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On the margin of terror

It is a story of how a group of radicals tapped into the communal divide post the Babri Masjid demolition so successfully fostered a sense of alienation among Muslim youth. Presley Thomas reports. SIMI's terror network
Hindustan Times | By Presley Thomas, Indore
UPDATED ON APR 20, 2008 04:06 AM IST

How and when did a perfectly innocuous students organisation, working for the welfare of Muslim youth, become a radical outfit that has gone so far down the fundamentalist path that it has called for the 'Liberation of India through Islam'?

It is a story of how a group of radicals tapped into the communal divide post the Babri Masjid demolition so successfully fostered a sense of alienation so complete among Muslim youth that the Supreme Court of India has termed the Students Islamic Movement of India or SIMI “a secessionist movement”.

SIMI was formed soon after the Emergency in 1975 and attempted to work with other Islamic organizations. Mohammad Aslam Ghazi, spokesperson for the Maharashtra unit of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an influential Islamic revivalist movement, has told the Hindustan Times in an earlier interview that SIMI would often seek the Jamaat’s advice on spiritual and other matters.

However, the organisations started drifting apart when SIMI acquired tinges of radicalism. The rift grew when, in 1982, the Jamaat got together several small student bodies under the umbrella of the Students’ Islamic Organisation (SIO) and SIMI refused to join in.

Like many other above-board Islamic organisations, the Jamaat moved to disassociate itself with SIMI and issued a circular to that effect when the latter became stridently and openly radical. The move was representative of how SIMI slowly alienated itself from the Islamic mainstream.

Then came the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. And there was no looking back for SIMI.

By the late ’90s, state governments had started cracking down on its activists. And in 2001, the government imposed a blanket ban on the organisation.

All overt activities at its headquarters at Zakir Nagar in New Delhi came to a sudden halt as its senior leaders and prominent activists went into hiding.

By then, however, SIMI had already made serious inroads across the length and breadth of the country. From Uttar Pradesh in the north to Kerala in the south, from West Bengal in the east to Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, SIMI had built up a formidable network of sympathisers.

That network suffered a collapse following the ban. Not for long, though.

One man, Noman Badr, a resident of Haldwani in Uttaranchal and a member of SIMI’s Central Advisory Committee (CAC), took upon himself the task of bringing the organisation back to its feet.

Badr first organised a crucial meeting at his house in Haldwani, some time late in 2001. Safdar Nagori, then a 31-year-old member of the CAC, driven by the charged atmosphere, got up and sounded the battle cry for ‘Islamic Inquilab’.

It was the turning point in the organisation’s revival.

Nagori has, since then, been the architect of SIMI’s radical strategy and the steady growth of its extremist wing.

Amil Parvez, another CAC member, was one of Nagori’s right-hand men. A high-school dropout who once stitched men’s clothes and then repaired airconditioners for a living, Parvez came from a very religious family.

He was arrested under the National Security Act in the last week of March 2006 from his hometown of Unhel near Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. He was released in the first week of June 2006.

In his statement, Parvez told the police that at the meeting, it was decided that the former office bearers of SIMI would concentrate on collecting funds. “Everyone was given a different target,” Parvez told interrogators.

But they would do it quietly and of course, clandestinely. From 2001 to 2004, SIMI’s activists maintained as low a profile as they could while scouting for new recruits and gathering the funds that would be required for all their plans.

A rally was even organised to commemorate the demolition of Babri Masjid, said Parvez, in which ex-SIMI president Ghulam Sarwar Falahi took part and donated Rs 35,000 too.

Parvez soon moved up the organisational ladder. In the month of Ramzan, 2001, he replaced Dr Mohammed Arif Abrar as the chief of the Bihar unit, floated two organisations under the banner of the Muslim Students Federation of Bihar and the Tehreek Tahaffuz-e-Sha'aire Islam (Movement for Protection of Islamic Symbols and Monuments) and used them to collect funds.

But like any other organisation, SIMI had its share of internal conflicts. In 2004, a meeting was called to sort out the differences between CAC members. Safdar Nagori, Dr Abrar, then-president Shahid Badr Falahi, Imran Ansari, Asif Khan, Irshan Khan, Yasin Patel, P M Salam, Ashraf Jafri, Tahil Jamaal, Akram Falah, Dr Anis, Amir were among those present. This was the first time that the personal differences between members came out.

Shahid Badr Falahi accused Safdar Nagori of working on his own whims and fancies without consulting the CAC. Accounts were not properly maintained, it was alleged. After some heated arguments, Shahid Badr and Safdar Nagori resigned.

But a month later, at a meeting at Sarai Mir in Azamgarh, the duo was reinstated. Shahid and Safdar, who were great friends, had fallen apart but continue to maintain a professional relationship. “Now they just talk for operational purposes,” states Parvez.

More clandestine meetings followed. Kozhikode and Alwaye in Kerala, Mira Road in Mumbai, Amravati, Choral in Madhya Pradesh, Vadodara — the locations for some of the meetings held by SIMI reveal the area of its influence.

The meetings were used to assign responsibilities, and to plan the organisation’s finances. At the Choral meting, for instance, the contributions to be collected from each state were decided.

The targets were five lakh from Karnataka, three each from Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, two lakh from Maharashtra and a lakh from Kerala. At the Alwaye meeting, in February 2006, the current president Misbah-ul-Islam and current all-India general secretary Peelickal Abdul Shibli were elected.

The last meeting was the Vadodara one, where top SIMI members including Nagori, met at a mosque near the national highway No 8 and discussed the action to be taken against the atrocities Muslims suffered during the Gujarat riots of 2002.

And then came the sensational arrests of Safdar Nagori, Shibli, Madhya Pradesh state chief Kamruddin Nagori (no relative of Safdar) and Amil Parvez and nine others by the special task force of the Madhya Pradesh police.

The arrests should be a huge setback for SIMI. It will, no doubt, try to regroup. Till then, perhaps the country can take a small breather. But the enforcement agencies cannot afford to; the hunt continues.

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