West Bengal

Terror trail

Print edition : November 28, 2014

The NSG recovered a huge cache of arms from a house at Khagragarh in Bardhaman district. Photo: Courtesy : Ganashakti

THE investigations into the blast inside a house at Khagragarh in Bardhaman district on October 2 has brought to the fore an Islamist terrorist network spread over several districts and linked to the banned Jamait-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). The terror module seems well-entrenched in the State and also has connections with other States. With senior officers of the Home Ministry, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and National Investigation Agency (NIA) chief Sharad Kumar, rushing to the blast site, it was evident that the Centre was seriously concerned over the developments.

The investigations exposed a bomb factory run allegedly by people with links to the JMB. The house where the explosion took place was apparently also used as a Trinamool Congress office and was owned by a well-known supporter of the party.

Of those who were inside the building at the time of the explosion—Shakil Ahmed, Abdul Hakim, their respective wives Razia Bibi and Alima, and Sovan Mandal—Shakil and Sovan died on the spot. The survivors held off the police and the fire brigade long enough to destroy evidence. The police also arrested Hasem Mollah, a resident of Prubasthali in Bardhaman. Six more people suspected to be connected with the conspiracy were arrested in Assam. On the basis of the preliminary investigation, the NIA summoned three people for questioning in Chennai. One Sheikh Kausar, who frequented the house and was said to be a linkman between the JMB and Shakil, apparently disappeared immediately after the blast.

Investigations led by the NIA and the National Security Guard (NSG), along with the State police and the Crime Investigation Department, revealed that the tentacles of Islamist terror in Bengal were not confined to the region around the blast and Bardhaman district alone, but had reached different corners of the State, including the border districts of Nadia and Murshidabad. Soon after the NIA took over the investigation from the State police, it was found out that the terror trail led to a girls’ madrasa at Simulia in Bardhaman, where, according to the NIA, the accused were “radicalised in violent jehadi ideology”. Yousuf Sheikh, the trainer at the madrasa and a key suspect in the case, has been missing along with his family since the blast.

The NIA released a list of 12 suspects, including Kausar, and mentioned a certain Sajid as the “chief of the Burdwan module”. In fact, four of the prime suspects mentioned by the NIA—Kausar, Sajid, Nasirullah, and Talha Sheikh—are suspected Bangladesh nationals. The agency has announced a cash reward of Rs.10 lakh each for information leading to their arrest. Seven of the other suspects hail from three districts of West Bengal: Yusuf Sheikh, Rejaul Karim, Burhan Sheikh and Abdul Kalam are from Bardhaman; Jahirul Sheikh is from Nadia; and Habibur Rehman Sheikh and Amjad Ali Sheikh are from Birbhum. One suspect, Sahanur Alam is originally from Barpeta in Assam.

On October 16, the NIA discovered a sackful of improvised explosive devices in a concealed room in Rejaul Karim’s house, which is less than a kilometre away from the blast site. This came as a major embarrassment for the State government as the police had earlier searched the building and claimed to have found nothing there.

The way the ruling party was perceived as handling the case prompted opposition parties to raise the issue of alleged links of certain sections of the party with the terror outfit.

“There is clear evidence of the State government trying to suppress the truth. The CPI(M) demanded an NIA probe right from day one; but the BJP at the Centre unnecessarily killed seven days before letting the NIA take up the case, during which time vital evidence was destroyed and communal forces were allowed to fan communal passions,” said Surjya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M).

Initially, the State government resisted a probe by the NIA. In a social media site, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote on October 10, the day the NIA registered a case: “Now-a-days, the Central government tends to frequently and unnecessarily interfere in State matters what is not at all expected as per our Constitution…. Let us be united to combat the communal forces.”Finally, in the face of mounting criticism from all quarters, Mamata Banerjee relented. After a meeting with her on October 27, Prakash Mishra, Special Secretary (Internal Security), Ministry of Home Affairs, told the media: “We have resolved to work together and investigate the case jointly. The State government and the Centre are together in tackling terror.”

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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