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IM, Indian terror group's foreign masters

Indian Mujahideen, the terrorist group blamed for several bomb blasts in the country, may claim to be working for Muslims in the country but people who created it and inspire it are far away in foreign shores. Rajesh Ahuja writes.
Hindustan Times | By Rajesh Ahuja, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2011 08:49 PM IST

Indian Mujahideen, the terrorist group blamed for several bomb blasts in the country, may claim to be working for Muslims in the country but the people who created it and inspire it are far away in foreign shores.

"Eye for an eye; the dust will never settle down," said Indian Mujahideen (IM) in e-mail on September 13, 2008 when it claimed credit for five bomb blasts in Delhi that day.

Three months earlier, a similar message of hate and revenge had come from an international terrorist.

"So brothers and sisters we ask Allah Almighty that he raises amongst us men and women who… would make the Kuffar realize that they by committing blasphemy against our beloved Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) have actually walked straight into a hornet's nest and that the dust of this will never settle down," said Anwar Al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American ideologue of al Qaeda in a sermon in May 2008.

Al-Awlaki was talking about "lessons" that had to be taught for the publication of cartoons of the Prophet in the Jyllands-Posten, a Danish paper.

Almost all recent terrorist plots in America have been linked to al-Awlaki, who is believed to be hiding in Yemen.

He was in touch with Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter.

Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab, the Christmas day bomber also met him and Faisal Shahzad, Pakistani-American accused of Times Square bombing attempt, said he was inspired by al-Awlaki.

Indian intelligence agencies are not sure if the similarity between the al-Awlaki's sermon and IM mail was a coincidence or deliberate, but they are certain that the terrorist group's prime inspiration comes from global jehadi elements.

The IM e-mails talked about the Babri demolition or Gujarat riots, but Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief in Afghanistan was anointed as one the leaders of the outfit. And the happenings in Iraq and Afghansitan fueled the anger of its operatives.

Indian intelligence agencies have collected more evidence in the last two years that show how the IM was floated at the behest of ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency with the active support from the Laskar-e-Tayyeba.

Amir Raza Khan, the top leader of IM was sitting in Karachi while coordinating terror strikes in India. Two more top leaders of the IM - Iqbal Bhatkal and Riyaz Bhatkal - have also taken shelter in Pakistan since fleeing away from India after Indian agencies reached their hideout in Karnataka in 2008.

It was a tactical move by the ISI to use local youths in terror activities so that the international focus should remain away from it for its operations in India. And Hindu extremists have played into the hands of ISI.

Swami Aseemanand, the ideologue who gave a new direction to Sunil Joshi and his group for carrying out retaliatory terror strikes against muslims, told interrogators that the bomb blast at Varanasi's Sankat Mochan temple really rankled him.

A meeting was immediately organsied by the hindu extremists where they decided to implement bomb-for-bomb policy by targeting local Muslims. It also helped that the members of the group led by Sunil Joshi and Aseemanand were already radicalised because of various local factors.

Similar is the case of those Muslim youths who were entrapped by the ISI and its recruiters. Most of the IM operatives have been members of the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

They had become battle-hardened due to the surcharged political atmosphere of the 80s and 90s. They had reasons to feel victimised by the soft right-of-centre approach of the parties in power at point in time.

By the time the ISI decided to use local Muslim youths for its India operations, the demolition of Babri Masjid, the riots in Mumbai and Gujarat aggravated the situation.

But still it was an ISI tactic which fueled the fire that is raging now.

The 2002 Gujarat riots have been a blot on the Indian democracy. Many operatives of the IM have told their interrogators that the Gujarat riots were a turning moment in their life.

But on the other hand it is also true that Sadiq Shaikh, allegedly one of the top operatives of the IM who took part in almost all initial operations of the IM, including Sankat Mochan blast, went to Pakistan for training in handling arms and ammunitions in 2001, much before the Gujarat riots.

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