A Bagful Of “Most Wanted”
It is rather difficult to believe that lady luck is finally smiling on otherwise luck-less Indian intelligence agencies. Within a fortnight, intelligence agencies have managed to bring back India’s two most wanted terrorists—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) bomber Abdul Karim Tunda and Ahmed Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal of Indian Mujahideen (IM).
Things began to change after Saudi Arabia extradited LeT and IM terrorists Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal in June 2012 and Fasih Mohammad in October 2012 to India.
India had been trying to persuade gulf monarchies not to allow Pakistan-based Indian terrorists to operate from their soil. Outcome was mixed, till India signed extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia in 2010 and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2013.
The UAE has been cooperating albeit selectively with India on extradition of criminals and terrorists. In February 2003, Dawood Ibrahim’s two brothers were arrested in Dubai and later released, whereas in March same year Mohammad Ahmed Dossa, the main accused in 1993 Mumbai Blasts case was deported to India. India’s most wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, reportedly travelled to Saudi Arabia for Haj this year during Ramadan, but he was not detained. Shaharyar Khan, former foreign secretary of Pakistan and Pakistan Prime Minister special envoy for improving relations with India, in fact corroborated the fact when he said that Dawood has been chased out from Pakistan and he could be in the UAE.\
Arab Spring and subsequent turmoil has seen unstable governments in the Arab world. New sanctuaries of al-Qaeda and other extremist organisations have spawned in the region. There were widespread protest for democracy in Bahrain in February 2011 and August this year. Civil rights movement supported by terrorists and extremists makes Gulf monarchies feel threatened; and they have finally realised the perils of courting terror in the name of Islam.
These arrests in quick succession are more of a diplomatic achievement rather than a successful tactical operation by police and intelligence agencies. To impose caution in the hearts and minds of terrorists who are hiding in Pakistan, it would have been more effective to flaunt this new-found diplomatic clout with the Gulf States instead repeating the same off-beat police story, which very few are willing to buy. Nevertheless, irrespective of means employed, the message is clear for Pakistan-based terrorists that shores of Gulf States are no longer a safe haven for them.
Intelligence reports suggest that Indian Mujahideen has set up its overseas base just two kilometres from Dawood Ibrahim’s house in Karachi. Under the supervision of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, this base functions from the Phase Six residential area of the Defense Housing Authority in Karachi. Intelligence Bureau of India reports that the name Indian Mujahideen has been adopted by this organisation, to maculate the image of Indian Muslims and to further bring about the divide between Hindus and Muslims. It is also suggested in these reports that the name has been adopted to camouflage the relation between Pakistan and Indian Mujahideen.
IM was founded during 2001-02, by the hardliner faction of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI was first banned by Government of India in 2001 and a large number of its cadres went underground. Hardliners led by Shanbandari brothers—Riyaz and Iqbal and Yasin started the IM. Pakistan ISI realising the potential of this crop of educated and radicalised young men trained about 200 of its cadres in arms and explosive handling in Pakistan. IM has been considered as Indian arm of LeT. Post-26/11 attacks, ISI restrained Pakistan-based terror organisations to desist from their direct involvement in terror activities in India and utilise the services of home-grown terror groups instead. IM is supposed to have carried out many terror strikes in India on behalf of LeT.
In June 2010, Government of India declared IM a terrorist organisation and banned it. USA in September 2011 officially placed the Indian Mujahideen on its list of foreign terrorist organisations and in July 2012, Britain banned the group due to its involvement on mass casualty attacks.
Post-2008 bomb blasts in the country, police and intelligence agencies stepped up their operations against the IM cadres. Feeling the heat IM’s top leadership fled to Pakistan, leaving the responsibility of running the group on Yasin Bhatkal. As many as 60 IM operatives were arrested from various parts of the country. The group went into hibernation and only surfaced to carry out an attack. Investigations in many terror attacks remained inconclusive. No senior functionary of IM was arrested for these attacks. People got wary of IM bogey. So much so that politicians like Digvijay Singh and Rehman Khan doubted the existence of IM in public.
Yasin Bhatkal soon realised the geographic advantage and demographic potential of eastern Uttar Pradesh and northern and western Bihar bordering Nepal. Foothold in this area was important for IM for easy movement into Nepal and Bangladesh as well as for recruitment of new cadres. Gradually, he established a network of modules and sleeper cells in the region and in southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
ISLAMIC TERRORISM IN TAMIL NADU
Since the days of Indian Freedom Movement, Tamil Nadu has been a hot bed for separatism and Islamic secessionism. The British sowed the seeds of Dravidian separatism and nurtured it through Dravidian racist outfits such as Justice Party and the likes.
The Islamic secessionism was fuelled by tactic support to the Muslim League. The ascendancy of Muslim League in politics of Tamil Nadu was phenomenal and every Muslim pocket in the elsewhere Madras Presidency backed Islamic secessionism. In the Assembly elections held in 1946, the Muslim League won all the 28 seats reserved for Muslims under the slogan “Separate Pakistan”. The Congress Party which contested the elections in the name of “Poorna Swaraj” was drubbed by the common Muslim from Palayamkottai to Berhampur in the separate Muslim constituencies.
The winds of change in Tamil Nadu politics started blowing from late fifties in the name of anti-Hindi and separate Tamil Nadu movements. Seizing the opportunity, the Muslim League crossed over to the Dravidian alignment and furthered its divisive agenda.
The spate of violence against the Hindus and attacks on national sovereignty from the eighties to till date is not even condemned by any mainline political party or social organizations barring the Hindutva brigade. It is unfortunate that the socio-political thinking of the intelligentsia in Tamil Nadu is dominated by the Missionary-Marxist axis. In this scenario Hindus were rendered orphans and continued to suffer the onslaught of Islamic terror.
The first spate of terror incidents concluded with the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore on February 14, 1998 in which 58 innocent people died and over 200 injured. This resulted in a Hindu backlash and wide condemnation across the spectrum which halted the Islamic terror activity for a while.
The political realignment in Delhi with the advent of BJP at the helm of affairs from 1998 to 2004 witnessed a reduction in Islamic Terror activities. With the advent of Congress led UPA government at the centre, the pendulum swung towards Muslim appeasement with monstrous concessions, illegal gratification of Islamic demands including the repeal of anti-terrorism ordinance POTA, which resulted in widespread spurt in Islamic terror across the country. Also the installation of DMK government in Tamil Nadu after 2006 Assembly elections became a boon for the Muslim outfits in the state.
The change of guard in Tamil Nadu has not changed the situation either. It was a flight from the frying pan to the fire for Hindus. The established anti-Hindu image of Karunanidhi made Jayalalitha to take Hindu sentiments for granted. She decided to appease the Christians and Muslims to swing the decisive percentage of votes to win elections. She started aligning with rabid fundamentalist Islamic forces in elections and allowed the separatist forces to prosper in the state in the name of secularism.
The atmosphere vitiated to such an extent that cinemas need to get the veto of Islamic fundamentalists even after passing through the lens of the Censor Board. Police complaints against Muslim brutalities were not even considered by the police out of fear that the Muslims will besiege the police stations and disrupt normal life.
It is to be recalled from earlier history that there was a spate of Islamic terror killings in the mid -nineties in Tamil Nadu. The prominent presence of Hindu organisations such as Hindu Munnani, RSS, etc. was able to safeguard the Hindu community through proactive measures. While the killings were on, there was a section in the intelligentsia belonging to the Left-Secular-Dravidian yore maintained that the anti-Muslim propaganda of these organizations was responsible for the killings. Even a section sympathised to these organisations felt so. But, in the past ten to fifteen years, these organisations restrained themselves in publically exposing the tenets and characteristics of Islam, which is Jihadi. Yet, the killing continues!
The theory of Islamic backlash to a Hindu provocation as articulated by a section of intelligentsia is a fantastic nonsense. It can be concluded, violence is intrinsic among Islamic fundamentalists. It is waiting for an opportunity to strike.
(Uday India Bureau)
IM has been very active in carrying out terror strikes in the country. Its first acknowledged strike was in 2007, when on 23 November 2007 six serial blasts took place in the court premises of Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad killing 14 people. Before the attack, IM had through an email claimed the responsibility for the blasts.
Serial blasts using improvised explosives, shrapnel, integrated circuit and clock timers are the hallmark of IM’s strikes. Bombs are planted on bicycles, in garbage bins and such innocuous objects. Evening is preferred time for blast as it kills maximum people, creates panic and confusion and hampers rescue work. Timings of the blasts are carefully synchronised, like in 2008, 21 blasts took place within 70 minutes killing 56 and injuring over 200 in Ahmedabad. IM also displays a cavalier streak in its operations as it does not shy away from targeting a particular location despite the arrests of its operatives and their confessions to the police. In October 2012, Delhi Police had arrested some IM operatives, who had informed about the group’s intentions and plans to bomb Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya and Dilsukhnagar—a busy market place in Hyderabad. Despite the plans being compromised and the particular interrogation report being made public by the Delhi Police, IM operatives went ahead with their plan and carried out bomb blasts in Dilsukhnagar on 21 February 2013, killing 18 people. Similarly, on 7 July 2013 nine bombs exploded in the Mahabodhi temple complex injuring five.
Country was to witness more such brazen strikes from IM. 2008 was particularly a bad year, when serial blasts in Jaipur (May), Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, (July), Surat (July, bombs did not explode though) and New Delhi (September) killed over 130 people.
IM has carried out many blasts in the country—some were owned up and some disowned by the group.
IM cadres maintain a low profile and carry out an attack after detailed reconnaissance and planning. They are mostly educated and techno savvy youth, suave enough to merge in the crowd of collegiate, office goers and businessmen. Yasin Bhatkal had added many young men into IM’s fold from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal through a painstaking process of recruitment, training and motivation. He, though a top functionary of the group also functioned as a foot soldier at times. CCTV footage of German Bakery (Pune) blasts in February 2010 shows him planting the bomb, which killed 17 people. Intelligence agencies feel that he planted the bombs in Dilsukhnagar blast too, based on a grainy footage of a CCTV showing the bomb carrier bearing striking resemblance to him. He is also known to carry out post-strike damage assessment of the blasts.
Yasin Bhatkal is a master of disguise. As Doctor Imran he lived in Darbhanga, Bihar for two years and even practiced Unani medicine, while recruiting youth for IM. He even got married to a Smastipur girl using the same pseudo name. To some IM operatives, with whom he worked was known as Shahrukh. High point of this hide and seek came in 2008, when he managed to hoodwink Kolkata Police, who had arrested him in a fake currency case. Posing as Bulla Mullick, he produced papers to support his fake identity and secured bail to walk out of Alipore jail. Kolkata police realised its blunder only after two years.
Abdul Karim Tunda and Yasin Bhatkal are wanted in many cases across India. State police have started demanding their remand to carry out investigations. The interrogation process should have long and short term objectives. Prevention of impending terror attack should be our immediate concern and unravelling the terror jigsaw across the country and beyond the borders should be the larger aim. Tunda and Bhatkal are important intelligence assets and gold mine of information. Their deliberate interrogation can shed light on indoctrination, recruitment, training, logistics, communication, finance and linkages with hawala and fake currency operations.
Intelligence agencies must shed their stereo-type functioning; it was embarrassing when the counsel for Bhatkal informed the court that his client was not Yasin Bhatkal but Ahmed Siddibappa. Nowhere a criminal is produced before the court on his/ her pseudo name. All this while we believed that Bhatkal is an engineering graduate, but he turned out to be a school dropout. Why no intelligence agency ever cared to update his profile?
Is our jubilation misplaced? Is it possible that 73-year-old Abdul Karim Tunda, who has served the Pakistan’s interests against India so well for over two decades would be turned in to Indian agencies like a pawn? Tunda had climbed the LeT hierarchy from being a bomb maker to an ideologue. Was he considered a spent force by ISI and LeT or his differences with LeT chief Hafiz Sayeed and Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi made him an undesirable entity in Pakistan? Or Tunda has been planted here to misguide the interrogators? Caution and prudence is required.
After Yasin Bhatkal’s arrest the euphoria is palpable. In some quarters there is a strong optimism that someday Dawood Ibrahim may show up at the Indo-Nepal border begging to be taken into custody. That is an outlandish idea. Over the years Pakistani establishment and Dawood Ibrahim have developed a symbiotic relationship in the field of terror, crime, drugs and finance. Both have invested heavily in each other’s stakes. Pakistan cannot afford to lose Dawood to India as it would seriously impair its image and commitment amongst anti-India elements.
We must introspect too. While terrorism will be fought on many fronts, it is time for us to reflect that why young people like Yasin Bhatkal, who are born and brought up in India harbour so much of hatred and vengeance in their minds against motherland?
By Colonel US Rathore
(The author is a defence & security expert and threat & risk analyst.)