January 29, Kanpur Central: Two men step out from the train into the cold. A lone man waits near a bookstore on the platform. Smiles are exchanged and a bundle wrapped in newspapers changes hands. In a flash, the duo is back on board the Kushi Nagar Express. Their visitor has melted into the night. Forty hours later, the train chugs into Lok Manya Tilak Railway Terminus. A team from the Mumbai Crime Branch is waiting. The duo is caught and the packet seized.
Sleuths unravelling the plot of Tuesday's serial blasts on Mumbai's lifeline invariably go back to the events of those 48 hours and the consignment it brought to the country's financial capital--- C4 explosive, better known as RDX. This was the first time the law enforcers had come across such a high-grade explosive from militants. The arrested duo was Mushiruddin Siddiqui and his Nepali chum Mansoor Ansari.
In months to come, the seizure was followed by other operations, which climaxed in one of biggest hauls of RDX in May ---- the seizures in Aurangabad, Manmad, Malegaon and Nasik. Twelve people were arrested with 50 kilos of RDX, 3,000 rounds of ammunition, 60 hand grenades and 15 AK guns. All were Ummas, former cadre of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) ---- a clear signal of SIMI's resurgence not only in Maharashtra but in five other states.
Mushiruddin, a resident of Thane district, was the key player in the serial blasts in BEST buses and Mansoor was a new entrant in the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba structure. After his name cropped up, Mushiruddin slipped out of Mumbai and stayed in Kanpur for seven months. He rented a house first in Hitkari Nagar and then moved to Roshan Nagar. His house, say intelligence sources, was used for stockpiling explosives as it was near to IIT Kanpur --- one of the targets of the Lashkar terror machine. The IIT administration even received a warning e-mail on January 23. The plan to attack the tech institute, however, was abandoned. The focus and explosives were shifted to the familiar territory ---Mumbai.
In fact, Mumbai had never disappeared from the SIMI’s terror radar. After lying low for a year, it relocated in Mumbai with the help of its large bank of sympathisers. The diaries of its finance secretary Imran Ansari showed that 70 per cent of its finances came from Mumbai. Sympathisers even had put SIMI on the payment list of trusts based in Saudi Arabia and UK, funding the Muslim cause worldwide.
The SIMI, in turn, cast a wide terror net. It harboured militants, became the stepping ground for LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen and provided them back-up. After the IISc attack in Bangalore, the flow of consignment to Mumbai got heavier, Mushiruddin told interrogators. The explosives carried by sleeping agents were stock piled in pockets near the city so that the consignment could be relocated at any given point of time.
For seven months, they bided their time. Until Tuesday.