An agreement with Maldives to permit its residents to stay on in India without a visa for 90 days has been proving to be a headache for investigating agencies especially in Kerala. Very recently Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh spoke about the challenges the two countries faced in fighting a common enemy called as terrorism.

Post 26/11, every attempt was made by Pakistan based militant groups to float more modules in Maldives and the message was clear that attacks would be more sea borne in future. Off late Intelligence Bureau reports show that there is a lot of influx of Maldives based terror operatives and they have been frequenting states such as Kerala.

The fact that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba has been setting up modules in Maldives to launch terror attacks is nothing new. However the state in India that they would depend on the most would be Kerala according to reports put out by security agencies. Groups such as the Lashkar have been tapping the modules in Kerala to keep their Maldivian operations afloat. Signs of a Kerala-Maldives link began to show in the year 2007 itself with the arrest of a key operative by the name Asif Ibrahim.

Till date the Lashkar has been using the modules in Kerala to carry out operations in the Maldives, but soon it could be vice versa when the outfit decides to target India. There is a steady growth of the Maldivian modules according to Intelligence reports. Not only are these groups strong ideologically, but they have the capabilities of launching sea borne attacks as well which is probably the toughest form of terror which India can fight.

The Male Sultan park blast was the first time that the India-Maldives terror link cropped up. Executed by an Islamic cell connected with the Lashkar, this attack made Indian agencies sit up and take notice of what was going on.

In this case the police managed to gather a lot of information through the interrogation of Asif Ibrahim who was also connected with the attack. This man who is a Maldivian national was arrested in Kerala and during his interrogation spoke in great detail about the links between the state and the groups in Maldives. The two regions are directly bound by the finance factor and most of the operations that are carried out in Maldives are funded through the modules in Kerala which are hawala experts.

During his interrogation he also goes on to say that they have launched a shadow outfit called the Jammat-e-Muslimeen which is a cover for the Lashkar. All operations connecting Maldives and Kerala are carried out in the name of this outfit. The Kerala police point out that this is nothing but a shadow outfit for the Lashkar and in the name of the JeM a lot of activites have been carried out. The problem is serious and under the guise of a 90 day no visa policy many operatives have managed to come in and go with no problem what so ever. Although there is this glitch, the police say they are taking all efforts to verify the details of those who come into Kerala from Maldives.

However Ibrahim’s interrogation went on to prove that the police were caught napping. They managed to procure arms and also funds with much ease from Kerala when compared to Maldives. Due to various factors in Kerala, the Lashkar has found it easier to stock weapons and also cash in Kerala and have also managed to smuggle it out with much ease, once again using the sea route.

The last of the operations connecting these two modules was the Sultan park bombing. The JeM which is still very much active has remained to remain low key for the moment. Although there has been no major incident, there is still a lot of activity that goes on and hence it becomes extremely important to monitor movements into Kerala, the police feel.

The other interesting aspect is the visit made by another man called Inas Moosa to Kerala before the Sultan Park bombing. His visit is part of the record in Indian circles, but there is no trace of the man today. All the police know through their investigations is that Moosa had come down to Thiruvananthapuram and met with a couple of operatives before the attack.

Although India, Maldives and Pakistan have been speaking of curbing terror activities in Maldives, it does not appear that the Lashkar has let go easily. They have roped their best operatives including the D Gang to carry out operations in the Maldives. The D Gang has in fact set up three front companies in Maldives through which operations go on.

The IB says that all eyes are on Thiruvananthapuram where the JeM is headquartered. This front is a direct link to the Maldives operation. There is an attempt that is being made by the Lashkar to move out of Pakistan and make Maldives a big base and there is a lot of dependancy on the Indian modules for the same.

Apart from records available even the interrogations of various other operatives would show that Maldives is becoming a major hub for the Lashkar. Sarfaraz Nawaz, Sabahuddin among others have spoken about the Lashkar’s plans for Maldives. Nawaz even goes on to say that apart from Kerala they were also planning on linking the Tamil Nadu based modules for operations in Maldives.

Indian Mujahideen-Tracking the enemy within

Indian Mujahideen- Tracking the enemy within is a book which deals with the recent acts of terror which have exploded the myth that Indian youth is insulated from the global terrorism phenomenon and had little time for extremism. The communal riots post the 1992 incident, the rise of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the mutation of a section of aspiring Muslim youth into terrorists with the help of forces across the border.
Shishir Gupta the  Editor, Express News Service of The Indian Express Newspaper who is the author of this book says that this book deals with the various trends of Home Grown Jihad in India apart from a host of other issues on the subject.
The story of home-grown jihadists would have been skewed had it not been for the testimonies of David Coleman Headley and Sarfaraz Nawaz on the involvement of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence, top Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership, the Al Qaida and the Karachi project, whose demon child the Indian Mujahideen is. This book is the first-ever attempt to link up jihadists all over India and trace their linkages with terrorists based in countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
In this interview with, Gupta discusses in detail the various aspects of terrorism that has rocked our country, the future trends and a host of other issues pertaining to the subject.

Sir, could you tell us what your book is about?
Basically the book picks up various trends of Home Grown jihad in India. It is all about the growth of Home Grown jihad in India and its inter-section with the conservative Salafi ideology. Further the book also deals with how funding for terrorism and the ideology got mixed up and it joins the dots on the various incidents of terror in the past one decade. It gives us details about how all this took place and also looks at the various revealations made by David Headley and also Sarfaraz Nawaz. Further the book also deals with the manner in which all these cases of terror were probed in India and also goes on to point out some instances where investigations were not carried out in a proper manner. Each of these incidents are analysed.
Further it also gives us a full fledged picture of the Headley confessions and also what the Karachi Project is. On the 26/11 front it deals with the various players such as Sajid Mir and the other players in this plot. The book charts the growth of home grown jihad in India and the influence of conservative Islam or Salafism along with funding from Pakistan and Middle-East on already radicalised SIMI youth in India. It joins the dots as far as terrorist incidents of the past decade are concerned with detailed insight in the support given to local Indian youth through testimonies of David Coleman Headley, Khawaja Amjad Sheikh and Sarfarz Nawaz. The book gives insight into Abdur Rehman Saeed’s so-called Karachi project, a joint venture of ISI-LeT, and the filure of the Indian law enforcement agencies in detecting the tale of retribution and counter-retribution being palyed out between Muslim and Hindu extremists. It enphasises on the need for police to properly investigate terror cases and not come up with tailor made accusations or the real culprits like in the cases of blasts in Makkah Masjid, Sarojni Nagar and local trains will never be found.

Today there appears to be a lull in India where activities of terrorists are concerned. Do you think groups such as the Indian Mujahideen are on the backfoot?
I would not say that the Indian Mujahideen is dead and neither would I agree that it is on the back foot. It is slowly re-grouping and that is my understanding of it. Two days ago there was a report of the NSG regarding the IED which was found outside the Delhi High Court. The device had ammonium nitrate, grease, wax and detonators. In this particular case the detonators had mal functioned. Look at the September 19 2010 incident where a car had been burnt. There again the detonators had failed. Had these bombs gone off properly then it would have been a major incident. This is an indicator that there is a group which is still active

Indian Mujahideen according to the Intelligence Bureau is an off shoot of the Students Islamic Movement of India. Did the ban on SIMI lead to the emergence of a more dreaded outfit?
SIMI was basically the feeder cadre. I am not saying that everyone in the SIMI is out to kill people. There was an element within the SIMI which was radicalised. Safdar Nagori would have seen the Hindu aggression post Babri and Gujarat. There was an element under pressure in this group which was under pressure and some got mutated into this.
There was already a critical mass in India in the form of radicalised SIMI cadre, which got mutated into IM under pressure from Hindu assertiveness and support from ISI and its sponsored groups with significant funding from the

For the ISI a home grown outfit was always important in order to keep focus away from Pakistan and groups such as the IM and SIMI provided this solution. If the police are to be believed then the IM is down and out as of today. In such a situation what happens to the concept of home grown Jihad?
The basic ideology is to destablise India and this they will continue to do irrespective of the name of the terrorist organisation. The core continues to be SIMI and if you look at the activities in Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh there are still certain groups which are active. Take the case of T Nasir who was first part of the lashkar-e-Tayiba and then the Indian Mujahideen. Despite him changing outfits the intention always remained the same for him. There continues to remain a huge dissatisfied lot and these are the people who will continue to destablise India. The ISI has always been looking for such elements and have even tried to penentrate into the naxal movement. The objective to destablise will always remain.

The big wigs of the IM such as Abdus Subhan continue to be on the run. Do you think that men such as these are capable of re-building the outfit again?
My understanding of him is different. It has been claimed that he is behind almost all the incidents undertaken by the Indian Mujahideen. Subhan is not on the CBI’s most wanted lost. There is no red corner notice on him. He is a friend of Nagori. He had an ideology and was a die hard SIMI cadre. Till 2008 I have nothing on paper to  say that he was a terrorist. Once the likes of Nagori and the rest were arrested we see him getting closer to Bhatkal and it is said that he sought revenge for the Gujarat riots. Both he and Safdar were not talking about bombs. They were talking about shooting incidents. To say he is the king pin is not correct. The likes of Amir Reza Khan, Ilyas Kashmiri and Sajid Mir are all very much around and these men are very dangerous. Then there is also Dr Shahnawaz who is equally important in this outfit who continues to be out.

What do you make of the alleged death of Riyaz Bhatkal? Do you think this news is true?
Now I have tried to cross check it in various places. We are not getting much about his movements. So there could be a possibility of him being bumped off. But the point is there is no confirmation. Amjad Khwaja Sheikh’s interrogation confirmed the killing of Shahid Bilal in Karachi. So till such time there is a substantive corroboration of Riyaz Bhatkal’s demise, one should keep their fingers crossed.

Which states do you think cadres of the IM would utilize today to re-build their organization?
South India is the next base. Kerala is worrisome,  Karnataka will have a bad mix since the naxalism is spreading out there. Then again there is Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh always has a political element to it. However my key concern will always remain Kerala.

Speaking of the 26/11 attack, do you think these home grown outfits had any role to play at least in helping the likes of David Headley survey their targets?
It is very hard to swallow what both the IB and the police say. They say that there was no local support. Looking at the scope and bandwidth of the attack it is clear that there were local players. However these local players had limited roles to play If you look at the various reports you get a feel that there were locals who played a part but all through never knew about the scope and the magnitude of the attack. There are a lot of aspects we never knew regarding this attack. Had it not been for the Americans, we would have never know about David Headley.

The Gulf angle to Indian terrorism is something that we cannot rule out. Do you think India needs to be more assertive while dealing with the cadres of the IM settled in these nations?
The point in this is that we need to build up developmental and economic leverage with these countries. There is a lot more we need to do regarding this. Last year there was an alert from the Home Ministry regarding three persons, but they were allowed to go. At the end of the day if we do not take this issue lying down then those countries will start to take us seriously.

We are sorry, the case is not good enough

India is desperately looking for at least 80 terrorists who are hiding both within and out of the country. It has been ascertained that most of these men are hiding outside the country and the only way in which they can be brought down to the country is with the help of the Interpol.

Now here is a shocking fact. Most of the requests that have been sent to the Interpol have been rejected and this would mean that there will be no international support for India to bring these men down and question them.

The list of persons whose requests have been rejected is an interesting one. They include three key persons- Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Bhatkal, Asadullah and several others who are very close to the underworld and have taken refuge outside the country.

Letters of request have been sent to the Interpol seeking the arrest of these men. However these requests have been rejected on the ground that the police have not built a strong enough case against them. The information regarding these men have been vague in nature and it was not good enough for the Interpol to take up the request and arrest these men.

As per the procedure what first India requires is an extradition treaty and once that is in place the Interpol can go about its job and track these men down. Moreover once the Interpol takes up the request a red corner alert will be sounded against the terrorist which would mean that every moment of his is being tracked.

In so far as Riyaz and Iqbal, two very important terrorists, the last information suggested that they were in Karachi. While it is certain that Iqbal is in Karachi, the case of Riyaz is a bit murky since there was news that he had been shot down by the Chota Rajan gang.

An official of the intelligence bureau says that it is hard to get someone who is hiding in Pakistan, but if there is a red corner alert against that person, he could be well arrested when he is moving out of the country he is hiding in. when an Interpol rejects a request by the respective police force then a red corner alert cannot be sounded and this would mean that these persons can move around freely between countries without coming under the scanner of the Interpol. The IB can only pick up intercepts and pass it on to the police force. It cannot conduct a personal investigation of its own in such cases and it is the duty of the police to do that. The police will have to gather details of the person apart from collect evidence and then hand it over the Interpol who will keep these persons under a watch list. Unless the details given are strong, the Interpol will not act on any such request.

Police sources say that the information on most occasions that they receive from the intelligence is vague in nature. It is very difficult to build up a strong case and provide the exact details that the Interpol is looking for. However it is not the end of the road if the request is rejected since they can always do it again. Terrorists operate in a very smart manner and most of the time they leave behind very little trail. It is hard to find people to testify against them and hence building up the case is a battle. The Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts are a clear cut example. The investigations went in one particular direction for two years before taking a swing in a completely opposite direction.

The police say that in some cases it is virtually impossible to suit the requirements of the Interpol. There have been cases where they have to resort to other tactics to bring their target down to the country. One of the most famous incidents involved Sarfaraz Nawaz, an accused in the Bangalore serial blasts case. An Interpol request against him did not work out and hence they had to go to Muscat undercover as tourists and get in touch with him. Nawaz was however aware of the law and resisted the police and the latter had to resort to various other tactics before he agreed to come down with them.

The police say that it is easy to raise a hue and cry over such incidents, but the fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult to bring down through the Interpol. The other problem is that they cannot take too long either to build up a strong case before the Interpol. There is every chance of these men planning something else or even slipping into hostile nations, like how Riyaz, Iqbal and Dawood Ibrahim did.