Bombs and politics

Print edition : June 19, 1999

THE discovery of five powerful time-bombs near police establishments in Chennai, Coimbatore and Tiruchi on May 30 and 31 and the arrest of seven persons in connection with this, took on a political colour in no time. According to the police, the bombs w ere planted by members of Al-Umma, a Muslim terrorist organisation which is accused of being responsible for the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore in February 1998, which left 58 persons dead. Depending on which side of the newly erected political fence t hey were, parties either ridiculed the discovery of the bombs as a "planned drama" staged by the police or commended their quick action in finding and defusing them.

The parties that banded together were the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC). On the other side were the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), now estranged from the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Puthiya Tamilagam.

Former Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha called the discovery of the bombs "a drama enacted by the police at the instigation of the DMK Government". TMC general secretary Peter Alphonse said that the bombs had nothing to do with ext remism but had an "election background", and demanded that they should not be any "political intimidation" in searching, interrogating or arresting extremists. State RJD president K. Jagaveerapandian said that the placing of the bombs was "planned and s tage-managed" in order to malign the minorities." Puthiya Tamilagam president Dr. K. Krishnaswamy expressed reservations about the discovery of the bombs. All these parties demanded that innocent Muslims should not be harassed or arrested by the police.

The Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), the Indian National League (INL) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) alleged that Muslims were harassed by the police in the search for persons who kept the bombs. (These organisations have announced that they will align with the AIADMK in the elections.) What gave a handle to this allegation was the police taking into preventive custody about 200 Muslims from various parts of the State. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said the police had been instruct ed not to harass innocent Muslims.

Jayalalitha stepped into the picture, wondering whether it was a plot to bring a bad name to the Muslim community, which had joined hands with the Opposition front against Karunanidhi.

The DMK's allies, such as the BJP, the PMK and the TRC, rallied behind it. The BJP appreciated the action taken by the police. Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder-president of the PMK, said parties making allegations against the Government even when they were aware of the conspiracy amounted to encouraging extremists. Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi, founder-president of the TMC and Union Petroleum Minister, said that it would amount to politicising the issue if the Government was accused of planting the explosives.

The Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) had an ace up its sleeve. After serving the required summons, top CB-CID officers called on Jayalalitha and asked her about proof for her allegation. She replied that she was "misquoted" by the press. A CB-CID press release quoted her as having told the officers: "I did not say that the Tamil Nadu Government is enacting a drama. I only said it was the general talk of the people and that many persons had expressed such an opinion to me." Accordi ng to Jagaveerapandian, he told the CB-CID officers that it was up to the police to find evidence for his allegations. The police also met Peter Alphonse.

The CB-CID arrested seven persons who were reportedly behind the planting of the bombs. The police are looking for more persons, including Zakir Hussain, described as the "kingpin" and "the brain" behind the planting of the bombs in all three cities. A ll of the arrested belong to Al-Umma, whose members have been charge-sheeted by the CB-CID in connection with the Coimbatore blast.

THE seven arrested persons are Hakkim alias "Pavadai" Hakkim (30); Khalil alias Khalil Rehman (24); Abdul Nazir alias Nazir (23); Zulfica alias Appa Kutti (22); Sheikh Mohammed Ummer Shah alias Raju (30), Jaleel alias Abdul Jaleel (18) and Sadakatullah. The first six were arrested in Coimbatore and Sadakatullah in Madurai on the basis of the information given by others. On his confession, six pipe bombs were recovered from Tirupparankunram near Madurai. It was at Sadakatullah's home that the bombs were assembled and transported to Coimbatore. The police are probing whether this meant that Al-Umma had shifted its base from Coimbatore to Madurai and whether Sadakatullah had any links with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.

Additional Director-General of Police (Crime), Tamil Nadu, V.K. Rajagopalan, told Frontline: "Zakir Hussain is wanted in other cases too." (He is an accused in the Coimbatore blasts case). The police are looking for other Al-Umma members such as ' TADA' Moosa, 'tailor' Raja and Kidwai of Nagapattinam. Rajagopalan said: "We know their centre of operation, where the explosives were stored and how they were despatched." The intent behind planting the bombs was to "overawe" the police. "But the Tamil Nadu police will not be cowed down. Every activity (of Al-Umma members) is being watched. We will get at them quickly. Their back is already broken," Rajagopalan said.

K. Radhakrishnan, Coimbatore City Police Commissioner, whose team arrested five out of the six Al-Umma men in Coimbatore, said: "We received information about the plans and alerted the police headquarters in Chennai. We were alert enough to recover the b ombs before they could explode."

ON May 30 and 31, five powerful time-bombs were discovered near the offices of the Police Commissioner and the Inspector-General of Police (Prisons), Chennai; near the police quarters under construction on Variety Hall Road, Coimbatore; and outside the p olice officers' guest house in the Cantonment police station compound, Tiruchi. The bombs, made of gelatine, were kept in jute bags and side-boxes of two wheelers. A bomb exploded near the Victoria students Hostel in Chennai.

On June 9, in Chennai, the CB-CID arrested Kameel and Zakir Hussain of Al-Umma for alleged involvement in the planting of the bomb near the compound wall of the Police Commissioner's Officer and the office of the I.G. (Prisons). Kameel ran a travel age ncy at Mannady in Chennai and was trained to make bombs. The police suspect his involvement in the blast in three hotels owned by ''liberal'' Muslims. Zakir Hussain, referred to as ''scientist'' by Al-Umma cadres for his expertise in bomb-making, was arr ested in Tambaram, a suburb of Chennai.

Karunanidhi told mediapersons that Al-Umma pamphlets found near the bombs alleged that Al-Umma detainees were tortured in prisons and demanded their release.

He said that the Centre had written to his Government six months earlier that he, his son and Chennai Mayor M.K. Stalin, and a few others were on the "hit list" of an organisation. He said the involvement of the ISI was suspected in the planting of the e xplosives (Frontline, June 18, 1999).

A CB-CID team led by I.G.(Crime) D. Manoharan and comprising DIG (Crime) K. Muthukaruppan and Superintendent of Police K. Thukkiandi was set up to investigate the incidents.

Muthukaruppan told reporters in Coimbatore that the conspiracy to place the bomb in the city was hatched two months ago. Hakim was the contact person who received the information from the "leader" (amir) and passed it on to persons chosen to trans port and plant the bomb, Muthukaruppan said. Abdul Nazir provided shelter for those who transported and placed the bomb. Sheikh Mohammed Ummar Shah alias Raju received the bomb brought by bus to Coimbatore on the night of May 28 and took it to his reside nce-cum-workshop. Khalil Rehman carried the bomb in a motorcycle and kept it near the police quarters under construction. Abdul Jaleel rode on the pillion of this motorcycle, which had been borrowed from Abdul Nazir, Muthukaruppan said.

He said the bomb kept at the office of the I.G. (Prisons) had been activated. (The watchman saw the box-bomb just nine minutes before it was to explode.

Asked about the "doubts"raised over the discovery of the bombs, Muthukaruppan said: "We have nothing to hide, and any information we withhold is only in the interest of the investigation."

Informed sources said that Al-Umma men had placed the bombs in order to demonstrate to the police the organisation's "strike-power" although most of its leaders were in prison. A top police officer said, "Nothing moves in Al-Umma without Basha's (the chi ef amir) knowledge."

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