Terror has a new face in Mumbai
Friday, March 14, 2008 10:20 IST
Over the years, the city has proved to be a soft target for terrorist outfits, from the Dawood gang to the LeT. Now, Huji represents the latest danger. Anupam Dasgupta reports
After being at the receiving end of terrorist activity by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), Mumbai has become the target of the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Huji). Huji was nurtured by al-Qaeda following the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union.
Huji, believed to have masterminded major terror strikes like the attack on the Samjhauta Express, the Mecca Masjid blast and the twin blasts in Hyderabad, and the Ajmer Dargah blasts, is considered a serious and emerging security threat.
According to intelligence sources, a mix of home-grown and outside terrorists from Huji have trained their guns on the country’s financial capital. Trained Huji operatives, men who have gone beyond being radicalised, have sneaked into the city from Bangladesh and are believed to be chalking out terrorist attack plans in the city, reveal the inputs.
Terrorism experts and security analysts have told DNA that Huji has so far not targeted installations and facilities in Mumbai, but the police have to be alert as they may strike anytime soon. One hypothesis that is emerging in security circles is that Huji is using the existing Simi infrastructure to penetrate cities like Mumbai. The Tehereek Taifooz Sher-e-Islam and Muslim Legal Aid and Welfare Foundation are Simi splinter groups, which are believed to have covert links with Huji. Also, investigations into the Samjhauta Express blasts had revealed a coming together of Simi cadres and Huji members.
“Simi has always been the facilitating factor in several terrorist incidents around the country for the past few years,” says Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management. “Since Huji has now been successful in rearing an indigenous cadre base, its members mingle seamlessly with Simi activists.”
Experts believe Huji has a perfect ally in Simi if Mumbai is their target for spreading terror. In the past, Huji has been directly aided by Simi, when the former targeted the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi in March 2006.
Also, Huji is believed to be the third group behind the suburban train blasts in Mumbai in 2006, the other two being Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Security officers believe that Raheel Shaikh, a key Lashkar operative and alleged mastermind of the blasts, who is now believed to be hiding in the United Kingdom, may have sought help from local Huji cadre before the blasts. According to the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra Police, Huji has been ‘consistently’ recruiting operatives in cities like Hyderabad since the mid-1990s.
“Mumbai has always been a high-interest target for these radical jihadi terror groups. It’s little wonder that we are now noticing Huji movement here,” says ATS chief Hemant Karkare. Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh — at the chief ministers’ conference on internal security at Nainital in September 2006 — had pointed to the trend of ‘extension of jihad’ even to the rural pockets of Maharashtra, and linking it to major cities like Mumbai and Nagpur. The status report submitted by the chief minister mentioned Huji.
Although little is known of the top Huji commanders Abdul Sahed alias Bilal and Abu Hamza, revelations made by arrested senior Huji commander Jalaluddin Mulla alias Babubhai have revealed that the group has long-term terror plans for cities like Mumbai. For some time now, the Mumbai Police have been looking for Secunderabad-based Huji commander Abdul Sattar, who is wanted even by the Andhra Pradesh police. Sattar had made several visits to Mumbai before and after the train bombings.
Also, information obtained from Shoaib Jagirdar, arrested in connection with the Mecca Masjid blasts, has revealed systematic ‘incursion plans’ of Huji in Mumbai and other parts of the state.
Huji’s ties with al-Qaeda are also a major cause of concern for security forces since the latter is known to maintain sleeper cells, whose members can be pressed into action when required, in most major Indian cities.