The hot-tempered Manipuri man was a long way from home: the first known Lashkar-e-Taiba militant from the Northeast had lost his way in the mountains of Kashmir, after walking out in a huff from his camp with an AK-47.
Shibil Umar of Manipur’s Thoubal district was arrested, and security officials say that the case highlights the tale of the changing face of Kashmir’s militant, as rebels recruit people from other parts of India, as well as Myanmarese refugees, Nepalese and Bangladeshis so that they don’t have the easily identifiable sharp Kashmiri features and can melt into communities.
“Militant groups in Kashmir are shifting their attention from J&K to other different-looking people who can mix in – like Indians from other areas, Nepalis or Bangladeshis,” said a security official in Kashmir. That has also partly been forced by the sharply-reducing infiltration from PoK and the severe reduction in Kashmir Valley recruitments.
One officer compared it to the recently reported attempt by the al-Qaida to recruit White recruits in the West.
Manipur, home to India’s most complex insurgency, has not been known to have any previous link with Kashmir’s militancy, until three Manipuri youth were arrested from near the Red Fort in the capital last year on suspicion of being militants. Other suspects are from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and other areas, sent to operate in their respective areas, not the valley.
Kashmir’s police have cautioned its Uttar Pradesh counterparts that Nepali Muslim youth are reportedly being “preached subversive and pro-militant activities” in a madrasa in Muzaffarnagar. A Nepali man was arrested recently in Kashmir and accused of having links with militants, but the charges are not proved so far.
More recently, 15 Arakanese Muslims from Myanmar were arrested in the border town of Moreh in Manipur in August for suspected terror links.
Indian officials say thousands are entering India illegally through the porous border where surveillance is extremely difficult due to the rough terrain. “The oppressed Arakanese are easy targets for groups like the Lashkar,” said the security official in Manipur.
In Kashmir, “the Manipuri boy arrested here did not come to become a terrorist, I am pretty certain of that. He got sucked into it,” a security official said. But Umar mirrors what officials say is the story of many other youth from outside Kashmir.
In his Mayum Leikei village in Manipur, Umar studied in a local madrasa, then went to Muzaffarnagar in the sugar stronghold of Uttar Pradesh in 2001 to study at another madrasa, he told his interrogators. Two years later, he shifted to a madrasa in Meerut, but was soon expelled by the amir (the chief) for a scuffle with another student.
He then worked at a factory of embroidered clothes in Ghaziabad for Rs 2,400 a month, renting a cloth merchant’s home with three other Manipuri youth. They included Afsaan, a former member of the People’s Liberation Army, a Manipuri rebel group.
In the winter of 2006, Umar was introduced in Muzaffarnagar to an Indian and a Nepali man, both allegedly from the Lashkar, at a madrasa where many Nepali Muslim youth come to study. In April 2007, the Nepali man – identified by police as Anwar-ul-Haq – allegedly took Umar and Afsaan by train and subsequently in a Sumo to a training camp, where they were taught to handle an AK-47, an M-20 pistol and to throw grenades.
In August, Umar had another scuffle with a trainer, and left the camp with the trainer’s AK-47 and his own .303 rifle – wandered as a stranger through hilly terrain before being arrested by police.