European Eye on Radicalization
A bomb was detonated near Israel’s Embassy in New Delhi, the capital of India, on 29 January. It was widely suspected that Iran was responsible for the bombing, and new details from the investigation appear to confirm this.
At European Eye on Radicalization, we have covered the context of the evolving relations between Iran and India in which this attack took place. Put simply, initially, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, relations with India were quite warm for various ideological and geopolitical reasons in the framework of the Cold War; in more recent years, there has been a distinct divergence.
On the one side, India is resetting its domestic politics away from the secular (and socialist) model inherited from the Raj, raising questions about the place of Muslims and Islam in the Indian Union, and Delhi is also reorienting its foreign policy in a more pro-American direction. On the other side, the Iranians have been found repeatedly meddling in Indian domestic affairs, inter alia spreading radicalism among the Shi’i populations and establishing relations with the jihadist and separatist groups in Kashmir.
It was quickly concluded that the improvised explosive device (IED) outside the Israeli Embassy in Delhi, which damaged the windows on three cars but did not cause any human injuries, was a terrorist attack. “The assessment is that this was an attempted attack aimed at the Embassy,” said Israeli Ambassador Ron Malka, adding that the IED had struck “a few dozen meters from the embassy walls”.
Local Indian reports said the IED “had ball bearings wrapped in a plastic bag and was left on the pavement outside the embassy”, and CNN India said police “found an envelope near the scene with the words ‘For Israel Embassy’ on it”.
A Letter of Admission
The letter’s contents were soon revealed:
The handwritten note, in English, but riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, was addressed to Israel’s ambassador, Ron Malka, and referred to him as a “terrorist of the terrorist nation.” It claimed to be from the “India Hizbollah,” a group that is not previously known …
“This is just a trailer presented to you, that how we can observe you,” even when “eating your pie,” the letter began. Warning that Malka is in their crosshairs, the letter said “you cannot stop anyway no matter how hard you would pick, we can end your life anytime anywhere.” It said that while the attackers want to destroy Malka “we don’t want [to] flow the blood of innocent people around you.”
Declaring that all “participants and partners” of Israeli “terrorist ideology will be no more in existence” the letter warned: “now get ready for a big and better revenge for our heroes.”
The letter specified that the people it wanted revenge for. First there was Qassem Soleimani, the head of the foreign terrorist Quds Force division within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) until he was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020. Second, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, Soleimani’s deputy, killed in the same drone strike. And third, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the moving force behind Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, assassinated inside Iran in November 2020 in an operation universally attributed to Israeli MOSSAD, though he details remain sketchy. “All that is left is for you to count the days,” the note ended.
This was not a subtle claim of responsibility. In Iraq, IRGC has taken to creating numerous splinter formations, such as Saraya Awlia al-Dam (Guardians of Blood Brigade), to give itself deniability in attacking American installations. To use the word “Hezbollah” in the name of the group in India was to avoid attempting deniability at all.
Predictably, after barely a month of investigating, India concluded a local cell of radical Shi’is, directed by IRGC, had carried out the Embassy attack, and this information was leaked to the media by an outraged Indian government. Whatever doubts there were about the Iranian intentions with the bombing, “the message was clear and the threat is real”, said one of the experts investigating the attack, speaking to The Hindustan Times on background.
Iran, of course, denied everything. The Iranian Embassy in India issued a conspiratorial denial, saying that (unnamed) “third parties” were opposed to closer India-Iran relations and their “spoiler intentions” and “sinister wishes” had to be resisted.
Worse Than it Looked
Soon after the attack, India’s police described the IED as a “very low-intensity” device, more a “mischievous attempt to create a sensation” than a serious attempt to do harm, and Israel’s Channel 13 echoed this, saying the IED was “very primitive” and did not seem to be the work of a “sophisticated terror cell”. This turned out to be quite wrong.
Further details of the investigation were leaked to The Hindustan Times this week, and two stand out.
In the first place, the IED was not a crude one: “it was a remote-controlled device triggered off by a bomber using line of sight”—presumably one of the two people captured on CCTV footage getting out of a taxi and planting the device just before its explosion. “While the results of the nature of the explosive are still awaited from forensic labs, the agencies feel the device was either an ammonium nitrate-fuel oil explosive with an electric detonator or a more sophisticated PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) device.” What is certain is that the bomb was packed with ammonium powder and ball bearings, and this shrapnel is what blew in the windows of the nearby cars.
And second, the attackers left false-flag markers at the scene to point to the Islamic State (ISIS) as the perpetrator, but Indian “counterterror agencies are clear that the blast was part of the asymmetric warfare campaign being carried out by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps against Israel”.
Not the First Time
This is not the first time IRGC has targeted Israel on Indian soil. In February 2012, IRGC attacked Israeli diplomats in India with an IED against their car, wounding four people, and within twenty-four hours similar attacks had been attempted in Georgia and Thailand. This was just months after the U.S. Justice Department issued an indictment over an IRGC plot, involving Mexican drug cartels, to blow up the Saudi ambassador at a café in the American capital. Iran’s motive at that time, similar to the present, was revenge for a series of deaths among its nuclear scientists, some more verifiably assassinations than others.
The attempted attack in India shows that Iran remains committed to global terrorism. As the new Biden administration considers how to move forward with Iran—whether and how to re-enter the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and what to do about sanctions—it must not repeat the mistakes of the past by ignoring IRGC’s unconventional military adventurism. Iran’s Islamist imperialism should be kept central in the debate.