Arrest of an ISI gang

Print edition : August 28, 1999

THERE is growing evidence that fundamentalist groups in Pakistan are preparing to set off a new wave of terror across India. The operational strategy seeks to exploit communal fissures: fissures that the Hindu Right has had not a little to do with creati ng in the first place.

On August 20, the Jammu and Kashmir Police announced the arrest of an 11-member Lashkar-e-Taiba cell, whose operatives were active in Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Its top operative, Amir Khan, Pakistani national, w as tasked to recruit Indians whose immediate family members had been killed in communal violence. At the time of his arrest, Khan was engaged in building a cover identity. Having obtained Indian educational documents and a driving licence from India, he planned to marry into a family living in Bhiwandi in Thane district of Maharashtra.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba cell was busted after the Jammu and Kashmir Police and 5 Grenadiers regiment picked up Islam-ud-Din, a resident of Tirwara Ka Nangla village in Gurgaon district of Haryana, on the Samba border in Jammu while waiting for key a Lashkar- e-Taiba operative, Abu Ilyas. Islam-ud-Din was not aware that Ilyas had been killed in an encounter while attempting to cross through Samba on July 31. Codenamed Abu Khalid, Islam-ud-Din told his interrogators that the cell had been ordered to carry out a series of explosions ahead of Independence Day.

Amir Khan's arrest, based on Islam-ud-Din's interrogation, rapidly led to the arrest of other members of the cell - the result of a coordinated operation between the State police and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.). The most important operatives were base d in Mumbai and Bhiwandi, places hit hard by Shiv Sena terror and anti-Muslim pogroms. Bhiwandi residents Usman Khan and Mohammad Ismail had obtained for Amir Khan educational documents and a driving licence and even loaned him an autorickshaw. Abdul Sal am, Ismail's brother, arranged Khan's wedding through a local moulvi. Another Bhiwandi resident, Mohammad Mobin, was engaged in finding accommodation for Khan, without knowing his real identity. Funds for this cell were routed through Jamal Ahmad, a resi dent of Mumbai's Mazagaon areas.

The rest of Khan's recruits were scattered across the country. Abdul Adil, a resident of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, worked for the cell even as he studied at Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi. Muzaffarnagar resident Mohammad Mustafa and Baghpat resident M ohammad Mustafa were roped in too. Wali Mohammad Zahid, originally a resident of Islam-ud-Din's tehsil, was assigned the task of building a base for the group in Hyderabad, where he lived in the Qazi Gali area near the Golconda Fort. Zahid had been instr ucted to obtain fake travel documents to facilitate movement out of India when instructed to do so by the Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership. One of Zahid's recruits, Mohammad Sharif, had been arrested three months earlier.

Jammu and Kashmir Police officials say that Islam-ud-Din was trained at the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Abu Bashir camp in Bhawalpur, Pakistan. The Abu Bashir camp, one of five major Lashkar training centres, specialises in bomb-making. The Umar Kuka camp puts vol unteers through a basic, three-month insurgency course, while the Abdullah bin Masood camp nearby offers more specialised training. The Taiba camp at Muridke engages in basic ideological indoctrination, after which recruits are sent for a rigorous six-mo nth course, the Daura Khasta, in the mountains. Another Muridke camp, Aksa, focusses on training volunteers from several countries, including Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan, for the war in Jammu and Kashmir.

Islam-ud-Din left Pakistan in early 1999, with cash to help set up the cell. More money came from Ilyas. Both visited several cities to gather recruits, using the infrastructure of the revanchist religious organisation, the Tabligh-i-Jamaat. Islam-ud-Din also arranged for Khan to work at the clinic of a doctor in Punhana, Faqir-e-Alam, by introducing the Lashkar operative as his relative. Faqir-e-Alam, a recent migrant to Haryana from Bihar, did not know Khan's real identity.

The latest arrests affirm that the Lashkar-e-Taiba's pan-Indian network is exploiting Muslim insecurities fuelled by the rise of a regime with no commitment to secularism. In the March 26 issue, Frontline had reported on the arrests of several imp ortant members of the Lashkar's Abdul Karim 'Tunda' cell, including Pakistani nationals Mohammad Salim Junaid from Hyderabad and Abdul Sattar from Delhi along with Indian nationals Shoaib Alam, Mohammad Faisal Hussain and Aamer Hashim Kamran. Saifullah C hitrali, a top operative of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and the Hizbul Mujahideen's Ali Mohammad Dar had also set up networks outside Jammu and Kashmir. Organisations such as the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front had even liaised with Abdul Razzak Memon, a k ey accused in the Mumbai serial bomb blasts.

The BJP's pro-active policy, an ill-conceived militarist response to growing violence in Jammu and Kashmir, fails to address the changing character of terrorism and the forces that drive it. As long as Hindu revanchism continues to fuel tensions in India , any number of soldiers will not be enough to engage with the Islamic Right.

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