Local modules the common link between Hbad, Pune basts

As the Central Bureau of Investigation continues to join the dots on the Ajmer, Pune Goa and Mecca Masjid blasts cases, the probe so far has revealed that a very strong local network of Hindu right-wing groups in Hyderabad and Pune may have carried out these attacks.

The Pune module of these groups has been functional for the past ten years and they have been carrying out small-time disruptive activities. They announced their arrival with the Nanded blast in April 2006.

The CBI has been questioning various persons in connection with these cases, but they have picked up two men (Devendra and Chandrashekar) who have been saying a lot in custody. They are allegedly members of the Sanathan Sanstha, but the organisation has distanced itself from them terming them as fringe elements.

Investigators are keen to find out local links in each case as without them none of these blasts would have been possible. Investigators have found that both the Ajmer and the Mecca Masjid blasts are identical. They believe that a strong local base in Hyderabad helped carry out both these blasts.

The materials used in both cases were procured from the same source. Moreover, the bombs have been assembled by the same module, which is based in Pune. Sources told rediff.com that each blast cost nearly Rs 1.5 lakh and all the money was collected from the local modules both in Pune and Hyderabad.

A small outfit in Hyderabad which the CBI does not want to name at this point started off three years back with 50 men. Today their strength has grown to almost 2,000 and they are extremely aggressive. They conduct camps and collect money during festivals and investigators feel that a large part of this money may have been diverted for these bomb blasts.

The role of this organisation has come in for thorough scrutiny and some members are being questioned. The investigators also don’t rule out support from local political leaders.

Sources say that these groups have intentionally divided themselves into smaller organisations but they have a very strong network. They have been carefully bifurcated to carry out specific jobs. Investigators say that these groups are headquartered in Pune and have their strongest networks in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. While the Pune module has always been involved in the planning, it is the other two modules which have helped in the execution, investigators point out.

However, investigators have not been able to find out is the link between the module run by Malegaon blast accused Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit and the modules which carried out the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Goa and Pune blasts. “We believe that these two modules worked on these cases separately. It could well be a ploy to stay separate so that when one module is busted the other keeps going,” a source told rediff.com.


‘Govt of Andhra Pradesh should openly say sorry’

Three years after the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad, investigators stated that all evidence point to right-wing Hindu groups. However, this is no consolation for Imran Khan and 40 others who were arrested soon after the blast without proper evidence.

The 2007 blast had killed nine people and injured several others. However, the wounds of the 40-odd people incuding Khan, arrested after the blast, may never heal.

The blast changed Khan’s life — the Hyderabad police picked up the BTech student as the first suspect three days after the blast and released him after he was acquitted by local court after 17 months.

“Many innocent people were picked up along with me, but I was the first. I spent 17 months in jail before being acquitted.”

Life has not been easy for Khan even after the acquittal. “I was acquitted, but at what cost? I still carry this terrorist tag. My father, who was a central government employee, had to face an inquiry and, worse, he was demoted because of this.”

“I don’t care whether it was a Hindu group of any other group which carried out this attack. My only concern is that the government of Andhra Pradesh should announce openly that they are sorry for what happened to me and the other innocents in the case,” he said.

Khan feels life would continue to be difficult till the Andhra Pradesh government and Hyderabad police admitted their mistake, just as it had publicly declared him and others guilty three years ago.

“Even after I was acquitted, the Hyderabad police told me that I was still an accused for them.”

Khan said the police forced him to undergo a narco-analysis test and also made him confess falsely before the media.

“They forced me to confess that I had made the bombs. They also force me to admit I was a conspirator in the case. I knew all along that the story was baseless, but I had no voice.”

The Hyderabad resident said it was the Central Bureau of Investigation that saved him from the police’ shoddy investigation.

“I was really assured when they (the CBI) told me that the case against me was baseless. They assured me that I would never face a problem again.After this, the police stopped troubling me,” he recollected.

Khan is today pursuing his BTech again after it was cut short three years ago. However, restarting life after the trauma has not been easy.

“In my case, the state police acted like a licenced goons. They said what they wanted and never realised the pain and misery it caused to my family. I am still studying and want to take up a respectable job.

Revival of Naxals in South India

The Naxal movement is on the rebound in South India, Pramod aka Nandakumar, the Karnataka state secretary of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, has revealed to his interrogators.

However, he has also revealed that the Naxal movement was facing a manpower crisis, especially in Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. To make up for the shortage, trained Naxals from the south are being sent to those states, he said.

The key Naxal leader was arrested in Hyderabad a week ago and was handed over to the Karnataka police, which had issued a lookout notice against him.

Pramod, who also goes by the alias Ranganna, is a resident of Kannur, Kerala. He had joined the People’s War Group in Karnataka 12 years ago and is married to a Punjabi woman.

His arrest can prove helpful to the police in obtaining information on Naxal activities in south India.

Sources from the Karnataka police said Pramod had been actively involved in reviving the Naxal movement in the south and had been frequently travelling between Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, before his arrest.

A source in the Karnataka police, which is interrogating the Naxal leader, told rediff.com that the directive and shifting of men to Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand indicated that the Naxals were busy intensifying operations in various parts of the country. Also, Pramod has said, Naxal leaders have decided to create a powerful south corridor.

Naxal bases in Andhra Pradesh, which was earlier their stronghold, and Karnataka have collapsed after many men were captured or killed in encounters. Also, most of the high profile leaders moved away to the northern regions, Pramod told interrogators.

The Karnataka police said the Naxals were facing a leadership crisis in the south and were finding it difficult even to gather men due to strict police vigilance and dwindling local support.

The Karnataka police, which has successfully thwarted all Naxal operations in the state, said Pramod was giving out information very slowly.

“He is extremely stubborn and is good at dodging questions. However we need to keep him in custody for a longer time,” the police said.

He said that he is not aware of operations in Karnataka, but we have no reason to believe him, they added.

Pramod’s has said that the movement suffered a big blow with the death of their key leader Saketh Rajan, who was killed in a police encounter in 2005.

The Karnataka police said Pramod was not active in Karnataka, however he had signed several communications under the name Gangadhara.

What Headley told Indian team

The National Investigation Agency team, which questioned Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley in Chicago recently, will return on June 9.

The team, which has been investigating the case since the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested David Headley in October last year, claims that it is satisfied with the interrogation. “We made him confirm the various links he had with his Pakistani handlers while the Mumbai terror attack was being planned out,” said a source.

During the interrogation, Headley has divulged the names of various top ranking Pakistan officials including Major Samir Ali, who had played a very vital role in training the ten Pakistani terrorists who unleashed terror in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Among his handlers in Pakistan, he has named Sajjid Mir as the main person with whom he had stayed in touch.

The Intelligence Bureau says that the information the probe team has received from Headley is similar to the facts that he has revealed to the FBI. The LeT operative has been cautious in his answers and ensured that he didn’t give contradictory responses.

Sources point out Headley’s statements will be used to probe his links with the Mumbai terror attack case further.

The NIA has managed to procure some details regarding Headley’s local links. He has been questioned about his contacts in Mumbai who helped him in conducting the reconnaissance of the terror targets.

Headley has also told his interrogators about conducting a survey of Nariman House in south Mumbai, which was attacked by LeT terrorists during the terror siege.

Headley also confirmed his close links with dreaded terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri, and told interrogators that they had planned on carrying out more terror strikes. The NIA team wants to probe the terror plan drawn up by Headley and Kashmiri further. Investigators will try to find out how the duo was planning to carry out the attacks and the likely targets of such strikes.

Headley probe proves to be tough for Indian team

Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative and 26/11 attacks accused David Coleman Headley has proven to the visiting Indian investigating team that he has immense experience in dodging interrogation.

It has been frustrating so far, a source who is in touch with the Indian team in the United States of America, told rediff.com.

The team has managed to interrogate Headley for several hours, but not a single fresh lead has cropped up as yet. On one hand, Headley cites the law, and on the other, he speaks just what he had confessed at the plea bargain in March 2010.

He had already told them what they know, and the Indian team is looking for information beyond his confession to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Headley had stated that he had surveyed targets in Mumbai and passed on information to the Lashkar bosses in Pakistan. However, what the Indian team is keen to know is the exact manner in which he dodged security, how he used travel agencies for the purpose, and more importantly the persons he was in touch with while in India.

It has been a bad start for the Indian team and they are getting stuck in legalities. Headley had quoted the Fifth Amendment of the American justice system, which states that a person who has opted for a plea bargain cannot be forced to implicate himself during interrogation.

While the Indian team has been insisting that it would not apply to Headley, he continues to insist during interrogation that it does. The legalities are currently being worked out, but the interrogation will continue and the National Investigation Agency will try and elicit as much information from him as possible.

Indian intelligence agencies who have been keeping a close tab on the interrogation say that Headley is no ordinary agent. It will be extremely difficult to interrogate him.

Not only was he an undercover FBI agent, but also turned rogue when he started working for the Lashkar. Both the jobs that he has undertaken demand skills in dodging interrogation.

Hardcore operatives of the LeT and the Al Qaeda are trained to handle interrogation, and they usually take the cops on a wild goose chase. The Indian agencies are worried that even if they manage to ensure that Headley opens up, the information may not be correct.

A chargesheet cannot be filed against him just on the basis of what he says, but whatever he has said needs to be backed by evidence based on investigations when the team is back in India.

As of now, the interrogation is looking extremely bleak. Indian agencies feel that they would have to get access to Headley’s partner in crime Tawwahur Rana, and try finding out from him Headley’s role. They feel that Rana may not be that tough a nut to crack like Headley.

Does Mecca Masjid blast have connection with Ajmer, Goa Pune blasts?

The investigations into the blasts that rocked Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007, have finally made some headway. The probe team has found some links between the blasts, which claimed nine lives, to the terror attacks in Ajmer, Goa and Pune.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing the case, has picked up two suspects from Pune in connection with the blast. Though no official confirmation is available about the two men’s identities, sources told rediff.com that the two accused are Davindra Gupta and Chandrashekar, and they had planted the bomb at Margao, Goa before fleeing the scene. Two members of the right-wing organisation Sanathan Sanstha were killed in the blast on October 16, 2009.

The police managed to track the duo down in Pune and now they are being questioned for their role in the Mecca Masjid blast case.

Sources claim that the two suspects are members of the Sanstha. But the right-wing group has distanced itself from them and claimed that their actions were against the principles of the Sanstha.

While the police are certain that the Ajmer blast and the Mecca Masjid blast were planned and carried out by the same group, they are trying to ascertain if the same faction was responsible for the Pune blast on February 13, which claimed 19 lives.

“The role of the Indian Mujahideen has not been ruled out. But we are trying to find out whether the same men who had carried out the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts are behind the one at Pune too,” an investigating officer told rediff.com.

The investigating officials believe that they will soon crack the Mecca Masjid case. “The investigation was based on the role played by terror outfit Harkat-ul-Jihadi and for at least two years, we were probing that angle. Nearly 40 Muslim youth were picked up in connection with this blast, but they were all let off by the court for want of evidence,” said an official.

But there are two divergent views on which terror group orchestrated the Mecca Masjid blast.

A confidential report of the Hyderabad police to the Andhra Pradesh government, in possession of rediff.com, states clearly that HuJi members were the main suspects behind the blast. The report states, “While we rule out the rivalry between the Sunnat-ul-Jammat and the Ahila Hadees Militant Muslim Group, the role of the HuJI has to be checked.”

But the CBI has doubts about the HuJI’s role and believes that the modus operandi behind the Mecca Masjid blast and the Ajmer blast were similar.

Sources say that the CBI is seriously probing this angle and will soon file the charge-sheet in the case. A CBI team has met Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah and sought more cooperation from the state police.

The CBI team is aware that such an operation could not have been carried out without the help of local elements, and it needs the help of the state police to track them down.

As the investigations in the case progresses, certain startling facts are coming to light. The blasts in Goa, Ajmer and Hydearbad were carried out by using low-intensity bombs packed in tiffin boxes, but a more sophisticated bomb was used in Pune.

Some of the accused who have been arrested in connection with these cases have admitted that they had intentionally changed the planning of the terror attack in Pune as the earlier blasts had been similar in nature and the police would be able to detect a pattern and track down the culprits.

“As we continue to probe the case and study the interrogation reports, we feel that the same group may have tried to imitate the Indian Mujahideen. Further investigations will give a clearer picture,” say investigators.

IM may retaliate for being labeled as terror outfit

With the government declaring Indian Mujahideen as a terror organisation on Friday, Indian intelligence agencies warned that the outfit could come up with retaliatory attacks protesting against the announcement.

All the states have been asked to tighten security in view of the threat.

The Intelligence Bureau said in the wake of this announcement, the IM might plan more attacks in the future, however it will also be forced to cut down its operations from now on.

However, the declaration has also brought a big relief to Indian investigators, who can now investigate or arrest suspected IM members without much hindrance.

Prior to the announcement, Indian agencies found it extremely difficult to investigate cases in which the IM was involved.

Once a group is declared as a terrorist organisation, investigators can skirt the several procedures needed to arrest terrorists and to chargesheet them.

Also, investigators can now book IM members under stringent laws and will need to give lesser explanations in the court against their arrest.

The birth of the IM:

Following the attack at Akshardham temple in 2002, Pakistan’s Inter State Intelligence decided to float a new outfit in India.

The ISI was desperate to float a terror outfit with an Indian face, as the Indian government had banned the Students Islamic Movement of India under the suspicion that the group was indulging in terrorist activities.

The instruction was that only men of Indian origin would be inducted in the outfit.

The names of IM members — such as Riyaz Bhatkal, Abdus Subhan and the rest — indicate that they are of Indian origin.

The outfit was named Indian Mujahideen after a number of changes. It was first called the Tehriq-e-Qasas and then the Lashkar-e-Qaharby. However, the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba felt these names were not compatible with the Indian scenario and that they sound like that of a Pakistani outfit.

The name Indian Mujahideen was first revealed after the blast at Uttar Pradesh court three years ago. At first it was dismissed as a hoax outfit, but after a period of time investigators realised that the outfit meant business.

The group was founded by Riyaz Bhatkal, who hailed from Bhatkal, Karnataka. While all the operations have been India-centric, the outfit is controlled by a Pakistani man, identified as Amir Reza.

The IB has said that IM members are none other than the members of the SIMI.

Young, educated, lower rung SIMI operatives were chosen for IM, as the outfit wanted to use advanced technology to carry out blasts in India. They knew that the Indian police was not technically sound and that they would only shoot in the dark before they actually apprehended the real culprit, which in turn would give them the time to escape.

The big players:

Amir Reza: The big boss, who is a Pakistani

Riyaz Bhatkal: founder

Iqbal Bhatkal:
Brother of Riyaz

Yaseen Bhatkal: Pune blast accused

Abdus Subhan Qureshi: A software engineer and an expert in making bombs

Safdar Nagori: Considered to be the architect of the IM, he had also converted the SIMI into a hardline outfit before turning it into the IM.

Mufti Abu Bashir: A preacher from Azamgarh

Qayamuddin Kapadia:
Suspected to be the IM financer

Sajid Mansur: A marketing executive who was part of the IM

Amil Parwaz: Accused in UP blasts

Attacks conducted:

23 November 2007: Uttar Pradesh serial blasts

13 May 2008: Jaipur blasts

25 July 2008: Bangalore serial blasts

26 July 2008: Ahmedabad serial blasts

13 September 2008: Delhi serial blasts

February 2010: Pune blast

The IM style:

The IB said the IM had adopted a new style in carrying out terror activities.

The outfit consisted of young men, who were hot blooded and aimed at embarrassing the Indian establishment. Most of the members wanted to avenge the ban on the SIMI.

Armed with a powerful tech team, they hacked into wifi networks and sent out mails minutes before every attack. T

These misleading mails were sent only to embarrass the establishment and to show how ill-prepared the force was. However the group was busted after the Delhi blasts.

Today, the Indian Mujahdeen has its largest presence in Azamgarh, Kerala [ Images ], Karnataka, Pune and Hyderabad.

The Lashkar had decided to recruit IM cadres from Kerala for its Kashmir [ Images ] operations, but had to withdraw as they did not prove effective enough and were unable to garner local support due to the language barrier.

It was only after the Pune blasts that the IB found that Pune was the outfit’s primary base.

Indian team in US keen on access to Rana

Indian agencies are not sounding gung-ho about the access that they will get to David Headley, the terror suspect, who has confessed before the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was involved in the Mumbai 26/11 attack.

The four-member team of the National Investigating Agency is present in the US along with law officers to interrogate Headley. Armed with a questionnaire regarding the Mumbai attack, the team also has a back up waiting in India in case of any further assistance.

Sources told rediff.com that the Indian team in the United States not been easy so far and there are too many formalities and procedures that need to be followed. Moreover, they are also aware of the fact that this exercise will not be complete until and unless they manage access to Rana which they would push for once the Headley questioning is complete.

However, more important aspect, according to Indian investigators, is the access to Tawwahur Rana, Headley’s co-accused in the Mumbai plot.

First we need to get access to Headley and then we will surely seek for Rana, they say. Sources say the access to Headley is likely to happen on Friday, but that would depend on the foreign authorities. Indian team has been told that in all probability, they may get to interrogate Headley today.

Indian intelligence agencies say that when the investigation pertaining to the Headley angle was done, at every point the name of Rana did crop up. When things are such then the entire exercise of interrogating Headley becomes useless unless and until it is synchronized with an interrogation of Rana.

On the interrogation of Headley and the visit of the US team, some in the security agencies are upset over the coordination. The coordination over there has not been very good.

The team which is put up in a hotel at Chicago did not expect to wait this long especially since they have left over a week back. It is being said that the interrogation would happen on Friday and it would be direct in nature. An officer of the FBI and Headley legal counsel will also be present.

Sammad just an bait for ATS in Pune blast probe

The Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad had chased and arrested Abdul Sammad Bhatkal only to get details about his brother Yaseen Bhatkal, the alleged mastermind of the Pune blast, and not as the prime suspect in the case.

The IB had issued a Lookout Notice against Sammad, who was arrested from Mangalore airport a day after the crash on May 22, about a year ago for his involvement with the Chhota Shakeel gang.

However, when the ATS later learnt that Sammad was the brother of Yaseen, the mastermind of the Pune blast, it decided to arrest him mainly to use him as a bait.

The ATS began chasing Yaseen, after he was seen in the in the Closed Circuit Television footage of Pune blast that killed at least 16 people in February.

The IB said Yaseen’s involvement in the Pune blasts was confirmed.

IB sources told rediff.com that the police, in course of the interrogation, has hardly found any clues linking Sammad to the Pune blasts case.

Although Sammad has reportedly told interrogators that he did not have any contact with Yaseen, the police has found that Yaseen has been hiding in Dubai.

The ATS will probe Sammad further to find out details about his brother.

They also said that Sammad would be booked in an earlier case, where he had been accused of supplying pistols for terror operations and exhortations in Mumbai, and will be used to secure more information regarding Yaseen.

The Mumbai ATS had been chasing Sammad for over a year in connection with the pistol case.

According to tip-offs received by the ATS, Sammad was the primary supplier of Chinese pistols to the Chhota Shakeel gang for terror operations and exhortations in Mumbai. Sammad had reportedly met the Shakeel gang members in Dubai.

The IB had been keeping track of Sammad’s movements from then on man. Sammad’s family has alleged that their phones had been tapped too.

The police also learnt that Sammad was one of the Bhatkal brothers, who are wanted for their involvement with the terror group Indian Mujahideen.

In order to expedite the process, the police approached the home ministry and sought a Lookout notice against Sammad. The police had then wanted Sammad’s custody only because he was a member of the Shakeel gang.

Following the Pune blast in February, the police came to know of Yaseen’s involvement in the attack and his relationship with Sammad.

26/11 accused Sabahuddin blasts Muslim leaders

A letter written by Sabahuddin Ahmed, who had been accused and later acquitted in the 26/11 terror attacks case, to Muslim religious leaders has raked up a storm.

Ahmed had written the letter while he had been lodged in Arthur Road jail in Mumbai

In the letter, he has lashed out at the community for not providing financial and legal help to bail him out of the case.

Ahmed is now lodged in a jail in Uttar Pradesh, where he has been charged with the attack on Central Reserve Police Force jawans in Rampur.

The letter reads as follows: “It has been nearly two years since I was brought to Mumbai. I live with a 100 other inmates like me. They wait forever, hoping their trail will also begin some day. They hope they will have a lawyer to represent them before the court and help them prove their innocence. I never cared for politics until my arrest. But the year long stint at the Arthur Road Jail has made me skeptical. I read in the newspapers that Muslim leaders made a statement or two about how innocent men like him were implicated in false cases. But what do they really do to help us? Muslims feel targeted because there is no one to take up our cases.”

Ahmed has also taken a dig at the government and the police, saying that the 26/11 trial had exposed them for booking helpless citizens without evidence.

Ahmed’s lawyer Ejaz Naqvi told rediff.com that the letter was targeted at the Jamiat Ulama Hind, from whom Ahmed had sought legal assistance earlier.

Naqvi said Ahmed had several pending cases against him and he had been finding it hard to pay the lawyer’s fee. Hence he is distraught that no financially assistance is coming forward, Naqvi said.

The JUH said they had provided legal assistance to Fahim Ansari, who was acquitted along with Ahmed in the 26/11 case, through advocate Shahid Azmi, who was shot dead. Later they provided him another lawyer, R B Mokashi.

However in Ahmed’s case, the special court itself appointed a lawyer, who went on to fight the case.

No immediate relief for Ahmed, Ansari

Both Ahmed and Ansari will have to be in jail for a long while. Ahmed’s lawyer said the Maharashtra government might appeal against their acquittal in the before the Bombay high court after 90 days.

“Some sources told me that the order copy was served on them only on May 24. That means they can file the appeal within 90 days from May 24. I was also told that it might take more than 90 days as the chargesheet is very long and there is a lot of preparation to do. This, however, won’t affect their case, as the state can file for condonation of delay,” said Naqvi.

“We have no idea when the trial in the UP case is likely to commence. Documents such as the chargesheet have not been served yet. We think of any sort of legal recourse only after the papers are served. He (Ahmed) has been shifted to the UP jail and we are awaiting a word from the authorities on the status of his trial,” he added.