Thursday, September 9, 2010

Is India equipped for maritime terrorism?

Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran recently in a reply in the Rajya Sabha spelt out India’s maritime security plans and stated that an amount of Rs 260 crore has been allocated to tackle this problem.

He said that an in-depth analysis of the coastal security system had been carried out at different levels post 26/11 and several measures have been proposed to tackle the problem which emerged so big following the Lashkar-e-Tayiba’s ambush of Mumbai on 26/11.

Security experts dealing with maritime issues told that there is a desperate need to implement such schemes urgently since the concern regarding terror from the seas is still high. The Intelligence Bureau says that terror groups are constantly improvising their tactics. Although the latest threats indicate that these groups are trying to use the air to launch attacks, the fact remains that the sea route will always remain the most preferred.

Experts in maritime security say that in the future terror groups will use more of the sea route since it is the most difficult area to defend. Experts further point out that terrorists in future will not use exclusive boats or ships to launch attacks. At least 90 per cent of the trade is carried out on sea and it becomes extremely impossible to monitor such vessels, especially the smaller ones.

Experts say that a lot of the amount that has been sanctioned by the minister to counter the maritime threat need to be invested in equipments and also intelligence. There is no point in having a lot of high end equipment without proper intelligence since the exercise will become futile.

Indian intelligence agencies say that the equipment that is being used by terror groups is very easy to acquire and it is very hard to keep a track of such deals. These equipments are not banned and hence the tracking becomes extremely difficult. Hence there is a big need of having more of human intelligence especially along the fishermen lanes so that any sort of suspicious activity is immediately reported. This would require a lot of funding and the intelligence is hoping a good sum of the money would be provided for intelligence sharing.

Groups with maritime capacity: As of today there are 5 groups with maritime capacity. Prior to the fall of the LTTE it was six, however their capabilities have been neutralized completely today. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba leads the pack and is considered to have the most advanced of all the systems.

Lashkar- They have at their disposal high speed recreational boats, scuba diving equipment and also sea scooters. These would be launch vehicles for them and they have not put these to full use as of yet. Agencies warn that they could be saving them up for a bigger operation.

The Al-Qaeda- The Al-Qaeda which mastered the art of attacking ships with an underwater attack by suicide squad today depends more on the Lashkar for its equipment. The sea terrain has been a very familiar one for this group and until recently it used the Indian sea route to transport arms and ammunition which was one of the reasons it did not want to launch any attack on India. However in case they decide to launch an attack from the seas then it could be a fatal one since they are very familiar with the route.

The Harkat-ul-Jihadi- This off shoot group of the Lashkar has to its credit specialists at sea when compared to the equipment they have in their possession. It is said that they have at their disposal at least 6000 men who specialise in the sea. The IB says that the reason why this group has more specialists at sea is because the HuJI largely took care of smuggling arms and ammunition using the sea route for the Lashkar. In future attacks through the sea, the Lashkar is most likely to use the operatives of this group.

The Jemiah Islamiah- This Indonesian based group was in the news when it tried to attack US vessels at Singapore in the year 2003. This group is notorious for having acquired speed boats which it terms as suicide boats. Largely affiliated to the Al-Qaeda this group believes in using suicide squads on water.

The Abu Sayaf Group: Based in the Philipines, this group was responsible for the bombing of the Super Ferry in the year 2004 which killed over 100 people. This group has cadres who are masters at sea, but they continue to use wooden boats loaded with machine guns for their attacks.

The road ahead: The threat of maritime terrorism is highest when it comes to India. Experts say that there is a lot of work to be done in the future to completely eradicate this threat at least to a large extent. Apart from having state of the art machines on water, there is a constant need to share intelligence and also have both manned and unmanned chopper surveying above the sea to pick up intercepts. In addition to this there is also a constant need to keep upgrading technology to keep pace with these groups. India will also need to depend on neighbouring countries for intelligence to keep a tab on any activity so that it does not let these terror groups to dominate our naval space.

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