Tracking terrorists

Written by Maroof Raza | Updated: Aug 21 2011, 05:43am hrs
Until a few years ago, it was said that despite a very large Muslim population, India did not have any Muslims who sympathised with or actively pursued the Al-Qaedas agenda. But that state of denial was put to rest after evidence was acquired following the serial bomb blasts in Varanasi on March 7, 2006 and Malegaon on September 20, 2008. And even in this case, most Indian intelligence and police agencies initially had predictably blamed Pakistan-based terror groups. Little did anyone realise that from early 2002 Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had put together the Karachi Project whose demon child is the Indian Mujahideen. However, this book by eminent journalist Shishir Gupta is the first ever attempt to link-up extensive research and provide a very detailed account of evolution of the Indian Mujahideen, whose agendaon behalf of their Pakistani mindersis to destabilise India by using radicalised Indian Muslims, and save Pakistan from being blamed. The recent bombings in Mumbais Jauhari Bazaar is the latest example of their handiwork.

The authors extraordinary research on the lives of several individuals, who were lured into the Jihadi path, leaves the readers not only impressed but also somewhat heavy headed with the details in this book, tracking individuals and their associates from remote townships like Azamgarh in north Uttar Pradesh, to Mumbai, Hyderabad and even Delhi. This details make the book stand out in stark contrast to the repeated inability of Indias multiple intelligence agencies, whove failed to get to the depth of recurring terrorist attacks. The book establishes that the pattern of their incompetence is the same: little or no actionable intelligence and lack of accountability following each faux- pas! Those who screwed up on 26/11 were in fact even promoted.

One reason why the police has continued to miss the writing on the wall is because theyve only concentrated on political intelligence and the settling of personal scores. This has led to the harassment of Muslim youth, who later became willing recruits to the Jihadi cause. A climate of political half truths (as the BJP-led government ignored Hindu hardliners, especially in Gujarat) coupled with police high handedness, led to a heady cocktail that groups like the Indian Mujahideen and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), benefited from. Thus, the local biases of politicians and policemen have in fact created more terrorists.

Moreover, clumsy investigation and official haste in solving cases, led to large scale arrest of many innocents, and then the use of truth serum (sodium pentothal) to get admissions from those who were arrested. This was not only unconstitutional but it often elicited inconclusive admission, as the author highlights. Take the case of one Mohammad Ali, in whose residence apparently the 7/11 attack bombs were assembled. He was also linked to the Malegaon blast. But Ali was in fact in police custody well before the blast! Clearly, the creditability of the police remains very low among large sections of the Muslims whothough subjected to truth serums and third degree treatmenthave little or no support for groups like the Indian Mujahideen. But sadly theyve come under the fishing net every time there is a terrorist attack.

The author has made several well meaning recommendations in this well documented study, which could have done with an index, the need for which is severely felt as one attempts to trace the encyclopaedic inputs in this book that highlight the several plots that have led to terror attacks across the country. This includes data about the email IDs, pseudonyms and aliases adopted by the terrorists that make up the Indian Mujahideen network, with details of their sources of funding as well as how so many systematic fronts were created by them.

The book ends with a list of recommendations, but if past experience is anything to go by, then Shishir Guptas recommendation might also fall on deaf ears. But if anyone in the corridors of power were to read this rather objective and meticulously researched account, s/he would realise that not only does the Indian police force need to go back to the drawing board all over again to understand this increasing deadly phenomenon, but also they would need to do a serious cleanup of their operational methodology, which has, in fact, created more terrorists over the years than addressed the problem at hand. This is the central message of this book.

The writer is head of Security Watch India, an organisation working in the homeland security sector