Nabbing Tehsin Akthar-1

20140325-074611.jpgIndia can claim that it has made major headway in arresting several terrorists. It began with the major arrest of Zabbiuddin Ansari, the accused in the 26/11 attack. Then came the major arrest of Yasin Bhatkal followed by Abdul Karim Tunda, Waqas Ahmed and now Tehsin Akthar.
Each of these operations carried out mainly by our Intelligence Bureau have all the essences of a Hollywood pot boiler and it has taken them years before they actually managed to track these operatives and take them into custody.
Let us examine in parts how each of these men were tracked pain stakingly and picked up by our agencies. Today we begin with Tehsin Akthar, the latest in the list of those arrested by our agencies:

Continue reading “Nabbing Tehsin Akthar-1”

Darabanga- Yasin’s baby

The Darabanga module at Bihar can easily be considered as Yasin Bhatkal’s child. It was the module that was formed immediately after the busting of the Pune module in Maharashtra.

According to Intelligence Bureau officials, the Darabanga module in Bihar could easily be considered as the most successful module for the Indian Mujahideen. It was based entirely on a rustic theory which involved low level operatives most of who were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. There were strict instructions that none shall communicate over phone or email. In fact all the blasts, be it a 13/7, Dilsukhnagar or the Pune serial blasts were planned out of this module. The first attack out of this module was however the Varanasi blast which remains unsolved till date. Continue reading “Darabanga- Yasin’s baby”

Hyderabad blasts- Who had the first information?

blastThe question being asked on the Hyderabad blasts is who had the information regarding the reccee that was done which led to these attacks. Sources in the Special Cell of the Hyderabad police say that it appears that the Delhi police had the information first which was in turn passed on to the Maharashtra police which in turn helped them crack the 13/7 and Pune bombings. Continue reading “Hyderabad blasts- Who had the first information?”

NIA- Where is the standard operating procedure?

Bomb blasts have become a never ending misery in India. The latest blasts at Pune was just a reminder as to how vulnerable our security set up is. More importantly it goes on to show that we have not learnt our lesson and continue to let ego dominate security.

This brings us to the very crucial question regarding the standard operating procedure that is to be followed at the time of a blast. As usual we saw the Maharashtra ATS and the Pune local police in the midst of all the action when this blast took place. One often wonders as to what role is the National Investigating Agency playing in all this. It is clear, they continue to play second fiddle and are picking the left overs from the local police and continuing with the investigation.

However this is not the way it is meant to be. The National Investigating Agency was set up post 26/11. It began with a lot of confusion, but after the 13/7 blasts, the Home Ministry of India had decided that enough was enough and sought to set down a fixed set of guidelines or a standard operating procedure where the NIA was concerned. The consortium comprising, the Home Ministry, Intelligence Bureau and also the Research and Analysis Wing met and decided that it would the NIA which would lead every probe concerning an act of terror.

It was decided that in the wake of a blast, the standard operating procedure would be for the NIA to lead the probe and the local police ought to help them with the probe. It was stated that in the event of any blast, it would be the local police who would first have to inform the NIA. The NIA would be the one visiting the spot and taking the lead with the investigation while the state bodies would assist the probe.

The NIA on the other hand has held a series of meetings and had decided that all intelligence both from the central and state intelligence wings ought to be shared with them. Moreover the first information or at the time of drawing out a mahzar it would be shared first with them so they could handle the probe from the beginning to the end.

With the needle of suspicion pointing towards the Indian Mujahideen, the NIA today finds it difficult connecting the dots. Take for instance the recent blasts, the Delhi High Court, 13/7 among others. The NIA has always come in last and has been privy to second hand information. This in no way is helping them build a data base and hence they struggle while trying to join the dots. NIA sources say most of the information is with the local police. There are ego clashes at times and only half the information comes to us. Moreover we are roped in very late and at any blast scene we find a parallel investigation that is taking place.

Another fact that none of the state government have seriously set up the internal security wing. This was a wing which was to act as a liasoning body between the local police and the NIA. The government felt that the local police would share better with a local wing which in turn could pass on information to the NIA. Not only was the local police supposed to share investigation updates with the internal security wing, but all intelligence inputs from the state level was also supposed to be shared so that it could be passed on regularly to the NIA.

While it is the Intelligence Bureau which does most of the work regarding sharing of alerts, the rule is that the premier investigating body, the NIA had to be kept in the loop about all these alerts. However the major complain by the NIA is that alerts often go to the state police and they very often do not share such information. Our job is not only to investigate into the matter, but we need to be aware of every possible movement.

Now there is a standard operating procedure in place, but unfortunately it is not being followed. Not only does it put the NIA on the back foot, but it puts the country too at a great deal of risk. The NIA came in late into the picture where the Delhi blasts and the 13/7 blasts were concerned. In fact it was the local police which dealt with the issue. Sources say what the local police are failing to understand is that terrorism is not a local subject. If a blast were to occur in New Delhi, it does not mean that some one from Delhi has done it. We have also seen that in the 13/7 blasts, it was a module from Bihar which undertook it. In such an event it is best that a centralised agency handles the probe since the local police would again face jurisdictional problems when it comes to dealing with issues in another state. The NIA does not have any such jurisdictional problems and is at liberty to probe in any state.

Moreover it only helps the cause if one agency probes all the cases considering that these incidents are inter-linked. If the standard operating procedure is followed then it would be the NIA which would probe all cases and every time they start they would be in a stronger position as they would have the data base on their finger tips from the previous case. Moreover during the course of their investigation they are also likely to pick up vital clues not only pertaining to the current case, but would also be able to warn about future strikes. However now with the local police trying to grab all the attention it only defeats the cause since they tend to stick to only their jurisdication even if the attack has had a national ramification.

The North vs South- While it has been written very many times that there is a major ego clash between the local police and the NIA, what has also been found that officers from North are not cooperative with those from the South and vice versa. There is a major lobby of these police forces. Looking at the NIA case, it is considered to be a wing from North since it is based out of Delhi and hence officers from other parts of the country are not too keen on sharing information. Many in the IB and the NIA believe that the Internal Security Wing needs to operate properly so that there is some middle path where information could be shared with no ego hassle coming in the way which in turn would help the country a great deal in the long run.

13/7- ten accused, 6 absconding

The chargesheet filed by the Maharasthra ATS has named 10 accused in the 13/7 case. The 4700 page chargesheet names 10 accused out of which 6 are absconding. While going through the chargesheet it is evident that the big men in the attack are still at bay. The case may have been cracked but it is these absconders who are likely to cause a problem as these are the heart and soul of the organization called the Indian Mujahideen.

Even the list of absconders is interesting. The name of Muzzafar Kola a resident of Bhatkal in Karnataka is shown as a wanted accused, but is very much present in his home town and is accessible even to the media. Kola was the underworld link to the 13/7 attack. It is said in the chargesheet that he was the one who helped with the finances and arranged the transfer of money through a hawala transaction which helped carry out the blasts. Kola was based in Dubai, but had sold his business and returned to Bhatkal. In Bhatkal he is considered to be a charitable person. He claims that he has cancer and his vocal chords have been operated upon as a result of which he cannot speak. Moreover he also claims that the time the ATS claims that he was in Dubai, he was very much at his home town and the case being made out against him is not correct. Kola when contacted gives out his information in writing as he is unable to speak.

It is not as though the ATS is unaware of his whereabouts and have met him several times at Bhatkal. However the ATS has not picked him up as yet for two primary reasons. They do realise that he is not an ordinary person and would want an order from the court in order to pick up him. They are still finding it difficult to join the dots and want to be 100 percent sure before they can carry out his arrest. However the reason that the ATS cites when contacted is that he is a patient undergoing treatment and they are sure that he will not give them the slip. It will be only through a court order that he will be arrested.

Riyaz Bhatkal is the other accused who is on the wanted list. He is probably the most important person on the wanted list. Not only does he figure in the 13/7 chargesheet, but he is a wanted in all other cases in which the Indian Mujahideen is involved. There is absolutely no clarity on the whereabouts of Bhatkal. Some time back it was suspected that he was dead, but later the agencies and even his parents said that there is no such information. Riyaz according to his dossier and the latest Interpol alert is based in Pakistan. Closely associated with the head of the IM, Amir Reza Khan, he is said to have visited Delhi recently and met with the cadres who carried out a spate of blasts including the 13/7 attack. He will be a crucial link to every case in which the IM is involved. There is very close monitoring on this man who is believed to have shifted base to Pakistan.

Yasin Bhatkal is another accused who is on the wanted list. His role in the IM is more India specific and he is believed to have synchronized the attacks from Bihar. Yasin was the man who the ATS let slip out of sight due to a hurried operation. All the operatives being questioned in connection with the attacks have claimed that Yasin is the one who organised the attacks. Yasin came to prominence only after Riyaz went out of the picture. He is believed to be a cousin of Riyaz and also hails from the town of Bhatkal. According to the intelligence bureau, Yasin had set shop in Bihar and overseen the resurrection of the Indian Mujahideen. He had played a key role in the 13/7 attack and was the one who organised the forces which carried out these blasts.

The rest of the absconders are Waqas Ibrahim Sad, Danish alias Tarbez, Tehseen and Akhtar Shaikh. All these persons worked closely for the 13/7 operation along with Yasin Bhatkal. These were the persons who formed part of the final assault team which was also involved in the assembling of the bombs. The trio along with Yasin stayed at Byculla and assembled the bombs over there. After this was done, it was Waqas and Tabrez who planted the bombs. The trio are also absconding and the police believe that they may still be holed up in India and have not managed to slip out.

13/7 trial will have to wait


Cracking a case is one thing, but bring the accused to justice is probably the most important aspect of any investigation. There are scores of cases that are pending before the terrorism courts in India and the 13/7 case too is expected to meet with the same fate.

There is no doubt that these are difficult cases to investigate. Take the 13/7 investigation it required the coordination of the police of many states as there were multiple modules involved in it and this itself led to a major delay in filing the chargesheet. Now that the chargesheet has been filed before the court, the wait for the trial to commence is going to be an endless one. An ATS official told that there is a waiting list before the sessions court handling these cases of terrorism and we cannot seek an early hearing as each of the cases that are pending before it are high in priority.

The court which is handling the 13/7 case also has before it the 2006 train bombing case pending since the past 6 years. The investigations took a while and there were repeated applications before the various higher courts questioning points of law and also rights of the accused which led to the case being delayed on many ocassions. After the filing of the chargesheet many years back this case has finally got underway and there is in no way that anyone be it the prosecution of the accused want any sort of delay. The case is being heard on a day to day basis and may take another month or two to complete. At the moment the evidences are being recorded following which the case will near a closure.

However the bigger delay would the case after this and that is the Aurangabad arms case which is again of the year 2006. Although the prosecution is ready with its case, it is likely to get further delayed as there is a new angle to it following the arrest of Abu Jundal one of the main accused in the case who was nabbed recently by the Indian police. The prosecution says that it would like to add what Jundal has to say on this case as he is an important person in this case. They will have to bring in new testimonies and new evidence and all this would form part of the trial. The ATS which is probing this case says that it would depend on when they would get access to Jundal. They would either have to wait several more months to get his custody or at least write into the Home Ministry seeking access to Jundal so that his version of the arms case can be furnished before the court.

If there are no set backs or applications before the higher courts in the Aurangabad arms case then this case would take at least another year for it to complete once it commences two months later. It is only after this will the trial in the 13/7 blasts commence. Although this gives the ATS some more time to get more information on the case and make it a fool proof one, it still is a long wait for justice.

Legal experts say that since all these are major cases involving terrorism, all the cases before the courts would have to go in order. There is no question of prioritizing any of these cases unless there is an intervention by the Supreme Court. If any of the parties want the case to be taken up on a priority basis then they would have to file an application before the Supreme Court seeking early disposal of the case. However looking at the existing cases of hand ie the Aurangabad and the train blasts case, it is unlikely that any of the courts would give precedence to the 13/7 case as the ones which are to be completed have been pending over half a decade now. Legal experts also suggest that the better way to deal with the situation is to designate special courts for each of these cases so that they could be undertaken simultaneously in the respective courts.

Where are the CCTVs?


There is a lot that has been spoken about the installations of CCTVs for enhanced security measures. After the gruesome 26/11 attack a lot of emphasis was laid on the installation of CCTVs and while that was never implemented the same topic once again came up following the 13/7 blasts.

After the 13/7 blasts, the police relied very heavily on the Close Circuit Televisions that had been set up in the area and most of these cameras were personal ones. The daunting issue with these cameras were that they were not of high quality and the moment the zoom option was used to the fullest the image turned hazy which made it extremely difficult for the police to narrow down on the culprit.

The capital city of Maharashtra requires a minimum of 5000 CCTVs if providing security and cracking cases should begin to make some sense. Even the Ram Pradhan report after the 26/11 attack proposed that there is a requirement of 5000 such cameras in order to keep a proper watch on the entire city. More importantly these are cameras which have to be installed by the state government and the police department as they would have non stop access to the same at any given time. The quality of these cameras proposed were supposed to be very high in nature and it should have been able to provide a very clear picture upon maximum zoom.

However the city that has been a favourite terrorist hunting ground have hardly around 500 such cameras and most of the time the reliance is placed on the private cameras which only provide the imagery after an attack has taken place as they not linked directly to the police control room. What is most ironical is that after the proposal of 5000 cameras was made, the government managed to set up just around 150 cameras which are linked directly to the control room. The recommendation was that at least 5000 more cameras need to be installed in order to have some sense of security in such a large city.

What one realises while speaking to the police officials is that there is a big blame game that is on regarding this aspect. While the government had blamed official apathy for the same, the police department have been complaining about lack of funds. The Government feels that it is the duty of the police to ensure that these cameras are set up. While this is one part of the problem the other is the tussle between the crime and traffic wing of the police which is delaying this process. The government feels that the police department should also try and fend for itself in this issue and not always depend on the government for financial help. In cities such as Bangalore and Delhi the government has stated clearly that the fines that are collected for traffic offences need not be given to the government. It should entirely be used for setting up of police infrastructure which would include the installation of close circuit televsions. Now the traffic department feels that it should be the one spending the entire amount on CCTVs which would finally be used by the crime branch. They feel that other basic infrastructure that they would need would be compromised if they end up spending the entire amount collected by them in the setting up of CCTVs in the city.

While this is one part of the issue, post 13/7 what was found that even with the existing cameras on hand there were not sufficient personnel to handle the equipment, which was an indicator that the personnel were not given special training. In addition this the police department did not have access to the 4G network in order to ensure that these cameras function properly. The lack of a speedy network meant that there was a lag in the imagery. This meant that the police department had to work with low definition imagery since high definition cameras usually do not work properly with the kind of network speed that the police have access to. Moreover the use of a 3G network while operating high definition cameras have always failed in all parts of the world.

Police officials say that it has been mandatory for every establishment to have their own cameras. More importantly it is essential that these cameras are linked to the police control room so that there can be continued monitoring. However the  private establishments feel that investing in expensive cameras would hurt their pockets and they would need support from government.

13/7- The BIG goof-up


Although the Maharashtra ATS claims to have cracked the 13/7 case, it would still be remembered for an investigation which witnessed two very embarrassing incidents. The first one was the arrest of an informer who the police thought was an accused and the other was the complete lack of coordination which led to Yasin Bhatkal, the mastermind slipping away.

Naqqi Ahmed Washi was picked up by the ATS and there was a hue and cry which this team made over the arrest claiming it to be a major breakthrough. However the grim face of the Home Ministry and also the Intelligence Bureau went on to reveal that this man was an informer.

For the Intelligence Bureau Naqqi was an important person. It was through him did they find out what exactly transpired in the Indian Mujahideen circles in Bihar. Infact he was the one who was providing them with the details of this new module and the IB also found information that the IM was planning on a major resurrection from the state of Bihar.

The ploy set up by the Intelligence bureau through Naqqi was to nab the elusive Yasin Bhatkal. Naqqi had all the information on him and was helping the IB gather details on this mastermind. It was said that Naqqi was chosen by the IB a couple of years back and he was being groomed into being an informer and this had paid off since they did manage to get a lot out of him.

When the entire ploy was ready, Naqqi passed on some very crucial information regarding Yasin Bhatkal. The information was shared by the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi police who had carried out the first operation at Tamil Nadu. Naqqi through his sources closely monitored the movements of Yasin Bhatkal and finally he passed on the information that Yasin would land at Byculla and stay over at an apartment.

This information had to be shared with the ATS as the operation was to take place in their jurisdiction. However the ATS hurried the operation and instead of acting on the information Naqqi had been sharing picked him up and showed him as one of the accused in the case. This was probably a herculean blunder on part of the ATS. Not only did it erode the faith some Muslim informers had in the system, but it also created a huge damage as it helped Yasin give the police the slip.

The night that Yasin was supposed to arrive at Byculla, Naqqi was picked up. The announcement by the ATS was that Naqqi was the main person who had moved the Rs 1.5 lakh through Yasin for the 13/7 operation. This announcement scared Yasin away and the police have not managed to find him ever since.

Although at first the ATS was in denial that Naqqi was an informer, later on this incident led to a face off between the ATS, the Delhi police and the Intelligence Bureau. The IB was extremely upset that their informer had been nabbed due to a hurried operation. The problem that the ATS faced was that they were desperate to show a head count and were picking up everyone in sight.

The blunder committed by the ATS was a fatal one. Here are some of the questions that arose following this hurried operation by the ATS.

If the ATS had a surveillance on Naqqi how come they did not know that he was working as an informer?

According to the ATS Naqqi had visited Madanpura several times. If they knew this then why did they not know that he had visited this place many times along with the Special cell and had been giving them information.

While this incident raised the biggest concern of lack of cooperation between the police forces, the ATS had no explanation for this incident. All Rakesh Maria said that the Special Cell is my batch mate thus trying to sweep under the carpet a major blunder. The IB and the Special Cell were in the least impressed by this and for them it was an excellent chance lost at getting Yasin, leave alone the trust they lost with their informer.

13/7 and the birth of Bihar module

While there was no major headway that had been made in the 13/7 investigations, the biggest find one could say in this entire probe was the finding of the Bihar module of the Indian Mujahideen. There was a lurking doubt that the Indian Mujhaideen was trying to set up modules in lesser suspected states, but the probe into the 13/7 blasts led the agencies directly to the Bihar module which infact turned out to be a major one.

The first of the signs that led to the cracking of the Bihar module when two operatives by the names Naki Ahmed and Nadeem Akthar were arrested. The duo hailed from Bihar and it was said that they were handed over a sum of Rs 1.5 lakh to carry out the operation by Yasin Bhatkal.

The 13/7 operation was an inter linked one and it was found that blasts at Delhi and Bangalore were also carried out by the same Bihar module. In all there were 11 modules which took part in the 13/7 operations and the main ones were at Araria, Madhubani and Sitamarhi.

Sources in the Intelligence Bureau say that the 13/7 blasts was an important operation for the Indian Mujahideen since the outfit had been lying low for quite some time. The blasts at Chinnaswamy and also at Delhi were small operations and they were more of a wake up call. However with the 13/7 operation they did manage to create a huge impact and also hit at areas which were major business centres. What the creation of the Bihar module did was, it sent the police on a wild goose chase and it took a very long time before they even discovered where the attack originated out of.

The operatives or the foot soldiers that were used during the 13/7 attack were mostly illegal immigrants and this was a deliberate ploy on part of the Indian Mujahideen to avoid the heat. Moreover the use of communication via emails or even the mobile phone was extremely restricted which again led to the police having a tough time in nabbing the culprits.

It was however an operation conducted in Tamil Nadu by the Delhi police which finally blew the lid off the Indian Mujahideen and its Bihar operation. During the interrogation of the various persons that were picked up during this operation including an operative by the name Riazul Sarkar it was found that the operation was planned with the Bihar module in mind. He also revealed that the modules that carried out the 13/7 attack were based in areas of Bihar which had a huge influx of illegal immigrants and this was an intentional ploy as the police would not find out what was going on so easily.

The IM for the 13/7 operation ensured that the entire planning was kept out of the ambit of the Maharashtra modules since they did realise that there was a lot of scrutiny in this state. All through the operation had been planned in Bihar and finally they managed to carry out a successful attack which killed scores of people.

Social network- The IM is here now

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When the Indian Mujahideen orchestrated the recent spate of attacks across India, investigators took a while before they could figure out the modus operandi. Post 13/7 and the Delhi High Court blasts, what foxed investigators was the complete absence of telephone conversations that led up to the planning and the execution of these blasts.

Today the investigators are able to make some sense out of this and have realized that it was the social networking sites that were being used to communicate between the cadres. In addition to this, the police have also found that some cadres of the Indian Mujahideen were trying to conduct recruitment’s through their Facebook accounts through hidden messages.

The Indian Mujahideen has been quick in the use in the use of technology when it came to planning and executing their operations. They started out with the use of emails, then moved on to chats and later Skype through which they communicated. However when the police finally got wind of this, they improvised by using the drafts in a mail and also the cache to store their messages in accounts which was accessed through a common username and password.

Planning:Yasin Bhatkal who today is the big boy in the Indian Mujahideen had extensively used social networking sites to stay in touch with his fellow men in the outfit. Personalized messages were sent out and also status updates in coded forms were used to communicate his plans which eventually led to two very horrific blasts. According to the police the use of social networking commenced in the year 2008 itself, but then it was sparingly used at that time. They had a back up plan on hand and had decided on using social networking more extensively only if their other forms of communication failed.

However post 2008 there was very strict monitoring of the manner in which the IM cadres communicated amongst each other through emails and also phones which prompted them to use social networking sites extensively. The first use of social networking in a major way was visible during the Varanasi blasts. The accused who had fled India for Dubai orchestrated the Varanasi blasts through the use of social networking sites. The messages were simple and heavily coded language had been used to pass on information. It was at that time that the IM was looking to rebuild and they were content with smaller attacks just to keep the ball rolling and announce that they were not out of contention. Hence by intentionally maintaining a low profile and using very little man force they managed to carry out the Varanasi blasts.

The same was witnessed during the 13/7 and also the Delhi blasts. During the run up to these attacks, the IM cadres in India met directly and discussed their plans. They did realize that one on one meetings left very little trail. They then used these networking sites to communicate with their other counterparts who were in different locations. All this went unnoticed by the police which helped them execute their plans with a great deal of ease.

Shishir Gupta, the author of the book- Indian Mujahideen, Tracking the Enemy Within says. “ for an aspiring global power, India is very vulnerable to cyber attacks by terrorist groups. Since 2005 IM modules have been communicating through cyber space with the use of emails, Skype etc. Hence when we speak of the use of social networking sites, it is only natural that they would have upgraded their capabilities. With the option of mobile phones and also satellite phones out it was expected that they would use such sites to communicate. This in fact has proven to be a safe method of communication for them.

The Danger ahead: While now it is clear that the IM has been using social networking sites to communicate, there is also this danger where the recruitment’s are concerned. It is not necessary that they would continue to use very popular networking sites to communicate their plans amongst each other. The police are not ruling out a possibility of the use of lesser known sites for communication.

However the bigger worry ahead is the manner in which they would try and recruit and also communicate their agenda through such sites. The IM has been trying to fashion itself on the lines of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and has been quoting some social causes before they carry out their attacks. They are constantly looking for sympathy amongst the younger lot and have been successful to a large extent.

During the past couple of months it has been witnessed that some members of the outfit who are present on popular social networking sites have been sending out friend requests to college students, persons in high positions and also journalists. While they would snoop on some profiles the requests sent out to college students is nothing but a bait. Once the friend request is sent out, there are messages that are posted regarding the kind of news that is appearing against their community and also discussions regarding the various issues such as Godhra or a Babri are discussed thus dishing out sentiments. The success rate has not been all that great according to the police, but even they manage to bait one out of 20 people, the IM would be content.

Cyber security experts say that there is no one point solution to this problem. The cyber police need to constantly watch popular sites and also the activity over the internet. There is no point in finding out things after the damage has been done and it is necessary that the police remain one up on the game.