West Bengal

Shadow of Islamist terror

Print edition : October 31, 2014

A forensic expert at the blast site, a house at Khagragarh outside Burdhawan town. Photo: COURTESY: GANASHAKTI

Two women who were arrested from the house. Photo: COURTESY: GANASAKTHI

Hasem Mollah, who was also taken into custody. Photo: COURTESY: GANASHAKTI

Mukul Roy, Trinamool Congress leader. He denied that West Bengal had become a "safe haven" for Islamist terror organisations. Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty

APART from the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata in 2002, West Bengal has been largely free from terror strikes by Islamist extremist forces. Although it is a well-known fact that the State and its capital have for long been considered a safe transit point for terrorists on the run, who make use of the porous borders with Bangladesh to escape into sanctuary, terrorist activities in the State have been low-key enough to avoid attention.

However, an accidental blast inside a house in Khagragarh on the outskirts of Bardhaman town (about 100 kilometres from Kolkata) gave enough indication that Islamist terror has arrived in West Bengal too. The house was being used as a bomb-assembling unit by an alleged Islamist extremist group. The explosion took place around noon on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti, and the second day of the three-day Durga Puja celebrations in the State. Initially, the fire brigade and the police could not enter the house, as two women—Gulshana Bibi alias Rumi and Alima—who were inside threatened to blow up the place; it transpired that they were actually buying time to destroy incriminating documents and other evidence. Among the half-burnt documents that were recovered were what appeared to be shreds of jehadi literature in Bengali script and instructions for making explosives.

S.H.M. Meerza, Superintendent of Police, Bardhaman, said: “When the police reached the spot, the two women were inside the house and the doors were locked. While two persons Shakil Ahmed and Sovan Mandal died, another, Abdul Hakim, was burning mobile SIM cards and handsets.” According to reports, the police also seized more than 50 IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and large quantities of other explosives.

Rumi was the wife of Shakil Ahmed. Shakil, a Bangladeshi national, was believed to have been an active member of the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, and had been living in India for the past seven years. He had rented the house, where they were living for the past few months, from Nurul Hasan Chowdhury, a well-known Trinamool supporter in the area. Abdul Hakim, Alima’s husband, was arrested later. Apart from the three survivors, the police arrested Hasem Mollah, a resident of Prubasthali in Bardhaman. Call records showed that Shakil Ahmed had had long conversations with Hasem Mollah before the explosion. All four have been charged under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 2008, and Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with waging or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war against the Government of India.

The fact that the house not only belonged to a noted Trinamool Congress supporter, but was also used as a local party office, has caused considerable discomfort to the ruling party as it came under attack from the opposition. Both the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pointed to a nexus between Islamist terror groups and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

Although the All-India Trinamool Congress general secretary Mukul Roy denied that the house was ever a party office, local leaders of the party admitted otherwise. “There is no denying that this was a Trinamool office. Minutes after the explosion, the local Trinamool leaders removed the party signboard from the wall of the building. It is clear that the Trinamool Congress has a deep nexus with such terrorist outfits and that the district police are, in collusion with the ruling party, trying to cover things up. We have demanded that the NIA (National Investigation Agency) and not the district police investigate the matter,” Amal Haldar, CPI(M)’s Bardhaman district secretary told Frontline.

BJP leader and co-observer of West Bengal Siddharth Nath Singh said West Bengal under the Trinamool Congress government had become a “safe haven” for Islamist terror organisations. Mukul Roy dismissed these statements as “irresponsible” and asked: “How do we know that the BJP and the CPI(M) do not have a hand in the event?” Subsequently, however, the State government came round to admitting that the blast may have had links with a terror outfit with Bangladeshi connections. The Bangladesh government also urged the Government of India to share with it all information regarding the blast.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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