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Functional Modules and Cells of Terrorist and Jihadi Groups

Posted by: Maloy Krishna Dhar on Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Whenever a single spectacular subversive bomb blast or series of bomb blast takes place the police and security agencies come out with names like “terrorist modules and cells.” Often the media and government agencies mention about proliferation of “ISI cells” in the country.

Before we consider and examine the Modules and Cells it should be clarified that terrorist/jihadi actions are executed by a single Cell or multiple Cells controlled by Hubs and Modules. Some scholars have averred that Single Cell operations were in vogue during the earlier stages of urban guerrilla warfare waged by Communism inspired groups like Red Brigade. These urban groups of sixties and seventies tried to clone the traditional cell system devised by the communist party apparatchiks. During my college days in 1956-60 in Calcutta, known college friends used to whisper in my ears to educate me about the values of revolution, joining a cell and gradually qualifying for a card holding member. I had not joined any, but under their influence I read books by Lenin, Stalin, Che Guevara and obviously Mao and gathered the technology used in forming urban and rural guerrilla warfare Cells. Later, as an intelligence trainee I was more exposed to the operational aspects of communist Cells conceived and executed by the party apparatchiks.

I hope these basics of understanding the guerrilla warfare and early stages of jihad related terror are taught with great care even today. These are the grassroots functional bases of all terror groups-the Red Brigade, Sandero Luminiso, FARC, IRA and obviously the present day jihadi tanzeems.

The concept of Guerrilla warfare and use of Cells and Modules are parts of unconventional warfare directed at key-assassinations, targeted sabotage and subversion, gradual Mass Control (capturing public mind) and to spring surprise on the presumed enemy. In recent times Lawrence of Arabia, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro are venerated as successful Guerrilla warfare leaders. In our own country Chhatrapati Shivaji used similar tactics against the Mughals, Balwant Rao Phadke against the British and of course the Bengal, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh revolutionaries against the British regime during independence struggle. Most of our historians have elaborately recorded the exploits of Mahatma Gandhi type mass revolution but very little reading material are available on the revolutionary struggle by the Indian youth during the 19th and 20th century. This stream of indigenous warfare has not been developed to suit Indian conditions. However, the Armed Forces and certain specialised forces have taken to this science more seriously.

The Russian Communist strategy of Guerrilla warfare adopted by the rebels in Malaysia, Greece, Cuban rebels, the Telengana rebels and the Sandinista etc were further modified by later revolutionaries.

The communist strategy of cell-module operations to prepare grounds for a bigger warfare is illustrated from the three basic steps taught by Mao Zedong: Establishment of cells and modules in target areas, Guerrilla cells start converting people to their ideology, earn public sympathy (generate Mass Control), escalates frequent targeted attack with support from local cell members and after prolonged cell-module based attacks initiated frontal mass action-both civil an military.

In fact, in post Mao era this refined strategy was given shiny polish by Che Guevara, which was published in his book of 1960-Guerrilla Warfare. These storehouses of strategic and tactical methodologies were adopted by the modern urban and rural guerrilla groups in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, Latin American countries and obviously the Muslim resistance groups that initiated terror and jihad campaign against Israel and other western targets. The Abu Nidal group, PLO and Hamas etc followed the same principle. The obverse side of the same tactics were adopted by the early Jewish guerrilla fighters who initially fought the British and later the Muslims Palestinians. Nearer our home in Vietnam General Vo Nguyen Giap tried the classical cell and module based guerrilla warfare against the American occupation forces. His Ant-columns were more successful in module and cell based warfare that led to the final frontal attacks.

In India, we had witnessed cell and module based insurgency in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Punjab and still experiencing the same in Jammu and Kashmir. Having served in most of these conflict areas for nearly two decades, I realised that the concepts of cells enunciated by Mao, Guevara and other practitioners and scholars are not always strictly followed by the grassroots practitioners.

To briefly narrate: A Naga insurgent cell could coalesce around a lowly Rajapeyu (district level chief operative) or a Midanpeyu (regional governor). He mostly planted one to five people in each village to recruit soldiers, collect taxes, and indoctrinate villagers and to organise ambush parties. Success of the Indian intelligence corps and the operational forces depended on identification of village level cells and destroying them either through civil or military actions or combination of the both. This is a vast area of operational technology and cannot be covered in this essay.

However, the physical, tactical and philosophical contents of guerrilla warfare underwent drastic changes when the CIA in collaboration with the ISI and Royal Saudi Intelligence mounted orchestrated guerrilla actions against the Soviet Russia in Afghanistan. Besides training the recruited personnel and volunteer jihadis etc in cell and module based action squads, training was imparted for organised group attacks, what Mao had described as “Escalation of attack” leading to “Conventional attack.”

These trainings by the CIA (some in US based camps), ISI and Royal Saudi Intelligence had created a new breed of Faith-Warriors- Jihadis. Mao’s and Guevara’s ideological tactics were replaced by religious fervour and faith which instilled the theory of inevitability of success of jihad against the jahil, kafir and Dar-ul-Harb enemies. Religion had infused more intense commitment to the presumed cause than a communist guerrilla was inspired by motivation instilled in him by the Mss Control methodologies of the revolutionaries.

Pakistani jihadi tanzeems organised by the Jamait-e-Islami, Makarz-ud-Dawa-ul-Islam, Deoband, Ahl-e-Hadith and Tablighi Jammat etc congregations had recruited youths educated in madrasas and maqtabs, especially from the poorer sections of the society. Gradually educated youths and professionals were drawn to the “Jihad Philosophy” by manifold propaganda like Islam in danger, Hindustan is yet to be liberated for Islam through jihad and regaining the Taj-e-Hind lost to the British and misappropriated by the Hindus. Those who have some experience of “taqrirs” (speeches) in the fanatic dini (religious) madrasas and some of the mosques controlled by extremist groups in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would know that these are few of the basic lessons that are imparted to the recruits by the Maulanas to control their minds and to turn them to fidayeens and shahids.

Sympathetic counterparts of the Pakistani, Bangladeshi tanzeems and those who get converted through electronic media and other sources of propaganda by friend, acquaintances, Arab associates and are driven by a romantic sense of commitment to the Ummah are gradually dragged into the network of the Maulanas, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Directorate of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) operatives and used as nucleus of Cells and Modules.

There are multiple Muslim religious schools and Jamaits who control different segments of the Muslims through their respective mosques, madrasas and other frontal organisations. In fact, the intelligence community in India are not aware of these layers of sects, madrasas, maqtabs and mosques affiliated to each congregation and innumerable front organisations operated by them. The mainframe organisations in public domain, like the Milli Council, Muslim India, Personal Law Board etc do not seed jihad grounds. They carry out ideological propaganda highlighting the aspects of separatism, voicing real and imaginary problems of the Muslim community and trying to work as substitutes for political interface with the governments and other political parties. Their activities imitate the role once played by the Aligarh institution that acted as the renaissance platform for separate Muslim nationalism and the Muslim League. They aid the historical separatist hangover still haunting certain sections of the Indian Muslim. In their language: there is Muslim India and not Indian Muslim.

The jihad seeds are broadcast by two sources: The internal relics of the separatist past which had acted for creation of a separate Muslim country. The External forces comprise of geopolitically nearer forces rooted in Pakistan and Bangladesh and Pan-Islamic forces rooted in the Middle East and of course the Muslim Diaspora, especially in UK, Germany, USA and other countries. The broadcast materials have ideological content and physical content in the form of deputation of jihadi tanzeems, weapons, explosives and financial resources. The Diaspora mainly helps through financial assistance and through electronic propaganda which have easy access to homes and shelters of educated and even professional elements of the society.

The jihad movement jointly started by the ISI, RSI and the CIA to defeat Cold War adversary has now infected Pakistan and Bangladesh in our neighbourhood and regional countries like Afghanistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. The jihad infection has spread in other Asian, African and European countries as well.

However, what we experience in India is not “terrorism.” There is nothing like “terrorism” as other ism based political and revolutionary organisations are categorised by the specialists. Terror is a weapon, used by most ideological and religious groups who want to expand, occupy and appropriate territories and peoples in the name of an ideology or religion. India had experienced ideologically inspired rebellion during Telengana uprising, Tebhaga Andolan and the recent growth of armed Maoist revolution.

The periodical bomb blasts in several parts of the country are attributed to the groups of people, tanzeems and paramilitary bodies created by religious congregations in Pakistan and Bangladesh and the official intelligence agencies of these countries. They have cloned several such jihadi entities amongst the vulnerable sections of the Indian Muslims, who swear by the slogans of separatism.

The itinerary jihadis deputed from neighbouring countries cannot function in isolation. They require nestling facilities, ideologically supportive groups, local assistance from the members of the like minded religious fanatic separatists and Ansras (helpers) recruited by them. They are assisted by the unidentified fronts, madrasas, mosques and groups which are parts of the Pan-Islamic garland that span over the three neighbouring countries and the Ummah in General.

The network is complicated, often interconnected and often separated by invisible walls of tanzeem incompatibility. It may be noted that different tanzeems normally do not collaborate with each other and very often the selection of the tanzeems and personnel in India are done by the ISI and the DGFI. They in turn, task the Pakistani and Bangladeshi tanzeems to establish cell/cells/modules amongst the identified location with helps from already subverted people. The word “Module” is used as a self contained functional unit of which one or more “Cell” may form part. Module is the larger component and the Cell is a smaller entity. A Module may have more that four/five Cells. The Cells are created in collaboration with the India-based tanzeems after detailed studies. This job is done by the holed-in operatives of the ISI/DGFI in collaboration with local associates.

Let us examine two separate diagrams of a Peculiar Cell and a Module:A Peculiar Cell

Mostly Located in Muslim Dominated Clusters
Communication through Personal Contact
Functions: Receive and Spread Jihadi Ideology
Arrange Safe House for Foreign Visitors
Recruit Volunteers for Helping Visitors
Help Locating Target for Attack
Help in Surveillance
Help Spotting Location
Help Procurement of Raw Material and Fabrication
At Least Four Layer Scouting Before Planters Go for Action Preparation

The Modules are more complicated. The Module Boss is normally the designated operations chief of the India-based tanzeems. Besides controlling the core of the Module (may be 2/3 members) he personally and through other Module members remain touch with the Cells and Cell Members through Hub members. A Module may have 3/5 Hubs and each Hub may have 3/5 Cells. However, the temporary Ansars are not allowed to get closer to the Module bosses. They are created and activated by the Cell chief. In a peculiar Cell there can be a single member or maximum 3/5 members depending on circumstances and requirements. In a multi-event strike; say Mumbai train blasts and Jaipur blasts the Modules must have had 10 members and the cells minimum five members and another 10/15 Ansars. One such operation requires minimum 20 people. Let us examine a peculiar Module.

Peculiar Module & Hubs & Related Cells

How does it operate? A pictorial depiction would help better understanding.

The pictures of three places in Mumbai and Delhi are illustrative and have no proven connection with real jihadist attacks or existence of Modules and Cells.

The population and institutional locations near Kalkaji Temple (South Delhi) may have had harboured some cells in the slum clusters behind the temple which had taken place in 2005 Diwali eve multiple bomb blasts at highly congested locations. The possibility of one such cell located in nearby Gobindpuri population clusters taking part in planting a bomb in a passenger bus could not be ruled out. The illustrative Kalkaji Cell was not a Module, which might have operated from another location in Delhi. This will be illustrated in another pictorial analysis.


A peculiar cell located in slum cluster behind Kalkaji Temple


Darul Uloom Babul Madrasa, Delhi

As an illustrative study let us presume existence of a Master Module somewhere near the Jahnagirpuri institution. The areas covered by Silampur, Jahangirpuri, Babarpur, Sunlight Colony etc are predominantly inhabited by the Muslim community. The Presumed Module Boss/Bosses might be located in one of the labyrinthine inaccessible lanes, commanding two to four Hubs, which, in turn, command one or more Cell under their assigned area. The task allotted to individual cells has been outlined above. The Module Boss/Bosses remain in charge of communication with foreign bases, receiving instructions, arranging safe houses in religiously compatible or mixed population areas, activate the cells and arrange acclimatisation process for the visiting tanzeems collaborator. The Module is also responsible for “Cooling Period” for the guest jihadis after an incident and for arranging their exit from the country with helps from compatible Modules in other parts of the country.

It is important to note that Module owing allegiance to one particular tanzeems is not normally exposed to another tanzeems unless parent bodies like the SIMI assign such collaboration. A Module trained and positioned by the Lashkar-e-Toiba may collaborate with HuJI activist if the task is collaborative in nature. For example, as per informed sources, the HuJI activists from Bangladesh responsible for carrying out Benaras multiple blasts were initially nestled in an Ahl-e-Hadith mosque near the Cantonment station.

Let us move to Mumbai:


An illustrative location at Nagapada, Mumbai

The Locations indicated in the map are illustrative and have no connection with any known jihadi attack incident. The probability of existence of one or more Module in heavily populated areas near about the marked locations could have worked as Hubs for carrying out multiple train bomb blasts could not be ruled out by investigating agencies.

For combinations of reasons it is not possible for the intelligence and police agencies to identify in advance location of such Modules, Hubs and Cells. To study this minuscule and macro subject of Cell and Module functioning, the agencies would be required to understand the historical functioning of such Modules and Cells amongst the early indigenous and foreign revolutionary/fanatic religious groups and obviously the methodologies adopted by the communist revolutionaries. This part of intricately mixed sciences of social studies, guerrilla warfare methodologies and Mass Control mechanism forms the basic science of counter-terrorism and counter-jihad operations. In short, Mass Control means controlling minds of the people, destroying their faith and trust in the established State and promulgating the suzerainty of the revolutionary through armed struggle and ideological warfare.

There are reasons to believe that the Armed Forces and some specialised police forces are seriously studying these aspects. It is imperative for the all the intelligence agencies to muster expertise in the science art of the tradecraft absolutely necessary to combat terrorism, insurgency and jihadist attacks.

I propose to write separately on this science of counter-terrorism and counter-jihad aspects of State responsibility and responsibilities of the People, who form an integral part of the Mass Control technology.



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