His name means ‘bad’ in Hindi and ‘old’ in Assamese. The police aren’t sure how old Bura Bhai is, but they say few in Assam are as bad as him.
Bura Bhai aka Ashiq ran a martial arts training institute at Daukhanagar in western Assam’s Chirang district. A police raid in September revealed it was a front for a group providing arms training to Islamist outfits associated with the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
“A Bangladesh-based pan-Islamic terror group, JMB has spread to Assam and other Indian states after Dhaka’s crackdown against its members,” Khagen Sarma, Assam’s director general of police, said.
Assam Police have so far arrested 24 JMB members who confessed to being part of the JMB module in Assam. But Bura Bhai gave them the slip, suspected to have sneaked into Bangladesh.
The escape of Bura Bhai – from Barpeta district like Sahanur Alom, the “key accused” in the Burdwan (West Bengal) blast last year – was akin to that of Abdur Rehman, currently in Karachi and reportedly enjoying the protection of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Rehman heads the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), one of the many radicalised Islamist outfits formed on either side of the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. He is believed to be aiding Bangladesh and Assam-based terror groups.
MULTA and other outfits such as Islamic Liberation Army of Assam were active much before Indian Mujahideen and Students’ Islamic Movement of India graduated to terror. They reportedly influenced areas dominated by Bengali-speaking migrant Muslims, particularly in nine districts where they account for 52-80% of the population.
If the MULTA, seeking to safeguard the interests of Muslims in Assam, is believed to have some 150 members around, an estimated 200 Muslim youths are reported to have crossed over to Bangladesh to join Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), both backed by the ISI.
The Islamist outfits, though, had been lying low until the 2012 communal violence in areas under the Bodo tribal council made JMB tap simmering anger among migrant Muslims. Recovery of motivational videos of the al-Qaeda and Islamic State-kind during the September raid of a JMB camp indicated a radicalisation drive.
Online jihad has now compounded the problems of the security forces.
“We have no input about anyone from Assam having joined the IS but a lot of interest has been generated in the state. We are alert and worried,” Sarma said.
Intelligence agencies say the seeds of Islamist fundamentalism are sown in madrasas in Assam that allegedly are safe havens for illegal migrants. The state government has no record of the number of madrasas but of an estimated 1,466, only 810 are registered. Most of these are flourishing on largely inaccessible sandbars in districts bordering Bangladesh.
According to the National Investigation Agency, arrested JMB operator Sahanur confessed to have established some of these madrasas in Barpeta district as nurseries of radicalisation.
The challenges that Islamic radicalisation and jihad pose for Assam and Manipur – the People’s United Liberation Front there was formed by Pangals (Muslims) after communal clashes in 1993 – was underscored at the Northeast security review meeting in Guwahati last July.
“Islamic radicalisation is not only a threat to Assam but the country as a whole. The centre and state governments need to work in tandem to stave off this challenge,” Union home minister Rajnath Singh said during the meeting.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi also highlighted the “expansion of Islamic radical forces through frontal organizations such as Popular Front of India (PFI) that are active in communally sensitive areas in the state”.
Gogoi said the PFI’s activities have been noticed in Assam’s char (sandbar) areas inhabited by migrant Muslims.
The alarm bells vis-a-vis Islamist terror were first rung by former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. His statement on April 6, 2000 termed the growth of Islamist
militancy as an ISI initiative for promotion of fundamentalism and communal discord in Assam.
In August 2004, the Congress government said it had no direct evidence of ISI activities but later indicated the Pakistani agency was behind MULTA and HuM’s operations in the state. Three years later, the ministry of home affairs identified 14 Islamic radical organisations.
But many Muslim organisations such as Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind have questioned the veracity of such claims.