October 5, 2008
At least six people were injured when a powerful explosion ripped through a mosque in southeastern Nepal during evening prayers last night.
The blast targeted the mosque at Hattimuda village in the Biratnagar-Morang district, about 400 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu. Unidentified assailants threw the bomb into the crowded mosque and fled.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack but there are numerous armed groups operating in the area with a range of demands including reinstatement of Hinduism as the country's official region. Early reports say, however, that pamphlets of the Nepal Defense Army – a little known extremist group – were found at the site of the explosion. The Nepal Defense Army claimed responsibility for a similar attack on a mosque in the same area in April, resulting in the deaths of two people.
Nazrul Hassan, president of the Muslim Association of Nepal, who called on Muslims to exercise restraint, said, "This a deliberate attempt to disturb religious harmony. The government must act tough against elements behind such acts."
The Muslim minority makes up less than 5 per cent of Nepal’s 28 million population and lives predominantly in pockets of southern Nepal bordering India.
Bombing Ignores a Supposed Ceasefire in Southern Nepal -- Suspicions of Indian Involvement Mount
Only days ago, on October 2, in a joint statement, 14 armed Madeshi groups proclaimed a unilateral ceasefire during the 15-day Dashain Hindu religious holiday. The groups also indicated a new willingness to hold talks with the Nepalese government, with the caveat that the government should first address their demands for an autonomous Madheshi state and greater rights for the Madheshi people.
The groups, which convened in Bihar, India, also decided to unite all the armed underground outfits operating in the southern Nepal under one umbrella organization, but apparently failed to agree upon who, exactly, would claim leadership of the pact.
The fact that they met in India, renewed claims from some quarters that India had its hands in the secret mediation.
Nepalese Pilgrim Spots Revealed as Potential Terrorist Targets
To heighten misgivings, the bombing in Nepal came on the heels of an Indian security report released on October 3. The report was based on police interrogations and the resultant confessions made by senior members of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) while under narco analysis. One leader of SIMI, Safdar Nagori, mentioned a Nepali student in India, Mohammed Arif; together, they used to make trips to Nepal and had discussed plans to attack targets in Nepal.
Who is SIMI?
The Students Islamic Movement of India was formed in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh state, in April 1977. The stated mission of SIMI is the ‘liberation of India’ from western materialistic cultural influence and to convert it into an Islamic society. The Government of India regarded it as a terrorist organization and banned it in 2002. However, in early August 2008, a special tribunal lifted the ban on SIMI – only to be reinstated by the Supreme Court of India a few days later.
Fears exist in government circles that SIMI has been penetrated by Al-Qaeda. It is suspected that SIMI is now also operating under the name of Indian Mujahideen, an outfit that has taken responsibility for the 2008 Ahmedabad blasts, Jaipur blasts and 2008 Delhi blasts. Indian Mujahideen has taken responsibility of several terrorist acts in India and communicates with the Indian media under the pseudonyms of Al-Arbi and Al-Hindi.
It is therefore unsettling that SIMI might be flirting with the notion of expanding their terrorist activities inside the Nepali border.
It’s been reported, although not verified by me, that the Nepal Government is preparing to hold talks with the various armed underground groups in Madesh. If Home Minister Dev Bam Gautam does sit down with them, their possible connection to Indian armed groups will not make negotiations any easier.