Is Outsourcing the Next Terror Target?

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Late on the evening of December 28, a gunman walked into a hall of the Indian Institute of Science, a prestigious academic institution in Bangalore,and opened fire with a Chinese-made AK-56 rifle at the delegates attending a conference. A retired Mathematics professor was killed; four others were injured. The gunman scaled a wall and fled. (Four unexploded grenades were also discovered on the Institute's campus.)

No arrests have been made, and the police have named no suspects yet, but suspicion is increasingly zeroing in on the Islamist terror outfits that have been waging a mounting campaign of terror against India. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, a jihadist group that aims to drive India out of Kashmir, is a prime suspect, but Bangladesh-based terror outfits are also considered potential culprits. India's security experts have been warning for months that it was only a matter of time before terrorists attacked Bangalore in a bid to weaken the country's booming technology sector. In March this year, Indian authorities announced that plans seized from militants belonging to a Lashkar-e-Toiba cell in New Delhi showed that the terrorists had planned to strike at software companies in Bangalore.

If the jihadist groups are indeed behind the attack, then they have picked their target well. The Indian Institute of Science is one of India's most important scientific institutions, and its presence in Bangalore is a key reason that the city became India's technology powerhouse. That's why the psychological impact of the attack is immense—analogous to the impact that an attack on MIT would have in the United States. Jaswant Singh, a former finance minister of India and a member of the BJP, India's major opposition party, said that the attack could seriously hurt “the internal, international, and economic standing of the country.” Terrorism experts warn that Bangalore remains an attractive target for any terror group looking to hit India. “Attacking Bangalore would be a logical step for the jihadis at a time when India is becoming an economic power,” says Anil Bhat, a New Delhi-based terrorism expert.

There was no relief for the nervous citizens of the city. On the night of December 29, a letter faxed to media outlets in Bangalore claimed that a five-star hotel would be hit by bombs on New Year's eve, and the house of a major state politician would be attacked by suicide bombers. On December 30, the city had to endure five hoax bomb-threats, including one that was made to an IBM office.

The attack is likely to shift attention within India to the question of how well prepared the country's outsourcing centers are for terror strikes. In a press statement released immediately after the terror attack, NASSCOM, the trade body for India's technology sector, stated that the country's outsourcing companies already have many security measures in place; however, it said that the incident “highlights the need to review and upgrade these.”—with reporting by Habib Beary in Bangalore