Unseen enemies lurk at home
KILL ZONE: TERRORISTS TARGET COUNTRY’S CAPITAL TO GET MAXIMUM ATTENTION
By virtue of being the capital of the world’s largest democracy, Delhi is a prime target of terrorist groups, and countering them has become a major challenge for security agencies. With the arrest of five Indian Mujahideen members this month and deportation of another, security agencies have managed to foil a major attack in the city.
But the presence of sleeper cells of terror operatives in Delhi has become a major concern as there are fresh threats of terror strikes in the upcoming festival season.
From the 2001 Parliament attack case to the bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat on February 13 this year, Delhi has seen over a dozen terror attacks with hundreds of people killed and thousands injured.
There is a perpetual terror threat in the Capital. The main goal of Indian Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Lashkar-e-Toiba is to strike Delhi the hardest.
“Since it’s the national capital, terror outfits think that carrying out strikes here will have international implications, and the world will acknowledge their act of insane brutality. There is always a terror threat in Delhi,” said a senior police officer who, for the last two decades, has been involved in counter-terrorist operations in Delhi.
Sharing his twenty years of experience, the officer said members of terror outfits are fanatical people and their main motive is to create panic among people. “Remorseless, these men don’t show any sign of guilt on their face. They are tough nuts to crack. If caught they try to justify their doings,” he said.
Changes in trend
In the last decade, security agencies have seen changes in terror activities in Delhi. Earlier, foreign terrorists were directly involved in carrying out strikes in the city. They would enter India through one of the numerous porous borders that India share with Bangladesh and Nepal. They would strike and then flee via the same route.
Over the years some terrorist organisations started setting up bases in Delhi, and lately they have been successful in motivating some local residents to run homegrown terror modules.
“Things have changed a lot. Now homegrown terror modules are carrying out strikes in the city on directions from terrorists holed up in Pakistan and West Asian countries,” said the officer.
Citing the Parliament attack in 2001, the officer said that on December 13, 2001, five gunmen infiltrated Parliament House in a car bearing the Union home ministry’s and Parliament’s stickers, and opened up in a ‘suicide attack’. The assault was carried out by members of LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed, who came from Pakistan. They also got help from local sympathisers in India.
Homegrown terror outfit
From 2006 onwards, homegrown terror module — Indian Mujahideen — formed by five students in Bhatkal in Karnataka in 2003, started carrying out attacks across the country.
IM was engineered with the help of Pakistani intelligence and LeT to spread terror in India.
The influence of conservative Islam, and funding from Pakistan and the Middle East, helped radicalise youth members of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India, ultimately achieving the goal of making homegrown terrorists.
Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Bhatkal, Aamir, Mohammad Tariq Anjuman Hasan and Fasih Mahmood transformed SIMI into Indian Mujahideen.
On September 13, 2008, IM members for the first time carried our serial blasts within 45 minutes in Connaught Place, Karol Bagh’s Gaffar market and M-Block market in Greater Kailash-1 in south Delhi. At least 25 people were killed and over 100 were injured.
Since then the homegrown terror outfit has carried out five attacks in Delhi. Before that, attacks in the Capital were carried out by Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and LeT.
Police have managed to bust three IM terror modules so far, and some 30 terrorists have been arrested within four years.
Anti-terror wing under flak
The anti-terror wing of the Delhi police special cell has also faced criticism from various organisations and government representatives after the Batla House encounter, which took place on September 19, 2008. The cops had launched an operation against suspected IM members in Batla House area in Jamia Nagar.
Two suspected terrorists, Atif Amin and Mohamed Sajid, were killed and two other suspects Mohammad Saif and Zeeshan were arrested. Another accused Ariz Khan managed to escape. Encounter specialist and inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, who led the operation, was also killed in the firefight.
After this operation the anti-terror wing of Delhi police was put on the back burner for almost two years. The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association, which was formed after the Batla House encounter, recently released a report alleging that the special cell had arrested 14 innocent people for terror activities, who were acquitted by court.
Refuting the allegation, Delhi police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said that six cases out of the 16 referred to in the report have actually ended in conviction, while one case is pending trial.
“One case has not been investigated by the special cell at all. Of the eight cases that ended in acquittal, in five cases our appeals are pending against the order of the trial court before the Delhi High Court,” he said.
Special cell revived now
It was after B K Gupta took charge as the police commissioner on November 10, 2010, that the special cell got a new lease of life.
He brought in some good counter-terror officers — Ashok Chand and Sanjeev Kumar Yadav — in the cell. The team, under additional commissioner Ashok Chand, busted two terror modules with the arrest of 18 terrorists.
Recent arrests and threats
In just a month, five suspected IM members were arrested for involvement in the August 1 Pune serial blasts. With their arrest police found out that they had plans to carry out blasts in Delhi and Bihar in the upcoming festival season.
Sayed Maqbool, who hails from Maharashtra’s Nanded district, was arrested in Hyderabad on Tuesday for executing the blasts.
Earlier, police had arrested Asad Khan, 33, and Imran Khan, 31, from their hideouts in south-east Delhi’s Pul Prahladpur on September 26. Sayed Feroz alias Hamza, 38, was nabbed in Nizamuddin railway station on October 1 and Landge Irfan Mustafa, 30, was arrested in Jaipur on October 10.
“We have managed to bust the IM module behind the Pune bombings, but we are aware that over two dozen operatives are still at large. We also completely agree that there may be many more who are yet to be identified. We are trying to unearth the entire group by interrogating the arrested operatives. We will keep gathering intelligence about possible suspects,” said special commissioner of police (special cell) S Srivastava.
Security agencies have also managed to bring two terrorists from Saudi Arabia recently — Fasih Mahmood, one of IM’s founders, and Abu Jundal, LeT member who also plotted the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Police have identified hundreds of vulnerable locations were terrorists may strike in the upcoming festivals. They have tightened security in those areas, and are gathering intelligence about possible terror activities in Delhi.
Additional armed teams have been deployed in several areas, and Quick Reaction Team commandos armed with sophisticated weapons have also sent to various locations.
“Security has been beefed up and additional forces have been deployed to ensure safety. All security mechanisms have been put into place," said Rajan Bhagat.