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The Samjhauta acquittals: Hindu terror goes unpunished in India

Earlier this month, the acquittal of the four main suspects in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case has once again brought the Indian government’s commitment to fighting Hindu terror groups into question.  The attack on the train also known as the “friendship express”, which links India to Pakistan, left 68 persons dead. The majority of…

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The Samjhauta acquittals: Hindu terror goes unpunished in India

Earlier this month, the acquittal of the four main suspects in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case has once again brought the Indian government’s commitment to fighting Hindu terror groups into question. 

The attack on the train also known as the “friendship express”, which links India to Pakistan, left 68 persons dead. The majority of the victims were Pakistani citizens. The blast caused major embarrassment for India’s intelligence and security services – it took place only 70km away from the capital New Delhi and in a train that was supposedly guarded by the Indian security services – and threatened to wreck ongoing efforts to build a sustainable peace between India and Pakistan.

While the then-opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as some Indian media organisations, tried to blame Pakistan-based terror groups for the attack, the Congress government classified the incident as an “an attempt to derail the improving relationship between India and Pakistan” and vowed that culprits – whoever they may be – would be caught.

An investigation by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) eventually concluded that the attack was carried out by four men – Swami Aseemanand, Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhary and Lokesh Sharma – linked to the Hindu far-right group Abhinav Bharat. All four suspects were charged by the NIA, making many believe justice would soon be delivered for the victims. 

However, on March 20 this year, a special court in the northern state of Haryana acquitted all four suspects, citing lack of evidence. Following the shock decision, the NIA did not declare an intention to appeal to a higher court or initiate a new probe to find and punish the culprits behind the deadly attack. The Indian home minister, Rajnath Singh, also made it clear the government will not pursue an appeal; instead, he said that it is his “personal stand” that “Pakistan is always responsible for such terrorist attacks.”

In other words, for all intents and purposes, the case is now closed. 

The unsatisfactory ending to the Samjhauta Express investigation is only the latest in a line of judicial and political decisions which reflect a failure to pursue justice for Muslim victims of attacks. 

In April last year, for example, a court acquitted all 11 men charged by the NIA in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case where six people, all Muslims, were killed in the southern city of Hyderabad. The NIA had in its probe found that members of the Abhinav Bharat, including Samjhauta Express blast suspect Swami Aseemanand, were responsible for the blast. But eventually, the court deemed the strong body of evidence previously presented by the investigating agency insufficient to declare the accused guilty. The NIA did not attempt to appeal the decision or continue the investigation.

In December 2010 – January 2011, Aseemanand made a series of confessions to the courts admitting his role in the blasts targetting Muslims. A few months later, he retracted these confessions, claiming that they had been extracted under torture.

In 2014, however, speaking to a journalist for the news magazine Caravan, he denied being tortured and once again admitted to various acts of violence targetting Muslims. In the same interview, he also claimed that the plot to bomb Muslim targets across the country was blessed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar.

Despite contradictory testimonies by leading suspects like Aseemanand, as well as a large body of evidence presented to the courts by the NIA demonstrating the Hindu far-right’s role in several terror attacks targeting Muslims, the people responsible have been let off the hook.

This travesty of justice is the result of not only years-long efforts by far-right groups to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, but also the current Indian government’s inclination to shield groups sympathetic to its Hindu-nationalist agenda from scrutiny at all costs.

Of course, even before the start of BJP’s tenure, the Indian state had been somewhat reluctant to identify Hindutva organisations as being responsible for terror in the country. Actually, the only reason why Indian security services pointed their finger at the Indian far-right in relation to attacks on Muslims was the work of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) under the leadership of Hemant Karkare.

Following a September 2008 bomb blast near a mosque in Malegaon, which killed six Muslims and injured over 100, Karkare’s team arrested 11 Hindu suspects with links to the Abhinav Bharat, establishing the radical Hindu-fringe as a possible source of terrorism in India for the first time. The arrests helped carry expressions like “Hindutva terror” or “saffron terror” to everyday political discussions in India, and turned Karkare into a target for Hindu-nationalists.

Mainstream right-wing groups like Shiv Sena started accusing the anti-terror chief of being “anti-Hindu” for investigating the activities of groups like Abhinav Bharat and even organised protests against him and his squad. Despite their efforts, for a short while, it seemed the era of the Indian state and security services blaming outlawed Muslim organisations for all terror attacks on Muslims in India was coming to an end. 

Unfortunately, Karkare was killed on duty during the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in 2008. Following his death, the investigations into the links between the Hindu far-right and terror acts targeting Muslims did not continue with the same zeal. The Hindu nationalist clout over the security services and the political establishment increased further, and even the NIA started to distance itself from the claims made by the ATS under Karkare.

But the biggest blow to the investigations into Hindutva terror in India came in 2014, when the BJP won a landslide victory in general elections. In October 2015, Rohini Salian, public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon case, claimed that since the Hindu nationalist party came to power, members of the NIA had told her to “go soft” on cases of “saffron terror”. Over the last few years, Salian’s accusations were all but confirmed as one case after another resulted in the acquittal of all suspects with links to Hindu far-right groups. 

In light of all this, the acquittal of the four suspects in the Samjhauta Express blast case only confirmed what many in India already knew: Muslim victims of terror should not expect to find justice in BJP’s India. 

Besides making the Indian government’s anti-Muslim attitudes even more obvious than before, the court’s decision to acquit all accused in the Samjhaute Express blast case also “turned India’s accusing finger towards Pakistan inwards”. 

For more than 10 years, New Delhi has been accusing Islamabad of not doing enough to punish Pakistani citizens alleged to have committed deadly terror attacks against Indians. As journalist Jyoti Malhotra has written in a recent article for the Print, “after the Samjhauta acquittal, it will be difficult for Indians to look Pakistanis in the eye and ask them tough questions about terrorism”.

Just like the Indian victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Pakistani victims of the Samjhauta blast want and deserve justice. By acquitting all the accused, and refusing to continue with the investigation into the incident, the Indian government practically said, in front of the entire international community, that it is not interested in finding and punishing terrorists who kill Pakistanis and Indian Muslims.

If it wants to hold its head high in the international arena, and avoid facing the very same accusations it long directed at Pakistan regarding terror, India needs to take swift action and deliver justice to Muslim victims of the Hindu far-right.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says. Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former…

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says.

Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He said that one of the major achievements of the deal – considered a huge political and diplomatic win – is that it opens up a “cooperative space not only for leaders but also for citizens of all the participating countries”
“The architects of this important agreement must ensure that the Accords is not an agreement just for their countries but for their people. Abraham Accords should serve as a launchpad for the sustainable peace and prosperity in the region,” Ban Ki-moon said while addressing a virtual conference on ‘The Abraham Accords: Advancing UAE-Israel, Regional, and Muslim-Jewish Cooperation’ organised by UK-based Emirates Society.
Stressing on the important role of education in building secure, peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies in both a short and long term, the Secretary General said it is his “sincere hope that the UAE and Israel and others redouble their sustained effort to educate their students and citizens – both young and old – about the significance of this important agreement and each other.”
“Devising curriculum and expanding global citizenship education as well as being aggressive about stamping out instances of anti-Semitism and islamophobia are important steps to take in this regard, he added.
He said people to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in helping to change mindset and begin a dynamic new era of cooperation.
Palestinian cause
The UAE is the first GCC country and the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel by signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords on September 15. Bahrain and Sudan also followed suit and have signed peace deals with Israel.
The deal is considered a game changer for peace and stability in the region, as in exchange, Israel has agreed to temporarily halt annexations in the West Bank.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the UAE continues to consider the issue of a Palestinian state as the most important one but without impeding opportunities for dialogue and open communication.
She said Abraham Accords was born from a “desire to change the business as usual approach” that has mired the countries of Middle East in conflict for long.
Even as the UAE continues to work for its own national agenda, Al Hashimi said the country is “really looking to learn from each other and also to explain to one another who we are and what matters to us”.
“And it does matter to the Arab and the Muslim world that a Palestinian state in its rightful place … exists.”
Ban Ki-Moon said it would be difficult to forge lasting peace without addressing the Palestinian question as well as issues like the final status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlement.
“To truly advance the vision of peace throughout the Middle East, we should not forget that the Palestinians must be involved in determining a future that is based on security and prosperity for all people in the region. I hope that Abraham Accords can function as a springboard for invigorated action on ensuring a negotiated two-state solution aligned with the relevant UN security council resolutions.”
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Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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