By Rahul Tripathi
Oct 24 2012
New Delhi : In 2002, Mohammed Sadiq Sheikh, 26, of Mumbai, travelled to Pakistan via the Bangladesh border and attended a terror training camp, according to a security analysis documenting the emergence and spread of the Indian Mujahideen. After he returned, Sadiq sent two others, Arif Badaruddin Sheikh and Dr Shahnawaz, to Pakistan via Dubai, says the report, compiled by a central agency.
From those early recruitment steps, the IM has grown today to an estimated 100 cadres, around 50 of whom have been arrested since 2008 while the rest remain spread across India. The four men arrested by Delhi police for the August Pune blasts, as well as Bihar resident Fasih Mehmood, deported from Saudi Arabia and arrested, have all been described by police as IM operatives.
The key people responsible for running and funding the IM, however, remain out of reach, the report says.
The early years
“It appears that the IM was formed as an offshoot of ARCF (the Asif Reza Commando Force),” the report says.
The report says the group began its “war against India” as early as 2002 but not under the name by which it is known today. It cites the 2002 attack on the American Center in Kolkata, masterminded by Amir Reza Khan and Aftab Ansari to avenge the death of Amir’s brother Asif, as the first major terror act of this group. Later that year, Amir, helped by Riyaz Bhatkal, is said to have recruited Sadiq Sheikh and sent him for training to Pakistan. Sadiq was arrested by Mumbai ATS in 2008.
The report names Amir, Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal as the founder-members of the IM. Intelligence agencies believe the three were supported and guided by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and HuJI-B, whose members helped them build a small army of home-grown jihadis. The initial recruits were youths from prosperous but conservative Muslim families from Azamgarh, it says.
“The first groups of recruits were from Saraimeer and Sanjarpur villages of Azamgarh district. Almost all the operatives belonging to Azamgarh studied together in school, several went to New Delhi for higher studies in business administration, computers and the media. The Azamgarh jihadists appear to have been drawn to the IM, angered by the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat,” the report says.
In 2005 and 2006, while this group is believed to have started executing terror attacks, Riyaz Bhatkal was allegedly forming a logistic support base in his native Bhatkal and readying another group for similar activities in southern India. This group was named as the southern module of the IM, states the report.
“The southern group traces its origin in Bhatkal town of Karnataka. Riyaz and Iqbal hailed from Bhatkal and recruited youths from colleges and nearby locality to attend ‘durs programme’ at Bhatkal,” the report says. Among IM members allegedly indoctrinated in Bhatkal, some are believed to have taken have taken shelter in Muscat, Dubai and Pakistan.
The report says three Maulanas, Shabbir (arrested from Pune in 2008-09), Sultan and Sajid, wooed youths for Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal. Among the alleged recruits were Mohd Ahmad Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal who has so far emerged the most elusive IM operative. According to a dossier on Yasin, “When the family of Yasin came to know about his involvement in durs programmes, they sent him to Dubai during 2006 to engage him. But he escaped from Dubai and was once seen with al-Qaeda supporters in Abu Dhabi. He managed to reach India in 2007 and he rejoined the Iqbal-Riyaz gang in Mangalore. According to captured associates, Yasin has been trained in the making of nitrate bombs.”
Attacks and Claims
The report says the name IM surfaced for the first time in November 2007 when emails were released to the media claiming responsibility for blasts in courts of Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi. The mail also claimed responsibility for the 2005 Delhi Diwali blast, the 2007 Varanasi blast, the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts and the 2007 Hyderabad Gokul Chat and Lumbini Park blasts. It cited the Babri Masjid demolition and Gujarat riots as a revenge motive, the report says.
Until then, the blasts cited had been believed to be the work of terror groups based in Pakistan. Some of the earlier suspects are, in fact, still facing trial. The report agrees that initially, security agencies dismissed the claims made in the emails, which they felt had been sent only to mislead them.
On May 13, 2008, another email, this one owning responsibility for the Jaipur blasts, convinced security agencies with photo clips showing a bicycle (along with the number) strapped with an IED and parked at Kotwali police station of Jaipur. Once again citing the Babri demolition and the Gujarat riots, the email described the IM as an organisation with three separate wings, the report says.
A third email was released just before the Ahmedabad serial blasts on July 26, 2008. It had even a logo attached to it. Captioned “The rise of jihad, revenge of Gujarat,” it dwelt on the way Muslims were treated in Gujarat.
The names of the group’s operatives were largely unknown until the Batla House encounter of September 19, 2008, leading to what police call a breakthrough. Mohammed Atif Ameen and Mohd (Chhota) Sajid, who died in the encounter, were described as IM operatives. With the number of arrests that followed across the country, police found the IM had been involved in blasts since as early as February 2005.
During its initial years, the IM had formed a small IT-savvy team to spread its ideology. According to the report, Riyaz Bhatkal tapped educated people with software skills and articulate speakers, especially in English. The IM released five manifestos on its thoughts. The IT team of the IM was busted during a crackdown in 2008.
Since 2008, the e-mails have ceased. The IM is believed to have been responsible for the German Bakery (Pune) and Varanasi blasts of 2010, Mumbai’s 13/7 blasts of 2011 and the Pune blasts of 2012.
The Later Modules
Two modules other than Azamgarh and Bhatkal surfaced later, one from Pune in 2009 and the other from Darbhanga in 2011. They had already been active for some years.
Investigators say the Pune group, whose members were trained near Pune and Aurangabad, is believed to have carried out blasts at the Lumbini Park at Hyderabad in 2007 and attempted serial blasts in Surat in 2008.
The second wave of IM strikes in February 2010 is believed to have been carried out by the Pune and Darbhanga modules. Unlike their Azamgarh counterparts, these recruits are said to be driven not by ideology but by the promise of monetary rewards.
The Darbhanga module, busted by the special cell of Delhi police, is suspected to have been behind the 2011 Mumbai 13/7 blasts, the 2010 Jama Masjid attack, the 2010 Chinnaswamy Stadium blast in Bangalore and the 2010 German Bakery blast in Pune. Police say Fasih Mehmood is part of this module. Yasin Bhatkal and Fasih allegedly became part of the IM circuit in 2002 while they were studying engineering at Bhatkal.