March 7, 2006 | Varanasi bombings in India

Killing pilgrims seems to be a particularly despicable act of terrorism: it does happen with alarming frequency however.

VARANASI, INDIA — History is replete with the mass movement of people which we call pilgrimages. These can be small, very personal affairs when one person gets closer to the divine or the sublime. Or they can me massive, as is the annual hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In 2019 almost 2.5 MILLION people made the trek.

Pilgrimages of this scale can present host states with huge logistic challenges. Not only do lodgings, food and health services need to be made available but there has to be security as well. For there is no question that large movements of people are generally vulnerable to outside forces.

If you are a terrorist group there must be fewer targets more lucrative than a long line or gathering of pilgrims. This must be the terrorist equivalent of ‘shooting fish in a barrel’. I know that sounds awful but try to put yourself in the shoes of a violent extremist: unless you are a wannabe suicide bomber you want to kill as many victims without putting your own life in danger. Pilgrims are seldom, if ever, armed.

Some of the 2.5 million (Photo: Arab News)
2006 Varanasi bombings

So it should shock precisely no one to hear that terrorists have indeed gone after those on spiritual journeys. On this day in 2006 a pair of homemade bombs tore through the Hindu Sankat Mochan temple which is dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman in the Indian city of Varanasi and the city’s nearby railway station, killing at least 14 and injuring more than 100.

Indian law enforcement authorities confirmed that explosives had been stuffed inside a pressure cooker and left inside an inconspicuous bag at each site, adding that they had found a similar unexploded device at a busy city market. This attack was quickly blamed on Islamist terrorists: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based terrorist group, was the obvious culprit (and police did arrest at LeT member soon after in Varanasi).

On this day in 2006 a pair of homemade bombs tore through the Hindu Sankat Mochan temple in the Indian city of Varanasi, killing at least 14.

A similar attack occurred in Varanasi a few years later, this one claimed by the Indian Mujahideen, a group closely associated with the LeT. Violence of this nature in India feeds Hindu-Muslim animosity (not that either band needs much encouragement to carry out acts of violence).

One would think that most people would allow the faithful to express that faith in peace at locales sacred to them. Then again, terrorists are not most people.

Phil Gurski
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