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19 November, 2013

The Mujahideen story

BRP Bhaskar
The Indian Mujahideen story is getting curiouser and curiouser. Five years after its name surfaced and three years after the government banned it, the outfit remains somewhat enigmatic.

The name appeared first in e-mails which some media houses received in 2008 owning responsibility for serial blasts that had rocked Jaipur two days earlier. Across the country there were several more blasts that year, and similar e-mails followed. Investigating agencies now say the outfit came into being five years earlier.

According to Ashish Khetan, an investigative journalist with a creditable record, there is an overwhelming body of evidence in the records of official agencies to show that a group of Muslim extremists, who styled themselves as Indian Mujahideen, had bombed temples, trains and marketplaces in different places between 2003 and 2008 and that the police implicated innocent Muslims in the incidents.

Soon after the IM’s existence became known, official agencies identified its leaders as former cadres of the Students Islamic Movement of India, which had once attracted critical attention by raising the slogan “India’s liberation through Islam”. They were active in the protests against the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

SIMI was among several organisations banned in the wake of the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Writing in 2008, Praveen Swami, a journalist who has extensively purveyed material furnished by intelligence agencies, said SIMI’s preparations for IM activities began with two jihad training camps, one in Kerala in December 2007 and the other in Gujarat in January 2008.

In a background paper prepared for the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in 2009, Namrata Goswami said the IM leadership was mainly traced to Abdul Subhan Usman Qureshi with the code name Kasim or Al Arbi, who had sent e-mails to the media about blasts. However, officials later identified Mohammad Ahmad Zarar Siddibapa alias Yasin Bhatkal as one of its founders and the mastermind behind its bombings.

Yasin Bhatkal was arrested last August as he arrived from Pakistan via Kathmandu. After his interrogation, official agencies fed to the media more material on the IM’s origin and activities.

Swami now pushed back the IM’s formation to the period immediately after the Gujarat riots and identified a building in Mumbai as its birthplace. He summed up the mood of its founders in these words: “They were all angry, very angry, about the 2002 communal violence — and swore vengeance.”

His report also said the IM members met for the first time at Jolly Beach at Bhatkal in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, hometown of Yasin Bhatkal, and conducted experiments with explosives. “Many of the men at Jolly Beach have since been arrested and some killed,” he added, but, all the top commanders, barring Muhammad Atif Amin, whom the Delhi police killed in the controversial 2008 Batla House encounter, are still at their stations.

According to Swami’s account, in the post-Gujarat period the group mobilised small communal flare-ups in and around Bhatkal, leading to the murder of Thimmappa Naik, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA, in 2004. Local reports of the period, however, had blamed the killing on the Congress. When the BJP was in power in the state, its members staged demonstrations demanding the arrest of Naik’s killers.

The contradictions in the published material about the IM point to lack of clarity in the assessments of official agencies. Information provided by them has given the IM a larger-than-life image. Many people have voiced doubts over their accounts and some have insinuated that the IM is a phantom created by intelligence agencies.

The blasts at the famed Buddha shrine at Gaya last July and at the venue of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s Patna meeting last month are the latest bombings attributed to the IM.

Last week the IM story took a queer turn with the arrest of half a dozen Hindu youths of Bihar and Jharkhand, some of whom allegedly maintained contacts with Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence through mobile phones. A Bihar police official suggested the IM may be using Hindu youths but the National Investigation Agency said the arrests were related to terror financing and not to the Patna blasts.

Reported confessions by arrested IM operatives that they organised the 2003 Mumbai train blasts and the 2010 German Bakery blast in Pune indicate that those who were or are being prosecuted in connection with them may have had only a minor role in them, if at all.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 19, 2013.

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