Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Punjabi Taliban & How to Spot a Terrorist

I need to lead off this post with what the Punjabi Taliban is first. It is an Islamic extremist militant group with ties to Al-Queda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These 3 groups fight together against the Pakistani government and alongside that NATO and the US as its supporters. They have been linked to a number of significant attacks in the Punjab province in the last 5 years. Each attack was well-planned and resulted in significant devastation.

As the partnerships and agendas between these 3 organizations became more combined, members of the Punjabi Taliban became council members in the TTP. They are believed to be primarily providing logistical support to the other two groups.

Recently the group stated that India is set to become a target for terrorist after Allied Forces troops withdraw from Afghanistan. In the statement, released on a jihadist terrorist forum online, the leader Asmatullah Muawiya made the announcement that India is now a target. 

This means that both pardesi's as well as Indians and other expats must be on alert for suspicious behavior. But what is suspicious behavior in a country full of so much individuality and diversity? How do you sort out the peaceful turbans from the terrorist ones? 

This is very difficult. Once while I was in Paharganj, a well-known shopping district in Delhi, there was a ring of terrorist who got busted just a few yards from me. Did I recognize them in the sea of faces? No. But since then I've learned to be more observant of life around me and I've also learned from terrorist incidents that have been on the news what to watch for. 

It is important to understand that terrorist look and seem just like everyone else. They walk amongst us and do not stand out in any of the usual ways. The clues are much more subtle. 

Here's a list of things I feel you should be concerned about:
  1. If you notice 2 or more people carrying similar backpacks, knapsacks, bags, etc. but they are walking several feet apart, you should be concerned. Time and time again terrorist have went out together then split up but still followed each other. So, something could be fishy if you see such a thing. The people would be more than 5 feet apart but less than 20 feet for example.  
  2. Listen to the world around you. Did a neighbor ask for training that you don't think he needed? What if your trash man decided he needed to take an electronics course? Not get a degree, just take one course with no known plan for pursuing a career in the field or furthering his education beyond that one course. I've not yet met one Indian who only wanted one course - it was either a masters degree or nothing!
  3. Does the person park their car or sit in the same location more than once. This is how criminals scope out locations for their next crime. It's not normal for someone to be in the same place over and over and over. More than 3 times is definitely a red flag but I would be concerned with more than 2 in India. 
  4. Know your neighbors (both at your residence and in your work environment). This is the most surefire way to catch any criminal. I'm not telling you to go and invade their space and be all up in their business but you should know them well enough that you talk to them several times a week, even if just in passing. You will get used to their habits and when something is out of place, you will notice quicker.
  5. Do you see someone celebrating on a day where most would not? For example, if someone is celebrating the anniversary of the 28/11 Mumbai attacks, this would be odd behavior since many Indians consider which dates are auspicious before planning any event and this event would no longer qualify for many people. 
  6. Does the person like to debate controversial issues? Sure, plenty of people love to get into hot political debates but what is important here is that you consider the topic. If someone always seems keen on debating matters of state, or about militant groups, that is of course a red flag. Pay attention to the topics and their body language. If they get tense when someone disagrees with the terrorist agenda, that's a major red flag. Even the most calm and dedicated person will not be able to fully control their passion toward the issue.
  7. Listen to see if the person is too interested in a well-known potential target. If they are focused on it and fixated and keep asking questions over and over, that is not a normal interest. The average citizen does not need to know or memorize the layout of the Taj Mahal for example. They would only need to know entrance fees, how long can you stay, etc. If they need a significant amount of details, that is suspicious. 
  8. Fake ID. I don't have to explain this one. It's easily understood. If someone you know has sought a fake ID for any reason, then you need to be watching them a little more closely. Many things in India don't even require an ID so why would someone want a fake one? There is something suspicious with having one! (Of course, you have to dismiss the teenagers wanting to drink and faking alcohol consumption permits.) 
  9. Other suspicious activities that indicate a potential criminal intent are evasive driving - so taking odd routes of travel to their destination or taking routes they know police are not watching. 
  10. Are there a high number of unrelated people living together. In our rental property we had 2 non-related families at one point. This would not be suspicious but it would be suspicious with a large number of random young men in the same home. Especially if some of them elude to being married but there is no wife around. I would say more than 4 could be suspicious and 6 is definitely suspicious. 
  11. Are certain rooms in the house off limits or do they change the locks on doors frequently? If they have those sliding locks on the outside, do they change the actual lock they hook onto them frequently? When you knock on the door, are they reluctant to let you in and they step outside to talk, closing the door behind them. If it always happens, then that is suspicious. 
  12. They do not have a maid. Okay, so not everyone has a maid of course but, you're looking for several grown men living alone in a home who actually clean up after themselves. It's not a common thing inside of India. 
  13. How far do they park away from their home? In some areas there is no parking but if they have an area to park and choose to park 2 or 3 streets away, that is odd behavior. If they always make it a point to park somewhere different, that is suspicious too. People are creatures of habit, so going out of their way to change these habits is a sign you should be watching for.

What kinds of things would you label as suspicious behavior in India?
Have you ever been near to a terrorist incident?
What are some signs I might have missed that you feel are important?

Recommended Reading:
West Point: Combatting Terrorism Center
The National Terror Alert Response System: Suspicious Activity

The Groups Past Terrorism:
Morning Cable: Taliban Threaten Kashmir
Times of India: Punjab Taliban Behind Attacks
Rediff News: Punjab Taliban announces jihad in Kashmir


  1. I haven't been near a terrorist incident, but I did take the train once from Delhi to Gwalior (work trip) and was horrified at the complete lack of security and chaos.

    India is a country that is under constant terrorist threat--even malls and movie theaters check bags and cars before allowing people inside. The train stations are just a disaster waiting to happen.

  2. There was a time the word terrorist was unknown in India. In 1980s, at the peak of Sikh separatist movement, the word "AATANKVADI" (Terrorist) became firmly etched in our mind. In those days, every sikh was viewed with suspicion. The community suffered a lot during that period. I still remember, I was very young when Mrs. Indira Gandhi, our former Prime Minister, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. It lead to terrible anti sikh riots in New Delhi. In our young minds we could not fathom how the friendly neighborhood sikh could be dangerous. Such was the level of distrust. It is a long sordid tale.

    Then came the spate of bombings where terrorists planted bombs in toys, suitcases etc. and placing them in public places. Generations of Delhites grew up looking below the seats while boarding trains and buses and not touching unidentified things lying around, By the time, this mess ended in the late eighties, terrorism in Kashmir reared its ugly head. There was a time when people would return from Durga Poojas and Ramlilas at odd hours, sleep in the open and feel safe. Terrorism actually hurt the innocent way of Indian life. We became acutely aware that there are certain people out there who are hell bent on hurting us without any reason. I think America has started realizing it after 9/11.

  3. I know! The trains scare me lol. No security other than on the way in and out where they scan some peoples bags but don't monitor everyone. The airport doesn't always do much better. I've been through the Delhi airport where not a single person was at customs and patrons were just walking out the door. Who knows what they brought into the country!

  4. I just dug up this old message regarding the bomb threats that happened at the University of Pittsburgh last year. It's the most sound advice I have ever heard about staying safe and alert.

  5. I've blogged about the violence that occurred in Amritsar. The violence continued into 1994 there though. You can still feel some of the animosity in the air and people still make comments against each of the 3 primary religions there. It's very sad that these things occur in the world at large.

  6. The checks at malls are actually a big massive joke, regularly the police in Mumbai test them and are able to get officers in plain clothes to go past security with a gun in their pocket or tucked in their belt, it's just part of a nice little propaganda: "See we are doing something to keep you safe from terrorists, we made it compulsory for malls to check your bags" The cinemas will only look for one thing in your bag: edible things, they confiscate even packs of gum and candies, because they will not miss one opportunity to make an extra buck, but there have been a few stories of again officers in plain clothes or even random joe out to prove the system was faulty who have been successful walking in with weapons.