Indian Mujahideen strikes deep
Mon, Feb 22 06:08 AM
SIMI was formed in Aligarh in 1977 and had thousands of members and offices in almost every district of the state before it was banned by the Centre in 2002. The group came under the radar of intelligence agencies after 1998 and the then SIMI president Dr Shahid Badr Falahi was arrested in Bahraich for an alleged provocative speech days after 9/11.
More than 1,200 SIMI members were arrested from the state after the ban. Police say they have evidence to prove that the SIMI was involved in the February 2005 blasts in Varanasi, the Shramjeevi Express blast in July 2005, the Varanasi blasts of March 2006, and serial blasts in courts in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi in 2007.
Among the prominent members arrested in the state are Abu Bashar of Azamgarh, who is said to have first revealed the existence of IM and its role in blasts across the country, and Shahbaz Ahmed of Lucknow, allegedly involved in the Jaipur blasts. State anti-terrorism squad officials say they are still looking for seven key IM operatives belonging to Azamgarh: Dr Shahnawaz, Ariz Khan alias Junaid, Mohammad Sajid alias Bada Sajid, Mirza Shadab Beig, Mohammad Khalid, Asadullah Akhtar and Salman.
Mumbai and Pune were the main IM hubs with an extensive network of operatives capable of providing resources for an attack anywhere in the country. The arrests made in 2008 in these two cities laid bare the backbone of the IM. The outfit grew out of the seamy underbelly of Mumbai’s gangland, with Riyaz Bhatkal dabbling in underworld activities before becoming involved in SIMI operations in the Muslim dominated areas of Kurla and Cheetah Camp.
In fact, Riyaz was a suspect in the bomb blasts in Mumbai in 2002 and 2003 and a manhunt was launched for him then. In Pune, IM had set up base in the Kondhwa area, with a control room in an apartment in an upmarket housing society. Mumbai police arrested 21 IM members, including IT engineer Mansoor Peerbhoy, and charged them of forming an organised crime syndicate for terrorist activities and hacking into WiFi accounts to send e-mails claiming credit for bomb blasts.
Among the key missing operatives from the state are Abdus Subhan Qureshi alias Tauqeer, the face of IM in 2008, Amin alias Raja Ayub Shaikh, Abdul Shakoor Khan alias Irfan, Abu Rashid.
The state has been more a target for SIMI-IM than a hub for the groups, with most men blamed for the 2008 blasts belonging to other states. The blasts were allegedly carried out under the direction, guidance and assistance of Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islam (HuJI) operative Amir Raza Khan from Pakistan.
Gujarat Police took custody of senior SIMI leaders Safdar Nagori and Abdul Sibli from Madhya Pradesh and others were taken into custody from jails elsewhere. So far, 57 people have been arrested for the blasts and 38 named in the conspiracy are at large.
The strong SIMI network in the state helped IM recruit and train members the way it did in UP. In 2008, 13 SIMI leaders, including the outfit’s general secretary Safdar Nagori and his brother Kamruddin, were arrested following raids in Indore. The police described the arrested as active members from Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The arrested also included SIMI’s Karnataka unit chief Hafiz Hussain and Shibli, the mainstay of the group in Kerala. In April 2008, the police neutralised a SIMI training camp in Choral, a popular holiday spot, 35 km from Bhopal. Qayamuddin Kapadia, suspected to be one of the main conspirators of the Ahmedabad serial blasts, was arrested from the state in November 2008. Last April, IM operative Saif-ur-Rahman was arrested from a train in Jabalpur. The Azamgarh resident is accused of planting bombs in Jaipur and Ahmedabad.
Although Kerala has not been an IM target, the state is home to some of its key members and several places hosted secret indoctrination, arms training camps after 2005. According to Gujarat police, 37 hardcore SIMI activists had participated in a bomb-making and tough-terrain training camp in Vagamon in 2007. Aluva, Paravoor and Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district, Erattupetta in Kottayam and old Kannur city are known to have been used by the IM while half-a-dozen men arrested for being linked to Lashkar are from Kannur city.
Prominent among the key SIMI-IM operators from Kerala are C A M Basheer, an aeronautical engineer from Aluva and the former national president of SIMI. Other SIMI leaders from Kerala are Peediyekkal Shibili, his brother Shaduli and Ansar Maulavi. They were arrested in Indore in March 2008. Sarfraz Nawaz, secretary at the SIMI Delhi office, was picked up by the RAW from Muscat last year.
The police had found that Nawaz financed the Bangalore blasts and knew Basheer. Sainudheen alias Satharbhai of Malappuram designed the explosives for Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat in 2008. Tadiyantavide Nazeer, who had played a key role in recruiting youth for training at Lashkar camps, was nabbed last November and is suspected to have been with the IM in 2008. Key players absconding from Kerala are C A M Basheer, Ayoob, Ummer Farook and Subaih.
While the Bhatkal brothers, Riyaz Shahbandari and Iqbal Shahbandari, used their coastal hometown of Bhatkal as an IM hub, the activities of the group elsewhere in the state were restricted largely to the northern districts of Bijapur, Bidar and Gulbarga. A spurt in SIMI activities occurred in 2007 when various senior members from Karnataka and Kerala tried to reorganise a hardline version.
While the core group had 25-30 members, the effort to revive the SIMI in 2007 saw training camps being held on the Karnataka-Goa border, in the Hubli-Dharwad region and at Ernakulam in Kerala through 2006-07. Much of the network that emerged during this period was busted by Karnataka police through 2008. The IM members blamed for the Hyderabad and Ahmedabad blasts were trained in a remote village in Chikamagalur district.
Although the IM is not held directly responsible for the July 2008 blasts in Bangalore, Riyaz Bhatkal and the perpetrators of the attack a small group of men from Kerala led by former Kerala SIMI activists obtained integrated chip timers for bombs from a common source. The Bhatkal brothers and the Bangalore bombers used a Hyderabad house as a hideout. Besides the Bhatkal brothers, key IM members from the state on the loose are bomb expert Yasin Bhatkal and Mudassar.
Mufti Abu Bashir, arrested for the Gujarat blasts, Maulana Abdul Aleem Islahi, a SIMI sympathiser who runs a madrasa in Hyderabad, Raziuddin Nasir and Safdar Nagori were involved in setting up the SIMI-IM network in the state. The SIMI set up several religious institutions to continue its activities after it was banned and police suspect Darsgah-e-Jihad-o-Shahadat and Tehrik Tahfuz-e-Shair-e-Islam were two among them.
Maulana Naseeruddin of Tehrik was arrested by Gujarat Police in 2004 for his involvement in the murder of former minister of state for home Haren Pandya. Scores of SIMI-IM members were picked up during the crackdown after the twin-blasts of August 2007 and the Mecca Masjid blasts. They included Raziuddin Nasir, Mohtasin Billa, Mohammed Nissar, Mohammed Muqeemuddin Yaser, Mohammed Sohail, Maulana Naseeruddin and Jaber Naseeruddin.
Police claim that they have managed to “finish off” SIMI-IM in the state after “tightening the noose around a few madrasas whose activities were suspect”. Vikar Ahmed, who shot at two policemen in Hyderabad last August, is the only one absconding, besides a few sympathisers against whom police say they do not have evidence.
The Delhi module of IM was led by Atif Ameen and is blamed for the serial blasts of 2008 in the Capital. After the blasts, the Delhi Police cracked Ameen’s module in Batla House and killed two Atif and Mohammad Sajid. Five IM members were also arrested from Delhi: Mohammad Saif, Zeeshan Ahmed, Mohammad Shakeel, Zia-Ur-Rehman and Saqib Nisar. Two others, Shahzad Ahmed and Ariz Khan alias Pappu managed to flee but Shahzad was arrested from Azamgarh this month. The Delhi Police continues to look for 12 SIMI-IM members, including Amir Raza Khan, Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, Mohammad Khaild, Salman, Asadullah Akhtar, Dr Shahnawaz, Mohammad Sajid and Ariz Khan.
With inputs from Bhupendra Pandey, Johnson T A, Sreenivas Janyala, Shaju Philip and Neeraj Chauhan