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Plot unravelled

Plot unravelled

Author: T.S. Subramanian
Publication: Frontline
Date: August 16-29, 2008
URL: http://www.flonnet.com/stories/20080829251701600.htm

In Tamil Nadu, the police uncover a plot to set off bombs across the State on August 15.

It took the Bangalore and Ahmedabad bomb blasts to jolt the police in Tamil Nadu into action. They unravelled a conspiracy by Islamist militants to set off a series of explosions in different parts of the State on August 15. According to the police, the militants had planned to mount a three-pronged assault: explode bombs in trains; trigger explosions in 17 places, which included the Chennai Central railway station and the arterial Anna Flyover near the American Consulate in Chennai, the Collectorate and the Municipal Corporation buildings in Tirunelveli and famous temples such as the Kapaleeswara and Parthasarathy temples in Chennai, the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, the Brihadeesvara temple in Thanjavur, the Meenakshi temple in Madurai and the Nellaippar temple in Tirunelveli; and eliminate the State Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary L. Ganesan, the Hindu Munnani leader Rama. Gopalan and anti-jehadi Muslim leaders such as P. Zainalubudeen, organising secretary of the Tamil Nadu Thouheeth Jamaat, and Hyder Ali, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam.

A senior police officer said the entire conspiracy was hatched inside the Central Prison at Puzhal, near Chennai. After blasts rocked Bangalore and Ahmedabad, the Chennai police "completely monitored" the conversations Ali Abdullah and Raja Hussain, two militants lodged in the prison, had with other Islamist militants outside over their mobile phones. (Raja Hussain is facing trial for the murder of Hindu Munnani activist Rajagopalan in Madurai.) The police then alerted their counterparts in Tirunelveli. On July 27, the Tirunelveli police searched the house of Abdul Ghaffoor (39) at Pettai in the town and seized 21 components used in the making of bombs, a press statement issued by the office of the Director General of Police said. Abdul Ghaffoor was arrested.

In another raid in Madurai, the police seized one kilogram of explosives. Abdul Ghaffoor was earlier in close touch with Al Umma, a militant organisation that was behind the serial bomb blasts that rocked Coimbatore on February 14, 1998. He came under the police scanner when he gave shelter to Zubair and Zahir Hussain, two Al Umma cadre accused in the blasts, at N.S.K. Nagar in Aminjikarai, a residential locality in Chennai. Abdul Ghaffoor later joined the Tamil Nadu Muslim League (TNML) headed by Sheikh Dawood and contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 as a TNML candidate. Subsequently, he left the League and joined the Tamil Nadu Thouheeth Jamaat. He was, however, expelled from it.

On the basis of the information provided by Abdul Ghaffoor, another militant named Heera was arrested in Chennai. Interrogation of Heera revealed that Ali Abdullah, lodged at Puzhal, was the mastermind behind the plot. Ali Abdullah is an accused in the December 6, 1997, bomb attacks on Pandyan Express in Tiruchi and Cheran Express in Erode (Tamil Nadu) and Alappuzha Express in Alappuzha, Kerala. He was a former headquarters secretary of the All India Jihad Committee. Later Ali Abdullah set up a group called the Islamic Defence Force (IDF). Both the All India Jihad Committee and the IDF were behind several incidents of bloodletting in Tamil Nadu.

Ali Abdullah is also an accused in the August 8, 1997, murder of Hazarath Kamarushman, the "Pesh Imam" at the Al Masjidul Al Ameen Arabic madrassa mosque at Sivalingapuram at K.K. Nagar in Chennai. He and others of the IDF murdered the Pesh Imam for his "un-Islamic activities" such as allowing devotees to touch his feet, issuing "asma" and "talisman" and chanting "duva".

Ali Abdullah was a staunch follower of Imam Ali, a key accused in the 1993 bomb attack on the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh office in Chennai. Imam Ali and four of his associates were killed by the police in their hideout in Bangalore in 2002. The police are on the lookout for Thoufeek, whom they describe as "a notorious" militant. Thoufeek, along with Abu Dhahir, fled when the police surrounded their hideout at Mannadi in Chennai in May 2008. According to intelligence officials, Thoufeek forged links with Maoists and Dalit organisations in order to widen his terror network. Thoufeek is a member of an organisation called "Iraivan Oruvane" (there is only one God). Thoufeek is also said to be a close associate of Abu Hamsa, who formed the Muslim Defence Force in Saudi Arabia.

Heera is aligned with the Royal Group of the Shahid Force. He reportedly targeted Muslim women who had illicit relationships. Heera developed contacts with Thoufeek and accepted him as his mentor. On Thoufeek's instructions, Heera went to Mannadi to attack Rama. Gopalan when he was leading a demonstration on March 25. On specific information that Thoufeek, Heera, Abu Dhahir, Abdul Khader and Palani Ummer were staying in a hideout at Mannadi, the police surrounded the place. While Heera, Palani Ummer and Abdul Khader were arrested, Thoufeek and Abu Dhahir escaped. Heera was remanded in judicial custody but came out on bail later. He kept in touch with Abdul Ghafoor. Abu Dhahir surrendered in a court at Egmore, Chennai, on July 28.

The terror conspiracy took shape when Abdul Ghaffoor started visiting the Central Prison to meet Heera and Ali Abdullah. Whenever Raja Hussain was taken to Madurai for extension of his remand in the case relating to the murder of Rajagopalan, he secretly received information on the art of making bombs, the police said. In prison, Ali Abdullah and Raja Hussain exchanged notes on bomb making. In the meantime, Heera, who came out on bail, got in touch with Abdul Ghaffoor and they bought timers, detonators, battery cells and explosives.

The group's actual plan, according to the police, was to bring the explosive devices to Chennai from Tirunelveli, assemble them on July 30, ready everything by August 2, and explode them on August 15. Between August 2 and 15, they had planned to kill the Hindu Munnani and BJP leaders and the anti-jehad Muslim leaders. After the blasts, they planned to demand the release of Al Umma men imprisoned in Coimbatore in connection with the serial blasts.

The conspiracy hatched at Puzhal led to a shake-up of the prison administration. Solomon, the jail warder, was dismissed and 20 jailors were transferred. About 20 mobile phones were seized from prisoners, including a dozen from the jailed Muslim militants.

"The details of the calls made from the mobile phones are being analysed. We are checking whether any phone calls were made to the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] of Pakistan," one officer said.

With the conspiracy busted, the police have now turned their attention to stepping up security. A vigil is being maintained at godowns where explosives are stored and at State borders to check smuggling of explosives. A list of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis staying in the State is being prepared and their movements are monitored. Muslims from Jammu and Kashmir, who have set up antique shops in Mamallapuram, Kanyakumari and Thanjavur and at posh hotels, are under surveillance. The police are monitoring those who do hawala transactions.

Members of the jehadi organisations are also under the scanner. "We are sensitising officials and security personnel belonging to railway stations, airports, information technology parks and shopping malls. We are sharing intelligence with the Intelligence Bureau, the Research & Analysis Wing and the State intelligence agencies," an intelligence officer said.

Security has been stepped up several notches at the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam and the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tirunelveli district. Anti-aircraft guns are in position at Kalpakkam and Kudankulam complexes, and personnel of the three services have been posted at Kudankulam.

The activities of about 90 Al Umma militants, who were released from prison after they served their terms in the Coimbatore blasts case, are worrying the police. "Their rehabilitation is not proper. Ninety militants out in the open is not a small matter," said a police officer. Some of them have taken to abduction of people dealing in real estate to demand ransom. Another group keeps a watch on employees of jewellery shops who transport gold and allegedly rob them of gold. A third group is smuggling rice meant for the Public Distribution System (PDS) to Kerala, where they make a profit by selling the stock. "The profit goes for jehad," the officer added.

The police are also monitoring the activities of Al Munthaquem Force, an organisation floated by the supporters of Imam Ali. Imam Ali's supporters are active in Madurai, Dindigul, Tiruchi, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. They conduct abductions and hold kangaroo courts, among other things, to raise money.

The police are also taking measures to detain 11 Islamist militants who are absconding. They are Thoufeek; Abu Bucker Siddiqui of Nagore; 'Tailor' Raja, an accused in the Coimbatore blasts case; Mujibur Rehman of Coimbatore; Nuhu alias Rasheed of Kozhikode in Kerala; Mushtaq Ahmed of Vaniyambadi; Kunju Mohammed of Malappuram, Kerala; Mohammed Ali of Melapalyam, Tirunelveli; Ayub of Selvapuram, Coimbatore; and Abu Ummer and Abu Hamsa, both of Hyderabad.

Twenty-one members of the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) are facing trial in 11 cases in Tamil Nadu.

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