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Indian Mujahideen: Little- known terror outfit that kept the country on tenterhooks

The IM made use of a psychological weapon — the threat e-mail that tormented both citizens and law enforcement agencies alike

mumbai Updated: Oct 07, 2017 23:02 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Indian Mujahideen,Mohammed Sadiq Israr Shaikh,Asif Raza Commando Force
Interrogations led agencies to believe that it was an offshoot of the Asif Raza Commando Force (ARCF) that carried out a shooting at the US Consulate in Kolkata in 2002(PIC FOR REPRESENTATION)

The Indian Mujahideen’s (IM) name first cropped up when it sent investigating agencies and security forces scrambling after it sent an email before the 2008 serial blasts in Ahmedabad. Little was known about the outfit till the Mumbai police that year arrested 22 people, including its co-founder Mohammed Sadiq Israr Shaikh — a Class 11 drop-out from Mumbai.

Interrogations led agencies to believe that it was an offshoot of the Asif Raza Commando Force (ARCF) that carried out a shooting at the US Consulate in Kolkata in 2002. The ARCF was formed in 2001 by gangsters-turned-terrorists Aftab Ansari and Amir Raza Khan, brother of Asif Raza, who was killed in a police encounter in Gujarat 2001. The organisation did not last long after the Kolkata Police rounded up most of its operatives. Khan fled to Dubai, where he met Ansari again. The two then roped in Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Bhatkal and Mohammed Sadiq Israr Sheikh to form the IM. Sadiq was indoctrinated and trained in Pakistani terrorist training camps at Khan’s behest.

In 2003, when Sadiq got back to India, he met his old friend Arif Badruddin Sheikh and asked him to scout for youngsters to fight for the ‘Muslim cause’ in India. Arif got Sadiq in touch with several youth who were all sent to Pakistan for training. When they got back, there were more waiting to go. Through the fresh recruits, Sadiq got in touch with more youth. In this time, the Bhatkal brothers were busy recruiting in the south. Khan took care of the expenses.

With the training underway, Khan wanted results. He sent a message to Sadiq and the gang got busy. With the help of key men like Riyaz and Arif, they planned blasts in Delhi, the Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi, Shramjeevi Express and Mumbai trains. Over the next few years, bombs went off in Gorakhpur, Hyderabad, Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat and Delhi.

In August 2007, the IM first plotted the deadly Delhi and Gujarat blasts. Explosives were collected in Mumbai and taken to Delhi. The plan for the blasts in Gujarat was formulated by Riyaz, Sadiq and one Aatif Sheikh in Mumbai in June 2008. Teams were divided — Aatif was assigned Ahmedabad, Riyaz Surat.

In September 2005, when Arif had returned from Pakistan, Sadiq asked him to make timers. Arif’s first attempt to make a working timer using an alarm clock of the Ajanta Company failed, so he used a Samay clock — the results of which were successful. Arif made six bombs and gave them to Sadiq. These were later used in the Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar blasts in Delhi in October 2005.

Arif got several such instructions and he delivered on all of them. His bombs were used in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and UP courts; the bombs found across Surat the day after the Ahmedabad bombings were his handiwork too.

The IM also made use of a psychological weapon — the threat e-mail. And more than the blasts, what terrorised people was the dreaded e-mail that tormented both citizens and law enforcement agencies alike. Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy, a 31-year-old software engineer with Yahoo, turned out to be the face behind the e-mails. Spotted by IM operatives Asif Sheikh and Anique Sayyed at Quran Foundation classes in Pune, where Peerbhoy was learning Arabic, he was radicalised by the Bhatkal brothers. As bombs went off in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi last, Peerbhoy mocked one and all, including the intelligence bureau that he nicknamed the “ignorance” bureau. He signed off with an arrogant “stop it if you can”.

But after key operatives of the outfit was arrested by Mumbai police, the founder members — Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal 0ù escaped to Pakistan along with a bunch of other IM operatives in 2009. They tried to revive the outfit again but could not find much success. An internal feud between Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, and a faction led by Mirza Ali Baig saw a defection from the ranks of IM with Baig and company joining the Islamic State.

First Published: Oct 07, 2017 23:02 IST