US had warned of attack in Pune, Mumbai

Top intelligence sources have confirmed that days before US defence secretary Robert Gates’s visit to India last month, the US had warned New Delhi that al-Qaida-influenced elements were likely to carry out an attack in Pune and Mumbai. The US agencies, however, failed to give any real reason for the specific mention of the two cities, merely referring to the CD in which an al-Qaida leader, Abu Mustafa Yasid, had threatened terrorist strikes.

This CD was later released to the media but it did not mention the names of Pune or Mumbai. “In hindsight, it does appear that they must have had more authentic reasons for insisting that Pune or Mumbai was likely to be targeted. While we couldn’t have forced them to disclose the exact source of information, authorities in Maharashtra were immediately alerted,” said a top intelligence official, adding that this information was also the provocation for Gates telling defence minister A K Antony that al-Qaida was trying to provoke a war between India and Pakistan.

The fact that the incident took place despite the strong alert, the official said, had once again proved that India still lacked assessment capabilities and the mechanism to ensure adequate follow-up action.

Sources said the Pune blast has forced security agencies to have a closer look at the little known Islamic Students Congregation (ISC), an organization headquartered in Pune and comprising Arab students. The ISC is said to have branches in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore too. This organization is said to carry out its activities, mainly student meetings, unobtrusively without attracting media attention.

The intelligence official said this organization first came on the Indian security radar in 2007 when a Sudanese member of al-Qaida visited Pune and stayed there for a month interacting with members of ISC. It was only after the Sudanese national left India that the authorities realized his true identity. He had come to India assuming a fake identity.

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