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Terror Percolating

Terror Percolating

Author: Subhash Mishra
Publication: India Today
Date: December 4, 2006

Introduction: Terrorism is spreading its tentacles far and wide in Uttar Pradesh. It is slowly making inroads in newer areas, relatively underdeveloped and nondescript, even as big cities remain prime targets in the state.

"Since the Pakistani education system could not accommodate the refugees, the Government let religious schools serve as a cost-free alternative, that over time, produced large numbers of half-educated men with no marketable skills but with deeply held Islamic views."-National Commission on 9/11 Terrorist Attacks in the US, referring to the Deoband School as a source of Islamic fundamentalism.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has known for many years what the Americans have just discovered. The Special Task Force (STF) has found that out of 45 terrorists arrested/killed in the past two years, nine had studied in Darul Uloom Deoband. Even Afghanistan's Taliban regime had a substantial presence of Deoband pass-outs. However, Deoband is not the only place in Uttar Pradesh to have drawn the attention of investigating agencies in India and abroad.

Terrorism in the state is dangerously making inroads in newer areas, relatively underdeveloped and nondescript, with over half a dozen outlawed organisations spreading their tentacles among the locals. In the past two years alone, terrorists have claimed 30 lives and injured over 100 in separate terror attacks in Varanasi and Jaunpur districts. Another major strike by the terrorist was attempted at Ayodhya last year to blow up the Ram Lala temple. Surprisingly, most of the arrests made in connection with the attacks have led to smaller nondescript places in the state. It is an indication that the terrorists, while identifying their targets in a bigger city, are carving out hide-outs in adjoining smaller towns. When they struck in Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi in March this year, they had camped in Phulpur in Allahabad and when they attacked the Ram Lala temple in Ayodhya in July last year, they were staying and planning their operation from Ambedkar Nagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Until recently, Aligarh, Kanpur and Lucknow used to be on the "sensitive" list of the state police and intelligence agencies, but of late newer places like Pratapgarh, Faizabad, Varanasi, Azamgarh, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Saharanpur, Amroha, Allahabad and Moradabad have become conspicuous for militant activities. "The way terrorists are getting foothold in newer places in the state is really disturbing us," says a senior STF officer.

Over half a dozen terrorist outfits, particularly Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI), Hizbul Mujahideen and the Students' Islamic Movement of India are well entrenched in western Uttar Pradesh. They have also developed sleeper modules in districts like Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Baghpat and Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh as also in certain districts in the eastern region, where they remain dormant until further orders from across the border. "The arms and the executors reach the target only at the time of assault," says S.K. Bhagat, SSP, STF.

Investigations into the March 7 blasts in Varanasi that claimed 16 lives have revealed that some of the local youth had actively participated in the attack. Similarly, in Jaunpur and Ayodhya incidents, the police have arrested locals for helping terrorists. Of the 45 terrorists arrested, 20 were from Uttar Pradesh hailing from places like Lucknow, Allahabad, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Sitapur, Faizabad and Saharanpur. Similarly, the police and the STF arrested 50 ISI operatives in the state, of which 40 were natives in possession of classified documents and maps. "The terrorist organisations that train the youth create a heroic image of Osama bin Laden and instil in them intense hatred for the US", says Rajesh Pandey, ASP, STF.

Fundamentalist background, poverty and joblessness are some of the reasons that make youth easy pickings for terror outfits. Also, religious schools imparting fundamentalist education have become recruiting grounds for militants. Mehboob Ali Mandal, one of the arrested militants who had joined the Deoband institute, confessed in his statement to the police that at Deoband he was motivated by a Maulvi to undergo arms training in Pakistan and "sacrifice" himself for the Muslim cause. To achieve this, he went to Bangladesh four times and once to Karachi in Pakistan for training. Mandal revealed how terrorists, after being trained in HUJI camps on the India-Bangladesh border, are dispatched to the ISI-run training camps in Karachi. He also revealed that in his brief interaction with other trainees in Bangladesh and Pakistan, he met with many boys from various small towns in Uttar Pradesh.

The police has stepped up surveillance in the face of increasing number of calls from the state to Bangladesh. It has also improved security in and around Ayodhya which is among top targets of terrorists. But despite best efforts, the state forces are overburdened to tackle the growing problem of militancy in the state. It is time the state Government constituted an anti-terrorist squad on the lines of those in Maharashtra and Delhi.

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