Ending the suspense: Mystery of Burdwan blast explained
An explosion in West Bengal's Burdwan district killed two people on October 2. The incident hit national headlines because of allegations that a Bangladeshi militant organisation was linked and that it had got political patronage. HT explains the political battle between BJP and Trinamool Congress over the blast and who are the suspects.
What happened in Burdwan?
On October 2 a blast in a house in the Khagragarh area of Burdwan in West Bengal killed two people and critically injured a third person. The two dead men have been identified as Shovan Mandal and Shakil Ahmed, also known as Ghazi. The injured man has been identified as Abdul Halim, also known as a Hasan Saheb. Two women were also found in the house and later arrested. They are Ahmed's wife Rumi Bibi and Halim's wife Amina Bibi.
What do the authorities suspect was happening in the Burdwan house?The investigators suspect the people who were living in the house belong to a Bangladeshi militant organisation known as the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). The JMB is opposed to the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh.
Investigators outside the house where the blast occued. (HT Photo)
What is the JMB?
The JMB is believed to have been formed in 1998 by an Islamic fundamentalist known as Abdur Rehman. It was relatively unknown till it claimed responsibility for 300 blasts across Bangladesh in August 2005. Its stated aim is to create an "Islamic state" in Bangladesh that is ruled by Sharia or the Islamic laws. It is also believed to have drawn inspiration from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The main aim of JMB is to build a strong base with at least 100 full-time cadres in Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia districts. JMB leaders are believed to have visited these madrassas in July and August this year to strengthen its base in West Bengal. These visits flow out of a resolution that was passed by the JMB's senior leadership during a training programme held near the Darul-Ulum-Majharul madrassa in Nawabganj, Bangladesh.
The house in Burdwan where the blast took place is believed to be one of the many modules that operate out of West Bengal.
What is JMB's connection to India?
For years Indian intelligence agencies have believed the JMB is using West Bengal as a sanctuary. They believe that JMB has established links with seven madrassas in state's border districts – Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia. Its primary objectives are to generate funds and sustain a recruitment drive. Indian intelligence also believes that seven madrassas are key to the JMB's plans. These are – Behadaha Ahle Hadees Shishu madrassa in Behadaha, Murshidabad; Mahadul Tawheed Motinunge madrassa, Ratua, Malda; Al Jemeahtus Salafia Darul Quran madrassa, in Kabilpur, Murshidabad; Dengel madrassa, Natida; Jamia Islami madrassa, Mayapur, Nadia and Vado Jamia Islajul Musemin madrassa, Ratua, Malda.
What was found from the house where the blast occurred?
The investigators found burned pamphlets that called for jihad. One of the pamphlets featured al Qaeda's current leader, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman Al-Zawahri. Most of the pamphlets address Mujahids and some the "…brothers in Chechnya." The investigators also found a DVD supporting the al Qaeda and the Chechen rebels. They also found a user manual for making advanced bombs, but most of the explosives that were recovered were quite crude.
What has the investigation revealed about possible terror attacks?
The investigation so far is largely based on revelations by the two women and links between the deceased men indicate a large-scale operation to make improvised explosives. The architecture of the bombs is similar to the ones used by Darbhanga module of the Indian Mujahideen to target a rally addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Patna before the 2014 general elections.
While this does not establish any connection between the IM and the JMB, it raises suspicions about the similarity in training between the two terror outfits.The arrested women have also revealed that two men killed in the Burdwan blast were responsible for picking up raw material from Kolkata for manufacturing the bombs. A man, identified as Ali Kausar, picked up the bombs and distributed it to the other operatives.
Suspects in Burdwan blast taken into custody. (HT Photo)
He employed two people to carry the bombs to the Bangladesh border with West Bengal. They would take an early morning train from Burdwan carrying the bombs in large gunny bags. They would take a break and then travel by bus to Beldanga where they had a hideout for a night halt. From there they would proceed to Lalgola, which is right on the border, using rickshaws to a madrassa where the bombs would be handed over to their Bangladeshi counterparts. The NIA also arrested a Rohingya national from Hyderabad, Khalid Mohammed, raising concerns about an emerging alliance of terror outfits from the East.
What did the two arrested women reveal about the JMB terror module?
The women have said a religious leader operating from the Shimulia madrassa in Burdwan first contacted the members of the Burdwan module. This madrassa was also used as an indoctrination and training centre. This included physical fitness sessions, learning how to make grenades and the use of firearms. Investigators also suspect the madrassa had links with the Assam Jamaitul Mujahideen - a newly-created terror outfit. The training was imparted in three shifts, starting at 5am. Each training batch would have 15 youth who would also learn to make bombs at night.
Is there any connection between the blast and the ruling Trinamool Congress?
While there are reports about fund transfers between the controversial Saradha Group, believed to be close to the ruling TMC and the JMB, there is no evidence to support that claim. The only tenuous link that is on record is the fact that the local TMC unit in Burdwan was also housed on the ground floor of the same house.
Why is the state and Centre sparring over the incident?
The BJP-led government at the Centre believes the state government in West Bengal was scuttling the probe into the Burdwan incident. The initial tardy response of the West Bengal police led to spat between the two governments. The case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the Centre's insistence.
The National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval also visited the area and met chief minister Mamata Banerjee to reiterate the seriousness of the threat from the JMB. The chief minister protested that while she welcomed the NIA probe, she was upset her government was kept out of the loop of the investigation.
BJP president Amit Shah, addressing a rally in Kolkata on Sunday, alleged there were linkages between the Burdwan blast investigation and the Trinamool Congress, but investigators say that such a link is yet to be established. Clearly, the case has now become a political war of words between the BJP, hoping to make gains in the state, and the ruling TMC.