By Shishir Gupta
March 02, 2013
During a bilateral counter-terrorism meeting last January in North Block, a top home ministry official made an unusual request to a visiting Saudi Arabian diplomat. He said as the custodian of two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia should attempt to delegitimise violence in the name of Islam. Seeking to stop religious radicalisation of youth through internet, the official suggested that clerics of the two mosques should engage the youth through a website or interactive dialogue or televised lectures to give correct interpretations of Islam
The Indian request was rooted in the unravelling of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)'s Bengaluru-Hubli-Nanded module, in August-September 2012, where 19 persons including two medical doctors were radicalised through the fiery speeches of late American-Yemeni cleric Anwar-ul-Aulaqi on the net and an on-line magazine, Inspire, run by al Qaeda. These educated middle-class youth were recruited into LeT's network through absconding Hyderabad-origin handlers now based in Saudi Arabia.
Two of those arrested, Dr Zafar Iqbal Sholapur, 27, and Abdul Hakeem Jamadar, both from Hubli, went to Pakistan via Iran for terror training in Jan 2012 and were apparently received by LeT's Hyderabad-born recruiter Farhatullah Gori in Karachi. A foot-soldier of LeT's Hafiz Saeed, who calls for liberation of 'occupied' Hyderabad, Junagadh and Kashmir in his speeches available on the net, Gori along with Abdul Majid, brother of deceased terrorist Shahid Bilal, are based in Saudi Arabia and now under the scanner for the Feb 21 twin blasts in Hyderabad.
Details from the Bengaluru module are most disconcerting as they shatter the myth that there is no Islamic radicalisation in India only a continued reaction to aggressive Hindu fundamentalism seen during the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Another factor of concern is that educated youth from the Indian middle class are getting drawn into terrorism, as opposed to poor school dropouts in the past. Gone are the days when as LeT's commander of Doda-Anantnag and main accused in 2000 Chittisingpura massacre, Mohammed Muzammil Butt apparently used to cry through the night seeking directions from the almighty before radicalising young Kashmiri dropouts. Before his release post-IC-814 Kandahar hijack, Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, would tell his Indian interrogators that to radicalise youth all he needed was footage of Babri Masjid demolition and Bal Thackeray's comment hailing the incident.
Religious radicalisation is not a new phenomenon. Hyderabad resident Abdul Aziz alias Gidda was motivated to jihad in Saudi Arabia in 1989-92. He went on to fight in Bosnia in 1994 and in Grozny, Chechnya in 1995 and is presently based in Karachi recruiting Indian boys. Another self-radicalised Hyderabad resident, Abdul Razzaq went to fight against US occupation of Iraq but was caught at the Iranian border and deported back to India in 2005.
While Razzaq, who died in Hyderabad jail on Oct 10, 2012, was perhaps radicalised by semi-literate clerics citing threats to Islam, the Bengaluru module was initiated by a post-graduate doctor with affiliations to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India. Same is the case with the Indian Mujahideen, where group founder Riyaz Shahbandri and chief perpetrator Yasin Siddibappa are both engineers by profession with brother Iqbal Shahbandri being the ideologue. With help from Pakistan and the Gulf, this Bhatkal trio wreaked havoc by turning youth from Mumbai, Pune, Azamgarh, Bengaluru, Kochi, Lucknow, Darbhanga, Tambaram, Chennai, Indore and Ahmedabad against their own country.
Opinion about rising religious radicalisation is split within the Indian security establishment. Albeit both sides agree the situation is not alarming, certain counter-terror experts feel that in India, minority community youth are rebelling against perceived injustice with innocents being implicated in false terror cases. Classic examples are Oct 2005 Delhi, March 2006 Varanasi, July 2006 Mumbai, and Sept 2006 Malegon bomb blasts where there is sufficient evidence to reveal that actual perpetrators have not been nailed. Add to this aggressive Hindu fundamentalism, Babri Masjid and post-Godhra riots and it becomes a Molotov cocktail. This section believes that radicalisation in India is only aided by outside forces and cite the example of 2007 Glasgow bomber, Bengaluru-born Kafeel Ahmed, who was brain washed in Saudi Arabia to undertake a suicide mission.
"Indian youth are avenging perceived injustice and are not joining the jihadist cause," said an Islamic scholar. The counter-argument is that youth are vulnerable to radicalisation through internet, literature and myopic clerics, with ultra-puritan Salafi Islam winds from middle-east reaching Indian shores. "The only way to stop radicalisation is to remove the cause of perceived injustice, strengthen South Asian Islam and increase dialogue between communities. Radicalisation is not only limited to Islam but is also evident in sections of Sikh community," said an official.
There is a need to assure minorities that they are not being persecuted and the law is equal for all. The connect between Kashmir and the heartland minority community over Afzal Guru's hanging is only on the perceived count of his being singled out on death row. It's time to bridge the gap.
New Delhi, Delhi: A looming sense of injustice
"Why do the media paint us with a terror brush every time a blast takes place?" asks a resident of Batla House in New Delhi. Situated near Jamia Millia Islamia University, Batla House was the site of the September 19, 2008 encounter in which two alleged members of terror outfit Indian Mujahideen were killed by police.
A few of their alleged associates were arrested. One of them was Zia-ur-Rehman, a local boy who fought last year's municipal elections from jail. "Zia has been accused of being involved in serial blasts in Ahmedabad, Delhi. For us, he is innocent till proven guilty," says Amanatullah Khan, a budding politician who supported Zia in the election he eventually lost.
Since the 2008 incident, a sense of injustice haunts the youth of the Muslim dominated neighbourhood. "If we start using the same language (as Hindu fundamentalist leaders), we will be immediately branded as anti-nationals," says Mohammad Asif, a resident.
- Rajesh Ahuja
Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh: Dubious branding as a terror hub
This town is often labelled one of India's terror capitals, home to many Indian Mujahideen bombers. Two of them were killed in Delhi, 17 were arrested and eight are on the run. Again, Azamgarh's hand is at play in the recent twin Hyderabad blasts.
IM's alleged bombers from here pursued a good career through education. The police say somewhere along the way, they joined the Student Islamic Movement of India. Maulana Tahir Madani, rector of Azamgarh's biggest seminary, Jamiat-ul-Falah, thinks it is mere propaganda.
"Muslims are made villains just as a bomb goes off," he says. The sentiment resonates after one of eight elusive boys, Asadullah Akhtar, figures as a possible bomber in Hyderabad. Softened by social stigmas, residents now want to fight for their children in courts rather than on the streets. Shadab Ahmad, whose son Saif was arrested as a terror suspect, says, "This branding of Azamgarh as a terror hub and boys from here as terrorists is wrong."
- Haidar Naqvi
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: Both sides have polarised the city
Once the ruling classes of Hyderabad, Muslims now face social degeneracy, educational decline and economic backwardness. Sentiments are further stoked when the likes of Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief, make it a point to give Hyderabad a distinct place in anti-India rhetoric, opine locals and politicians.
There are certain elements, in both Hindu and Muslim communities, who have been regressive and given impetus to covert radicalisation of youths, say police officers. Polarisation has affected everything - schools have shifted, so have stores of groceries, sweet and clothes. Insecurity has made people sell their property and relocate, say politicians.
Maulana Mohamed Naseeruddin, considered by counter-terrorist units as an ideologue that influenced youths into militancy, says, "Communities started dividing after the demolition of Babri Masjid." Asaduddin Owaisi, of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen does not believe that there is any polarisation.
He says, "Few espouse the cause of minorities. The youths have realised that they need equality in the political, economic and social spheres." GV Rao, state spokesperson, Vishwa Hindu Parishad says, "Foreign nationals (terrorists) have found Hyderabad a safe haven. They've been the root cause of communal disharmony."
- Presley Thomas
Pune/Mumbai, Maharashtra: Sowing the seeds of terror
The seeds of terror were sown long before the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. This came to light when the involvement of Dr Jalees Ansari, an MBBS from Mumbai university, was revealed in 31 blasts in Mumbai, said police officials.
"The post Babri Masjid riots saw SIMI getting radicalised," said a senior IPS officer. This is when Riyaz Shahbandri, a student from South Mumbai, drifted from the main stream, he added. "An anti-national school of thought was created by the likes of CAM Basheer, Safdar Nagori. And they managed to recruit youth from all segments," said a state intelligence officer.
Amir Raza Khan, brother of notorious underworld gangster Asif Raza Khan who formed Asif Raza Commando Force which claimed the 2002 US Embassy attack in Kolkatta, played mediator between Riyaz and Sadiq Israr Sheikh, a childhood acquaintance.
It allegedly marked the beginning of homegrown terrorist module 'Indian Mujahideen'. While Riyaz went back to his roots in Bhatkal, Karanataka, and used his contacts in Mumbai and Pune to recruit youths, Sadiq found potential recruits in his native Azamgarh. According to an IPS officer, radicalisation of youths has stopped to a large extent in Mumbai and Pune, but it has become an emerging trend in remote districts of Marathwada.
Darbhanga, Bihar: Terror outfits target safe haven
The Mithilanchal region of north Bihar has of late been known as an alleged terror hub. At least 18 terror suspects have been arrested from here. The latest in this tally was Danish Ansari, 20, arrested by the National Investigation Agency last month. It may sound harsh to describe Mithila as the 'Azamgarh of Bihar' but terms like the 'Darbhanga Module' and 'Chennai link' have given it this unfortunate reputation.
According to intelligence sources, Indian Mujahideen (IM) founder Yasin Bhatkal married the daughter of MI Khan, who, though a Chennai resident, was originally from Samastipur, Mithilanchal. Many believe Bhatkal indoctrinated the youth here to terror activities.
"It is wrong to paint the entire region black for someone's misdeed," says Mustaque Ahmad, principal of Millat College, Darbhanga. Denouncing the alacrity with which intelligence agencies had linked this region with the IM, Ahmad blamed poverty and cross border infiltration from Nepal for this.
Other experts say the causes are wide ranging. Darbhanga district magistrate Kumar Ravi says, "Those engaged in promoting terror may not fully realise the consequences of their actions owing to illiteracy and other reasons. Money and other benefits may also be their motivating factors."
- Bishnu K Jha
Bengaluru, Karnataka: hatred and moral policing spreads
In Karnataka, communal feelings among sections of Hinduism and Islam ended in clashes in Bangalore, Mangalore, Hubli-Dharwad and Belgaum. After 1990, riots took place sporadically and educated working class youth of both communities moved towards radicalisation.
Retired assistant commissioner of police BK Shivaram says coastal districts started moving towards radical behaviour. Polarisation of Hindus and Muslim took place mainly after BJP came to power.
The state saw many recent incidents of moral policing by pro-Hindutva groups including Pramod Mutalik's Sri Ramasene in Belgaum and Bajrang Dal in Mangalore.
At the same time, Muslim extremists emerged in the state after setting up base in coastal districts and towns like Bhatkal and Mangalore. Thinker and writer Professor Na Da Shetty says, "Radical groups on both sides are spreading hatred and fundamentalism."
- Naveen Ammembala