On the morning of January 11, 2008, at Honnali on the Hosur-Hubli road in Karnataka, a policeman stopped two young men riding a motorcycle. One of them was not wearing a helmet. The usual questions followed, papers were demanded and it was found that the motorcyclists were carrying several number-plates, ostensibly assigned in several states.
The two men were arrested. One of them, Raziuddin Naser, originally from Hyderabad, turned out to be a key operative of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) — later to metamorphose into the Indian Mujahideen (IM) — somebody the Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat Police had been seeking.
Naser and his accomplice were on their way to Goa, as he told interrogators, to “conduct serial blasts... to kill Israeli and American tourists”. If that mission had gone well, he was due to travel to Bangalore to attempt to bomb installations of IT companies. Naser’s statement before the Karnataka police makes for fascinating reading. In the context of the rather pointless debate about whether the ten Pakistani terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008, had “local support” or did not, it is worth revisiting what Naser told his questioners about the methods and motivational protocols of domestic jihadists.
Of course, no single interrogation or piece of evidence can reveal the entire truth. Yet, from what intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies have gathered over the past year — the Anti-Terrorist Squads (ATS) in Lucknow, Mumbai and Gandhinagar, in particular, are sitting on a mine of information, as are police officers in locations as far apart as Bhopal and Hyderabad — the different, disparate pieces of the jigsaw begin to fit. It becomes obvious that the interoperability of and relationship between groups such as the IM and external agents recruited in, say, Pakistani Punjab and trained in Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) camps, are neither absolute nor completely absent.
Naser is the son of a religio-political preacher called Mohammed Naseeruddin. Secretary of the Hyderabad-based Tehreek Tahfuzz Shaeer-e-Islam, the father was once arrested by the local police for terror-related activities. In October 2004, he was arrested by the Gujarat Police in the Old City of Hyderabad, in an operation that was hindered by massive crowds and led to firing in which a local youth was killed. By then, Naser and at least one of his brothers — now also in the custody of the Karnataka Police — were already converts. Naser explained that after 9/11, he had been much taken with the idea of joining the jihad against America in Afghanistan. In August 2005, he travelled to Saudi Arabia, a trip facilitated by a Hyderabadi friend whose brother, Abdul Samad, lived in Jeddah. Samad sent Naser for what eventually became an 18-month, multi-location training programme in Pakistan.
It is here that the story gets interesting. Naser describes different types of training in different cities. From Karachi, he is driven to Gwadar (Baluchistan), where he is introduced — along with others — to the use of assault rifles that include AK-47s, light-machine guns, “Bren machine guns.... Austrian Styre sniper rifles” and so on.
At the LeT complex of Markaz Tayyabah, near Lahore, he is taught horse riding. In Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, in Muzaffarabad and Manshehra — where one of his co-trainees is a Maldives national called ‘Abu Zaid’, who Naser says was later killed in the Kashmir Valley — and in a “mountainous” training centre he learns about “guerrilla warfare, ambush, hideout, raid, camouflage, recce...” In Rawalpindi, he learns of the “use of satellite phones… [and] disadvantages of using mobile and land lines”. In PoK again, he mixes hydrogen peroxide with rice, dal, mehndi and tobacco, and produces explosives. When Naser was arrested, he was on his way to waylay a truck that he knew was carrying hydrogen peroxide — a chemical that has industrial uses but is also present in cosmetics. He was to carry a part of his loot to Goa and execute the bombings. The use of hydrogen peroxide, easily available and not as difficult to source as say RDX, was seen as a cheap, low-cost terror mechanism.
It is worth noting that the 2008 terror bombings in, for example, Delhi and Ahmedabad also used commonly accessible chemicals. Earlier, two suspected terrorists had been arrested in Goa — in an incident unrelated to Naser — while working in a beauty parlour, attempting to pilfer cosmetics and hydrogen peroxide.
On January 1, 2008, in preparation for the Goa mission, a contact called ‘Aslam’ had visited Naser in Hubli and gave him two fake student identity cards — of BVB College of Engineering, Hubli, and of St Aloysius College. Ironically, the terrorists who attacked the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Hotels in Mumbai also carried student identity cards related to Karnataka-based colleges. Is this suggestive of a local link, admittedly a low-level and possibly non-lethal one, or is this a mere coincidence?
Was the intensive, sometimes commando-style training Naser got indicative of his recruiters identifying him for a high-profile urban guerrilla-style attack and then deciding he wasn’t up to it and demoting him to the less sophisticated, hydrogen peroxide type bombings? Do the 26/11 attacks and the dozen-odd bombings that major Indian cities experienced in 2007-08 form a continuum? To the UPA government, have these become inconvenient truths?
(Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based writer)