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Why Bangalore?

Post Glasgow, the global terror chase has come dangerously closer home — for India as well as its Muslims, writes Abhishek Sharan.
Hindustan Times | By Abhishek Sharan, Bangalore
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2007 06:36 PM IST

Kafeel Ahmed, the 27-year-old enginneer whose parents are doctors, could well turn out to be the harbinger of ‘global jihad’ in India, say intelligence officers monitoring the probe in Bangalore. And Bangalore, dotted with blue-chip IT and management companies, with a very strong locally-produced technical work-force that could be indoctrinated for the ‘cause’, might well become India’s gateway to global jihad.

At an Islamic study centre on the first floor of a building named Dar-us-Salam, on Queen’s Road, Kafeel would hold lectures for the indoctrination and recruitment of like-minded individuals into his sleeper terror cell. He exhorted them to wage jihad to avenge atrocities against Muslims across the globe — in Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Kafeel, a top Intelligence Bureau officer points out, is not known to have mentioned the jihad in Kashmir; his focus was global. More devastatingly, he succeeded in participating and spearheading the ‘operation’ against a western country, arguably the first Indian to do so (he allegedly made the three car bombs used in the UK attacks). He also allegedly headed an al Qaeda terror cell along with a co-suspect, Iraqi doctor Bilal Abdullah.

Kafeel’s priorities and terror profile are peripherally akin to those of 31-year-old Faisal Sheikh, the western India ‘commander’ of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and the alleged mastermind of last year’s July 11 serial train blasts in Mumbai that killed 187 and maimed close to 900. It was the second-most dastardly terror strike in India after the 1993 Mumbai blasts.

Like Kafeel, Faisal too represented the new face of the Indian jihadi — educated, well-heeled and technology-savvy. Kafeel, says an IB officer, represents the graduation of India’s existing country-specific jihadi terror infrastructure into the dangerous final stage — with the US and Europe being the main targets.

And Kafeel could be the turning point. Till now, terror outfits in the country have belonged to the ‘first stage’ that is targeted against India, says a senior IB officer monitoring the ongoing probe in Bangalore.

“Till now, India and the West have had different problems. For the West, it is about dealing with Islamic terror groups that seek revenge for dismantling their world, especially in the Middle East, Asia and Africa,” explains the officer. But for India, he says, it has been our fight against terror groups that are sponsored by the Pakistan-Bangladesh axis, and which are conspiring to re-conquer India and establish a khilafat (succession or representation) — whether it is in Kashmir, Mumbai, or south India.”

Which is why, he argues, Kafeel might be the first global Indian jihadi.

Karnataka’s DGP KR Srinivasan says, “As the country’s knowledge capital, Bangalore is an obvious terror target, and now, a recruiting ground as well, it seems. With Hindi being quite commonly spoken, the culture of the city is such that any stranger can marge in the crowd, whether he is a Kashmiri, a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi.”

Investigators believe that Kafeel’s terror sleeper cell could have carried out reconnaissance of the IT hub to target it, having spent some months as an aeronautical engineer at the Infotech Enterprises, an Indian outsourcing firm located near the Electronic City. Among the 13 nabbed by the police, most had conducted reconnaissance of the Electronic City and had planned to target it.

Bangalore had also attracted Kashmiri jihad veteran, 35-year-old computer engineer Imran Bilal, a suspect in the attack at the Indian Institute of Science on December 28, 2005. He had set up a Lashkar sleeper cell to “offer logistical support to terror operations”, according to revelations made to Bangalore’s Forensic Science Laboratory.

A resident of Hazratbal, he joined the Kashmiri jihad way back in 1989 and enlisted in the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. He later switched over to the LeT after he became convinced that jihad needed to be waged across the country. In the mid-Nineties, his Pakistan-based mentors asked him to shift to Bangalore and funded his education — he got a degree in computer engineering from this city’s Acharya College in 1998.

Since then, Bilal has admitted to having transported arms and hawala money through Mumbai and Pune to south India. Bilal also told his investigators that “Bangalore is a focal point of the jihad in South India now”, according to a senior investigator.

Another IB officer warns that there are some new dangerous entrants apart from known terror outfits like the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, or the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

“We should look for the Popular Front of India, an umbrella body of disaffected and Islamic groups from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It was floated in early 2007 and was responsible for minor violence in Andhra Pradesh and riots in Kerala, Udipi, Mangalore. It harbours SIMI fugitives,” he says.

‘Does a person who can recite from Gita become a terrorist?’


Aditya Ghosh

“He knew the Quran very well.”

“He could recite many verses impromptu from the Quran.”

These two pointers, recently run by a television channel while describing Glasgow attack suspect Kafeel Ahmed, are representative of the kind of insinuations that have hurt Bangalore’s Muslims deeply. Even as they denounce Kafeel’s act, they also express the community’s anguish and resentment at being the constant targets of such sweeping insinuations.

“Is knowing the Quran a crime? If someone says that he knows the Gita very well and can recite its verses, does that mean that he is a terrorist?” asks M Atahrulla Shariff, vice-president of the Jamat-e-Islami-e-Hind for Karnataka and Goa.

Shariff has taken on the responsibility of bridging the differences between communities in Bangalore. To that end, he has set up a unique forum comprising religious leaders from all communities to spread the message of peace.

But the “trial by media” worries him. “Can’t we wait till the probe is over and we know who’s done what? Dr Mohammed Haneef (held in Australia as a possible suspect in the Glasgow attack) is close to being given a clean chit, so why jump to conclusions and brand a whole community? In any case, Kafeel was indoctrinated in the UK, not here,” he argues. Shariff adds, “We strongly denounce any such act, but one should also remember that a criminal has no religion. He is a human being gone astray.”

Does terror have a religion?

According to a recent research paper compiled by terrorism analyst Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey of The New York Times, none of the suspects arrested for terrorist activities across the world since 1998 had ever attended a madrasa as part of their education. They went to mainstream schools and 54 per cent of them completed their post-graduation from universities. (The rate of university attendance in the overall US population is 52 per cent.)

In this context, other Muslim leaders in Bangalore add their voice to that of Shariff. “We should try to understand why such young men, who have bright careers and intelligent minds, are falling prey to such traps. It cannot be easy to convince them,” says Ateequr Rahman, general secretary of the Students Islamic Organisation.

Some see it as a case of India falling prey to western propaganda against Islam. “Going by The New York Times research paper, it is obvious that Islamic education has nothing to do with terror plots. There have been phases of Sikh and Tamil insurgency and even now, Naxals are rising in many states. We should not necessarily attach a religion to any of them; this is a global phenomenon,” says Moulana Mansoor Ali, a prominent community leader in Bangalore.


Warning signs: Unheeded?

Clearly, Bangalore could not have become a terror hub overnight. Indeed, there have been worrying signals all along. But the authorities seemed to have turned a blind eye to them-till a jeep rammed into the façade of Glasgow airport on June 30, 2007.

Arrest of a Palestinian student with explosives

Bangalore’s first encounter with terror was in 1994. As foreign students from Iran, Palestine and Jordan poured into the city, many terror operatives entered the mainstream through campuses.

Increasing cyber crimes

The city has witnessed a steady increase in cyber crime and now has the highest number of such cases recorded in any Indian city — 188 in 2006, up from a mere 13 in 2001. Yet, the cyber crime division is the Bangalore police’s smallest unit. The result: only 13 chargesheets have been filed since 2001. “We lack manpower, training and a change in the provisions of the law as the Information Technology Act 2000 does not have any teeth,” says Additional Director General of Police (COD), Sushant Mahapatra.

(Dis)advantages of the knowledge economy

Jobs in IT companies mean access to high bandwidths and a platform through which terrorists can code, transmit, share and hide data.

Attack at the IISc

The attack on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science on December 28, 2005 should have sounded the alarm bell. Two gunmen wearing black masks and army uniforms entered the IISc campus in a white Ambassador car and started firing indiscriminately from a rifle. Prof Munish Chandra Puri of IIT Delhi, who was attending a conference, was killed, while four others were injured.

Arrest of Imran Bilal in Hampi

Imran Bilal, the main accused in the IISc case, was arrested on January 5, 2007 from the small town of Hampi, home to a Unesco heritage site in northern Karnataka. Billal’s arrest underlined the fact that the terror network was spreading across the state.

Spurt in number of small mosques

A sudden spurt in the construction of small mosques around the city — over 100 of them — in the last two years is a trend that even Islamic organisations are worried about, since questions about their funding have been raised. “We should have a system of registration for mosques, just as they do for churches,” says M Atahrulla Shariff, vice-president of the Jamat-e-Islami-e-Hind, Karnataka and Goa.

Unprecedented real estate boom

Experts say terror organisations

have tapped into the quick returns in Bangalore’s booming real estate market for funding.

— Aditya Ghosh

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