A crackdown in Tamil Nadu

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

THE Chennai police have busted the network of a "new, budding'' Muslim extremist organisation called the Muslim Defence Force (MDF), whose links go to Saudi Arabia and which has connections with the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The MDF was founded in Saudi Arabia by Abu Hamsa (35) of Hyderabad and has branches in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, apart from Andhra Pradesh.

On a tip-off from the Hyderabad police, the Chennai police, led by Commissioner K. Vijay Kumar, quickly arrested Zackria, 28, and Thoufeek, 27, at Kodungaiyur in Chennai on November 29. The Tamil Nadu police have so far arrested 11 persons including Hamid Bakri of Kayalpattinam, near Tuticorin. The MDF members had planned to cause law and order problems in Tamil Nadu by setting off bombs in temples, especially on December 6, the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, police said. On the basis of information given by these men, the police seized 8 kg of explosives from Mallipattinam in Thanjavur district.

Abu Hamsa's real name is Abdul Bari. Along with another Muslim extremist called Azam Ghori, he set up an organisation called the Indian Muslim Mohammedi Mujahideen (IMMM). The IMMM was responsible for the bomb blasts in Hyderabad, Karim Nagar and Nizamabad. Bari, who was wanted in the Hyderabad case, fled to Saudi Arabia and set up a base in the country's capital, Riyadh. The anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat after the Godhra incident had its echo in Saudi Arabia too. According to the police, Abu Hamsa took an active part in the campaign there that the Muslims in India were being harassed. He founded the MDF in the wake of the anti-Muslim pogrom, and he became its operational chief for India. The MDF was formed after Azam Ghori was killed by the Andhra Pradesh police and there was a lull in the IMMM activities. The MDF has a branch in Pakistan.

Thoufeek fled to Saudi Arabia after he was named the first accused in the murder of Selvakumar of Adhiramapattinam, in Thanjavur district, two years ago. Thoufeek, who hails from Adhiramapattinam, returned to Chennai three months ago. The police described Thoufeek as "a notorious criminal" with a gift of the gab. Zackria also had returned to Chennai some months earlier, after working as an air-conditioning mechanic in Saudi Arabia. Before their return, they met Abu Hamsa in Saudi Arabia. The latter recruited the duo to organise the MDF's operations in Tamil Nadu.

Vijay Kumar explained that many Muslim youth who went to Saudi Arabia from Tamil Nadu remained jobless and they could be easily persuaded to join extremist organisations. Thoufeek and Zackria belonged to this category. They were shuttling between Chennai and Saudi Arabia, the Police Commissioner said.

Staying in north Chennai, Thoufeek tried to convert Dalits to Islam and set up an organisation called "New Vision" for this purpose. He received the money for this from Zackria in Saudi Arabia. Thoufeek, aling with Lashkar terrorist Abul Salam, planned to create disturbances during the Vinayaka Chaturthi procession in Chennai last September. But they could not do so. The police shot dead Abul Salam recently in Hyderabad. The Andhra Pradesh police also shot dead, on November 23 and 24, two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants who were reportedly involved in the bomb blast at the Sai Baba temple in Hyderabad on November 21. These two militants had links with the MDF.

Hamid Bakri, who was also arrested, is an Islamic scholar. He is related to Imam Ali, a terrorist who was shot dead by the Tamil Nadu police in Bangalore last October. Hamid Bakri met Abu Hamsa in Saudi Arabia when he went on the Hajj last year and they discussed the MDF's operations in Tamil Nadu, the police said. On his return to India, Bakri held a meeting of MDF operatives at his home in Kayalpattinam and later at Courtallam, in Tirunelveli district.

A police officer said that Muslim residents in several places including Mallipattinam cooperated with the police in "weeding out the bad elements'' in their community. According to him, the MDF had "no direct connection" with Al Umma, a militant organisation that was founded in Tamil Nadu in 1993 after the Babri Masjid demolition.

ON December 4, 2002, R. Sivakumar, the Judge of the special court for the Coimbatore bomb blast cases, acquitted all the 19 accused in a case relating to the seizure of weapons and explosives. The accused included Al Umma founder S.A. Basha and his second-in-command Mohammed Ansari. The Judge said that the prosecution failed to prove the charges beyond reasonable doubt. However, there are other ongoing cases against Basha and Ansari. They are the main accused in the case relating to the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore on February 14, 1998, which led to the death of 60 people.

On December 5 at Ramanathapuram, Fast Track Court Judge Raja Chockalingam convicted and sentenced Erwadi Kasim, the founder of a militant organisation called the Islamic Defence Force, to seven years' imprisonment in a case relating to the murder of T. Kuppuramu, president of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Ramanathapuram district. Kuppuramu was murdered on August 25, 1996 at Bharathi Nagar, Ramanathapuram. Abdullah, another accused, was acquitted. Kasim is an accused in the murder of Hazarath Kamarushman, the "Pesh Imam" of the mosque at K.K. Nagar, Chennai, on August 8, 1997 and the bomb blast on the Pandyan Express at Tiruchi on December 6, 1997.

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