Noxious community-centric political patronage, spiralling migration and extreme poverty are turning the rural outskirts of West Bengal into a haven for terrorist activities. The National Investigating Agency (NIA), which is probing the recent Burdwan blast, has unearthed a chain of illegal madrasas or Muslim educational centres, which were being used as a cover for providing training to militants. According to NIA sources, the primary objective of these hubs was to give training to prospective militants in explosive manufacturing and in establishing links with international terror outfits.
A seven-page preliminary report submitted by S.K. Singh, who leads the NIA team, to the home ministry, has blamed sympathetic Islamic groups based in neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries for funding the subversive activities in the state.
The terror groups most of whom are members of the banned Jamaat-ul Mujahideen, a Bangladeshi outfit, have managed to infiltrate and start operations with the help of local support since October 2011, according to the report. They recruited young men and women and set up several illegal madrasas in order to introduce their radical philosophy among the minority community.
The initial findings indicate that the investigating agency would require more time to unearth the real magnitude of the conspiracy hatched by terrorists in the rural belts of West Bengal.
“The situation is very complex now. There are several direct and indirect factors involved in it. These illegal madrasas mushroomed over a period of time as practically there was no monitoring or intelligence mechanism available with the local administration,” informs a senior official of the State police. “They (people engaged in terror activities) also enjoy local political support and set up these terror cells right under the nose of the administration,” says the official.
“By cozying up to the ruling Trinamool administration, the terror groups successfully avoided any queries pertaining to their identities from law enforcement agencies,” the official alleges.
Terror on rent
According to sources, they were also given a free hand by the local police in whatever they did. As a result they indiscriminately built up bases, purchased agricultural land to set up illegal madrasas, recruited locals for subversive activities, gave arms training and imparted ideological lessons.
The prevailing socio-economic inequities in the area too played a role. “The terrorist elements successfully spread their networks in the impoverished minority-dominated belts cashing in on factors such as illiteracy and large-scale migration of youths from other parts of the state for jobs,” says another official.
The Burdwan blast on October 2 occurred in a rented two-storeyed building in Khagragarh, reportedly owned by Nurul Hasan Chowdhury, a Trinamool Congress leader. The ground floor of the building was allegedly used as a party office.
Two suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists were killed and a third person was injured in the explosion that occurred in the residential building. The explosion led to the discovery of a cache of arms and ammunition. Two persons, identified as Shakil Ahmed and Swapan Mondal, died in the blast. The injured identified as Abdul Hakim (alias Hasan Saheb), was severely injured and admitted in the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital.
Hakim was later shifted to Kolkata’s SSKM Hospital. He is now being interrogated by the NIA sleuths along with the two women who were also arrested from the house. More than 50 improvised explosive devices were also recovered from the house.
Mamata does U-turn on probe by Centre
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who came in for widespread criticism over the Khagragarh blast in Burdwan on October 2, on Friday, said that she was never against any probe by the National Investigation Agency.
“I was never opposed to NIA investigation,” said Banerjee. “What I expected was that they would at least inform the state government before doing it. The Centre never discussed the issue with us,” she said after a party meeting at the Trinamool Congress’ state headquarters at Topsia on Friday.
As the NIA and National Security Guard (NSG)-led joint investigation is progressing, two things are gaining prominence: one, the terrorist group used to enjoy indirect support from the ruling Trinamool Congress locally and two, there was a massive failure of the state intelligence machinery which failed to identify the suspected terrorists holed up in the rural outskirts.
The state intelligence agencies also failed to monitor activities carried out at madrasas in the rural pockets of Bengal.
Meanwhile, the state government has reportedly turned down the appeal of the NIA to interrogate Abdul Hakim (alias Hasan Saheb), Rumi Bibi, wife of Shakil Ahmed, and Aklima Bibi (alias Amina), wife of Hasan, who are currently in the custody of the state government.
NIA searches house of absconding terror kingpin in Burdwan
The National Investigative Agency along with NSG (National Security Guard) commandos on Saturday searched the premises of Jamat Sheikh, father-in-law of Sheikh Yusuf, one of the prime suspects of the Burdwan terror network.
Yusuf, who is a teacher at the Simulia madrasa, believed to be a training centre for terrorists in Burdwan, is currently absconding. During the search, which lasted for about two hours, the commandos recovered two mobile phones, SIM cards, jehadi literature and cables from the house.
The commandos had earlier recovered a huge cache of sophisticated explosives from other terror hideouts in Burdwan.
According to investigative agencies, the madrasa located 40 km from the Khagragarh blast site is said to have acted as a hub for bankrolling terrorists. Almost all the identified terror operatives, whether dead, arrested or absconding, have been found to have close links with this madrasa, the officers say.
The NIA sleuths have reportedly traced the source of funding for the madrasas to Jamaat-ul Mujahideen (JuMB), a banned Bangladeshi outfit as well as some Wahabi trusts and NGOs based in the Gulf countries.
The investigating officials also believe that the two arrested women, Rumi Bibi, the wife of Shakil Ahmed who was killed in the accidental blast on October 2, and Aklima Bibi alias Amina, wife of Abdul Hakim who was seriously injured, were a part of a trained terrorist women’s brigade.
According to official sources, a group of 20-25 women was formed by the terrorist group in regions such as Burdwan, Nadia, Murshidabad and Birbhum.
They were trained to handle arms and ammunition. The brigade also had knowledge on how to make improvised explosive devices. A total of six people have been arrested in connection with the Burdwan explosion, apart from another six suspects in Assam. The investigating team has also expanded its search to include other neighbouring madrasas that are allegedly operating illegally. The team also found another madrasa at Tamilpukur which was under construction on a huge plot of land without permission.