As the news of the arrest of Tunda alias Syed Abdul Karim at the India-Nepal border broke, there was complete silence and gloom in a 7ft x 10ft solitary cell in the Presidency jail in Kolkata.
For Abu Taher alias Mohammad Zakaria of Bangladesh, the arrest of his son-in-law was a huge setback for the cause. Taher helped Tunda run his terror network in West Bengal for years, supplying explosives and providing logistics to terrorists and fake currency smugglers.
A senior state home department official said on condition of anonymity: “Since the Kashmir borders are too well secured for the terrorists to slip in men and materials easily, the porous India-Bangladesh border serves their purpose perfectly.”
He says outfits, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Indian Mujahideen, find it easy to push in their men into India. And after that, it’s a matter of simply catching a train to any target spot in India. There’s no other hurdle to cross.
The reason is simple. A huge stretch of the border Bengal shares with Bangladesh is porous and lying virtually unguarded. Consider this: The Swarupnagar police station in North 24 Parganas district has a 42-km-long border with Bangladesh under its jurisdiction. But only less than half a km (420 metre) is fenced.
Thus, Bengal has been silently serving as a lifeline for terror outfits since the nineties. And maybe that’s why the state and its capital didn’t have to face any major terror act apart from the American Center attack, in which five policemen were killed in 2002. For, the terrorist doesn’t want his hideout to get noticed.
A Kolkata Police special taskforce officer said, “Border districts and even parts of Kolkata with large minority populations are perfect hideouts for terrorists. Arms, explosives, men and fake currency are routed mainly through Malda, Murshidabad and North and South Dinajpur districts.”
Bengal continued to be the natural breeding ground for the Students Islamic Movement of India — even though it was banned in 2001 and despite the crackdown by the Left Front government in 2006 just after the Mumbai serial blasts. Police sources said a large number of madrasas and local clubs in Bengal are still run by the SIMI.
The transition from an amateurish student body to an elaborate killing machine began when Kolkata born brothers Asif and Amir Reza helped found the Indian Mujahideen. Asif, a resident of Beniapukur — a central Kolkata locality of a mixed population of mainly Muslims and Anglo-Indians — made his mark by abducting Partha Roy Burman, owner of shoe-manufacturing company Khadim, in 2001.
Asif was arrested in 2001 and was killed in an encounter a few months later by the Gujarat police. But before that, he managed to raise the Asif Reza Khan Commando Force along with Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, another city-based outfit which claimed responsibility for the American Center attack.
Amir, who succeeded Asif, is responsible for a number of blasts in India. Police sources say Amir is wanted both by the Indian security agencies and the Interpol. He is currently in Pakistan and is one of the Indian Mujahideen leaders.
There’s more. The co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen, Yasin Bhatkal, was another big fish caught in Bengal. In 2009, Bhatkal was arrested by the Kolkata Police in a fake currency case and was lodged in jail for a month.
But the police failed to identify Bhatkal and allowed him bail. Bhatkal duly jumped bail and fled the country. He later engineered a number of blasts, including the ones in Pune’s German Bakery and in Hyderabad.