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Terror's new gateway to India

Terror's new gateway to India

Author: Amitabh Srivastava
Publication: India Today
Date: December 9, 2011
URL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/terror-cross-border-nepal-bihar-madhubani-indian-mujahideen/1/163528.html

Introduction: Bihar-Nepal border: Madhubani emerges as a new recruiting centre and hideout for terrorists

Madhubani, a sleepy Bihar town bordering Nepal, otherwise known for its exquisite saris and paintings, has emerged as a safe passage for terrorists to tiptoe into Indian territory. Located 45 km from Nepal, Madhubani district has also emerged as a new recruiting centre and hideout for terrorists. Since 2006, police have picked up six terror agents from Madhubani alone.

In a two-week operation between end-November and early December, the Delhi Police picked up three more suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives from here. They are allegedly part of a 13-member IM module that planned and executed blasts in Pune's German Bakery in February 2010, Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium in April 2010 and a shooting at the Jama Masjid in September 2010. The module is said to be headed by Riyaz Bhatkal and Iqbal Bhatkal, the two absconding brothers who founded IM. They masterminded and executed these attacks with local supports.

Seventeen people were killed in the Pune bakery blast while the blast outside the stadium in Bangalore left 15 injured. Two Taiwanese tourists were injured in the firing at Jama Masjid on September 19, just before the Commonwealth Games were scheduled to begin in Delhi.

The district of Madhubani, with a population of over 41 lakh, has earned the dubious sobriquet of 'another Azamgarh', after the eastern Uttar Pradesh district which supplied at least 13 IM operatives responsible for a number of terror attacks, including the 2008 serial blasts in Delhi that left over two dozen dead.

On December 6, Delhi Police picked up Farooq alias Nawab Alam alias Aftab Alam from Bihar's Purnea district, 140 km from Madhubani, for alleged involvement in planting the bomb at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Farooq, whose small provision store was a front, is the seventh alleged IM operative arrested by Delhi Police.

These arrests have followed in quick succession in the aftermath of the arrest of Quateel Sidiqui, the first IM operative Delhi Police picked from the Anand Vihar bus terminal in the capital on November 22.

On November 24, a Delhi Police team working in tandem with Bihar Police arrested Ghayur Ahmed, a 21-year-old student and religious preacher, and a Pakistani national Mohammad Azmal alias Shoaib, 28, from separate localities in Madhubani. The arrest of Ghayur, who hails from a poor but respectable family in Pachchiya Tola, Sakri, from the district, has angered local Muslims who consider him innocent. Azmal had posed as a woollen cloth seller and had rented a room in the Signia chowk, 15 km from Sakri, in September this year. He became conspicuous with his presence within two months of taking up the room. "He would stay out of the house for the entire day, returning only in the night. We hardly met him," says Mohammad Nasir, his harried landlord who claims his aged mother had rented out the room in good faith. "Sometimes, strangers also visited him. The only time he spoke to neighbours was when he sacrificed a goat on Id-ul-Azha."

Azmal and Ghayur are among the six suspected IM operatives who have been remanded to 10 days' Delhi Police custody on December 5. They have been accused of executing various terror attacks, including in Pune and Bangalore and the Jama Masjid shooting. Although Delhi Police officers tracking the IM trail refused to talk about their seizures, INDIA TODAY has learnt that five Indian and Nepalese SIM cards and three mobile phones were recovered from Azmal's possession, besides $635 that he had kept hidden in his bedroll.

While the police claimed to have found "clinching" evidence from his phone records, the recovered items are incongruous with Azmal's professed profile. According to police inputs, Azmal is the father of three children from an Indian woman he married from Lalganj locality in the district. The police add that Azmal was cooling off in Madhubani after carrying out a series of terror attacks and had taken the room on rent so that his family didn't know what he was up to. Unlike Ghayur, who walked in to the police when called, Azmal used various ruses to get off the hook. "He said he was an Indian from Jaipur. But the Delhi team had evidence against him," says a senior police officer.

Delhi Police executed the entire operation and their Bihar counterparts had only a limited role of providing back-up during the raids. A senior IPS officer in Bihar says he did not understand why Delhi Police decided against questioning Azmal's Indian in-laws.

Why did Madhubani district become a terrorist haunt? A senior police officer in Darbhanga concedes the police in the region have been sleeping on their job, especially since there is very little extremism that goes on within the district. "It is a perfect hideout. You can stay here unnoticed for long," he says.

The proximity to Nepal is another factor for the district's terror link. While most of Bihar's 625 km border with Nepal is porous, Madhubani's is even more so because of the district's longstanding cultural links with the neighbouring country. "Both the Hindu and Muslim communities have crossborder marital relations. Even property is shared," says a senior police officer. Worse, nobody checks credentials of people coming in from Nepal.

This gives cross-border terrorists a safe route to infiltrate India. "India can always procure details of visiting Pakistanis from Nepal and crosscheck if anyone of them are sneaking in without proper documentation. The level of border coordination between Bihar and Nepal authorities leaves a lot to be desired," says a senior IPS officer. The recent arrest of a Pakistani national drives home the point. On November 30, Hamid-ul-Rahman was arrested from the Madhubani court premises after sneaking in illegally from Nepal to meet his son Mukhtar, in judicial custody for travelling to India on a fake passport last year.

The IM arrests have bolstered the anti-terror offensive. But the terror jigsaw is incomplete. Ghayur could have escaped had he wanted to. His father, Mohammad Nasarullah Jamal, a homeopathy practitioner in Sakri, knew the police were on the lookout for his son for more than a week. On November 24, Jamal called in his son from the neighbourhood, saying the police were waiting. Ghayur walked into a police jeep parked in front of his house in Pachhiya Tola locality.

His parents insist Ghayur, who was studying for an MA from the Ahmedia Shefia Madrasa in Darbhanga, never travelled beyond Madhubani and Darbhanga districts. It opens up the possibility that at least some of the IM operatives must have been frequenting the Darbhanga madarsa. Police operations in north Bihar have also left many unanswered questions. For one, why didn't the police search Ghayur's house? The breakthroughs are reassuring at one level. But they also raise an uncomfortable question: how many terrorists have sneaked into Indian territory through the porous Nepal border.

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