" Indian Mujahideen (IM) was the more probable perpetrator, sighs of relief might have followed. Yes, this would be one more in the string of attacks that have killed 700 Mumbaikars since 1993, but its fallout would be wholly contained within India.
This complacency is unwarranted, however. It is true that the IM's distance from the Pakistani military establishment means that there will be no standoff like that of 2001-02, when India mobilized half a million men to the border. The IM's all-Indian membership and leadership, and its presence across the country, would seem to suggest that it's a purely domestic problem.
But it is no less important to understand that the group has flourished by plugging itself into transnational jihadi networks, enjoying the patronage of Pakistan-backed groups like LeT, which in turn remain the most serious threats to regional stability. Pakistan doesn't get off the hook so easily.
Who are the Indian Mujahideen?
The IM is an offshoot of an offshoot. In 1977, the Student's Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) emerged as a student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a radical but non-violent Islamist movement headquartered in Delhi.
SIMI became progressively more radicalized through the 1980s, spurred on by Hindu extremists' destruction of a mosque (the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya) and consequent riots across Mumbai in 1992. An armed wing coalesced toward the end of that decade, with recruiting spreading from the group's northern heartland to southern India.
Around 2001, when SIMI was banned by the Indian government, IM formed as a splinter or successor organization (it remains unclear which). Its first claimed attack was a trio of bombings in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, described by the group as "Islamic raids." Other attacks followed in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmadabad, and New Delhi.
In 2002, horrific anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, in which the state's Hindu nationalist government was widely understood to be at least passively complicit, was a massive boon to the group's recruitment efforts. IM described its bombings in 2008, somewhat cynically, as the "revenge of Gujarat," even as it sporadically harnessed the language of Osama bin Laden's global jihad.