Hope Vs Terror

article

Porous borders, ineffective policing and an indifferent state government overly concerned with preserving its voting base, has led to the proliferation of terror modules along the Bangladesh border and also in Kolkata. By ARCHISMAN DINDA

It was a nondescript house in a semi-urban area of Burdwan district of West Bengal, until that powerful explosion last October. When police raided the house in Khagragarh colony, they recovered large numbers of watch dials, SIM cards and other tools required to make improvised explosive devices (IED).

This was no LPG cylinder going off, nor were the occupants of the house as hum drum as their neighbours believed. Rather they were militants of a blood-lust-driven international terror network the Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB), that has been thriving in the state for years.

For so many of us, terrorists are faceless men covered in black ski masks, holding loaded AK47’s, or beheading innocents. But in Bengal, terror is hiding in plain sight, masquerading as middle-class family men, housewives and even office goers blending in with society at large. Inside the walls of their home, they trained in the use of small arms and assault weapons and fabricated IED’s.

They were also preachers with a mission, to indoctrinate young minds in madrasas close to the Bangladesh border. Here they hoped to build a base for radicalization, training and recruitment of potential jihadists, said a central intelligence officer who would not be identified: “This radicalization menace is spreading fast, stoked both by the 10,000-odd unrecognized madrasas and the proliferation of online terror posts,” he pointed out.

The jihadi trainers used video clips, short films in Bengali on how to run operations and circulated extremist literature also in Bengali. They posted similar content on social media sites, the idea being to lure unemployed youth from rural Bengal.

POROUS BORDERS

West Bengal’s porous 2,200 km international border with Bangladesh makes it a convenient logistics route for Islamist militants and also the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The same border has emerged as a major passageway for smuggling fake Indian currency notes into the country. Just five years ago, Indian Mujahideen (IM) co-founder Yasin Bhatkal was briefly apprehended by the Kolkata Police Special Task Force for carrying fake notes that helped fund “subversive” activities.

“Since the state shares a vast part of its international border with Bangladesh, it is easy for illegal migrants to use it as a safe passage corridor,” said a senior Kolkata police officer, adding: “The advantages are innumerable with immigrant-pockets all along the border which have proved to be excellent hideouts; the city of Kolkata, which offers them anonymity and its railway stations, which connect with the rest of the country.”

However, the biggest change has happened in the last few years when terror groups have started recruiting people from rural areas of Bengal, especially from districts like Murshidabad, Nadia, and North24 Parganas.

“Earlier, outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Hizbul Mujahiden used Bengal as a conduit and safe haven for cadres to sneak into India from Bangladesh where they arrived from Pakistan,” said a state police officer. “Now terror outfits are on a recruitment drive, both in rural and urban areas. New outfits are showing a preference towards organizations like al Qaida and Islamic State.”

“With high rate of unemployment and basic levels of education, Muslim youth of Bengal are a prime target for terror groups all over the world. Also with most of them being bilingual, it adds to their demand,” he added.

POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY

Opposition parties led by the BJP allege that the situation has been further complicated due to the indifference shown by the Mamata Banerjee government on issues like illegal immigration. The ruling TMC clearly wants to preserve its voting base among the minority community.

The Burdwan blasts also brought forward the grim reality of radicalization of young women. Gulsona Bibi and Alima Bibi were found to be Jamat-ul-Mujahidin Bangladesh cadres. They were among a group of women trained in different madrasas, who also knew how to handle weapons. They had no qualms having their children around when making IEDs, it lessened suspicion even though there was every risk of the IEDs going off accidentally.

West Bengal’s porous 2,200 km international border with Bangladesh makes it a convenient logistics route for Islamist militants and also the ISI. The same border has emerged as a major passageway for smuggling fake Indian currency notes into the countrya

Even a year later, the neighbors of that house in Khagragarh colony admit they had no idea what was going on inside, although in hindsight, the behavior of the women was suspicious, says Sharmila, who lives two houses from the terror den. “Their body language was mysterious. They never smiled or looked at us. Though they came here a few months back, we have never seen their face. The women were always in burqa.”

Investigators who had interrogated the women say they are well trained and indoctrinated: “Both the women are tough nuts to crack and seem totally unfazed by the events. They have a child each but they come across as indifferent mothers. No one can make out from Shakil’s wife Gulshana Bibi’s, that she has lost her husband. Playing with death to them is as easy as feeding their child,” one of the investigator’s said.

Prolonged investigations have revealed the unsettling information that possibly thousands of women are been trained in the use of arms and ammunition and making IED’s, sending a shockwave across the security agencies. It has underlined another unsettling truth.

“Identifying men who have been radicalized is difficult, women would be near impossible,” the investigator warned.

Earlier in December last year, six people were arrested from different parts of Kolkata by the Special Task force (STF) of the Kolkata police in connection with an ISI-module operating out of West Bengal. The arrests have sent a shiver through the police department as the men were living in the heart of the capital and were active in local politics, one was even a member of the CPI-M.

Funding through the hawala route is helping the growth of terror modules in the state. In September last, raids in Kolkata and Siliguri led to the confiscation of nearly Rs 80 crore in cash. The preferred hawala route to move money out of West Bengal to Pakistan and UAE has always been Bangladesh.

“West Bengal is ticking time bomb,” warned Abhijit Ghosh, a former police officer. “The terror activities are so deeply entrenched within a section of society that trying to pluck those will be massive challenge and even if we succeed, the retribution from their side will be quite harsh and millions of innocent lives are at risk.”

However, the state government is still unwilling to commit itself to securing its own backyard for fear of a political back clash. “Do not expect any radical change especially in the run up to the elections since Banerjee will no way allow her government to be even remotely seen as anti-Muslim. It is only post elections if the central government is able to persuade her, and then we may see some change in her stance towards terror,” said a former member of the TMC. Until then, the people of Bengal can live on prayer and hope.

Summary

  • Terror modules are proliferating in West Bengal as the porous border with Bangladesh becomes a convenient route into India
  • Young boys and girls studying in madarsas along the Bangladesh border are at risk of being indoctrinated in extremist ideology
  • Police have busted terror modules in Kolkata and recovered crores of rupees that have entered India through the hawala route
  • With Assembly elections around the corner, the state government will do nothing that risks alienating its minority vote bank
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