January 18, 2020
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The Virus In The System

Galloping ahead on its silicon surge, Bangalore gets a reality check. Is the city a breeding ground for terrorists? Updates

The Virus In The System
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The Virus In The System
outlookindia.com
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The Southern Scourge

Intelligence agencies believe terrorist outfits are spreading their tentacles in South India:
  • Security and intelligence focused on tackling terror in J&K and North East. No such security vigil in the south.
  • It is easier to set up sleeper cells in southern cities
  • There is a sizeable educated Muslim population who are now seen as likely candidates for indoctrination
  • A large number of Muslims from the south working in the Gulf are potential recruits
  • Arms and explosives can easily be landed on the southern sea coast
  • India's new economic muscle, the IT sector, is concentrated in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. Software parks and scientific establishments could be potential targets.

***

Terrorist Strikes In South

May 18, 2007: Blast at Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad, killing 16 persons.
Mastermind: Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)

December 28, 2005 Attack on Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, by a LeT-backed group

October 12, 2005 Bangladeshi suicide bomber blows himself up at the Special Task Force office, Hyderabad. Two police personnel are killed.

May-June, 2000 Series of 13 bomb blasts in churches in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa, killing nearly 50. Deendar Anjuman behind the blasts.

February 14, 1998 Serial car bombings in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, killing 46 and injuring over 200. Jehadi group Al Umma allegedly behind the blasts.

August 8, 1993 Bomb blast at RSS office, Chennai, killing 11 and injuring seven. Again Al Umma is said to be responsible.

***

Educated middle-class south Indian boys are not expected to follow a path of self-annihilation. But ever since Kafeel Ahmed turned himself into a suicide bomber at Glasgow airport, the shockwaves have been felt among his people in his hometown Bangalore. The debate on the arrival of global jehad in India is at its peak.

Glasgow attacker Kafeel Ahmed
Terrorists in the Indian context are usually faceless masked men produced in courts. But here was Kafeel who apparently had all the normal ambitions, and yet took to the path of destruction. What's more, his kinsmen—younger brother Sabeel and cousin Mohammed Haneef, both doctors—too were detained in the UK and Australia respectively. In Bangalore, Kafeel's mother cut a tragic figure as she was hounded by the media. What added real drama to this case was that all three with "terrorist" links where highly educated. The case against Kafeel Ahmed, an aeronautical engineer, is watertight. The video footage of the surveillance camera clearly shows him driving the Jeep Cherokee into the Glasgow airport. His parents too have identified him from this footage. But what about his brother Sabeel, a doctor in Britain's National Health Service who has been detained for questioning? Was he aware of his brother's plans? Was Haneef involved too, in faraway Australia?

In Bangalore, the police don't have a fix on why or how Kafeel metmorphosed from a friendly neighbourhood student to a hardcore terrorist. Those who knew the brothers are shocked by what they see on their TV screens. But some clues are emerging. An official of the Jamia Hazrat Tippu Mosque, opposite the house of the Ahmeds in Banashankari Layout, claims to have noticed a transformation in the two boys after they came back from abroad. He says they were becoming increasingly puritanical in their religious outlook and observances.


The nameplate in Bangalore

Another person close to the Ahmeds narrates a telling anecdote. He says Kafeel and Sabeel picked a fight with the mosque authorities over the use of decorative bulbs during the annual Urs festival. The boys said it was "un-Islamic" to indulge in the practice of grave worship and revering dead Sufi saints. There is also talk about a small meeting organised by Kafeel against the plight of Chechnya Muslims.

It seems Kafeel and Sabeel were gradually shedding local Muslim practices to take on and propagate Saudi-spawned Wahabism, which promotes an extremely puritanical reading of the Quran and demands strict adherence to its letter. The question is, how and when the "playful" and "gregarious" boys went beyond just becoming puritanical Muslims. They studied in professional colleges dominated by Hindus. Kafeel was at UBDT College of Engineering in Davangere in central Karnataka and Sabeel at B.R. Ambedkar Medical College in Bangalore. They also went to mainstream schools, not madrassas. Did their early years in Saudi Arabia, where their parents had a practice, influence this trajectory?

Mohd Haneef
Haneef was a resident student at the Siddhavana Gurukula and the SDM College in Ujjire near Mangalore. It is run by the charities of one of Karnataka's most famous temples—Dharmasthala Manjunatha Temple in Dakshina Kannada. SDM College principal Prof Yashoverma told Outlook: "The gurukula is founded on Gandhian principles. People from the economically backward sections are admitted here and are taught the pleasures of simple living. Students work in coconut plantations, grow vegetables and run their own dairy. They recite the Bhagavad Gita and we celebrate festivals of all religions. Haneef was exposed to all this."

Kafeel’s brother, Sabeel Ahmed
The police investigation has yielded very little. "The family is shattered by the false propaganda. They can't get anything home, everybody from the milkmaid to the grocer is being mobbed for information," Ahmeds' lawyer B.T. Venkatesh told Outlook. Everyone linked to the family has been questioned. But there have been few answers. Did Kafeel Ahmed have links with big terror groups like Al Qaeda? Were the preparations for the Glasgow attack—learning to design a car bomb and using syringe technology for explosions—learnt in Bangalore? Was he indoctrinated while he was a student in Bangalore or in Europe? Did the process start early at home because his father was a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami? What role did, if any, his brother Sabeel and cousin Haneef play in the Glasgow attack? Has Bangalore become a safe haven for terrorists?

As far as material evidence goes, the police has a 320 GB computer hard drive. It has also seized CDs and other documents from the house of the Ahmeds. Whether these files establish any links with terror organisations is not known. Police commissioner N. Achuta Rao would only say that they are being "examined" by a specialist team. In the state assembly, home minister M.P. Prakash said that Kafeel's hard disk had "changed hands" after he had left for the UK. "It was given to the mother for safe-keeping, the mother gave it to the daughter and the daughter to his friends," he said, perhaps implying that data may have been erased. So far, nearly 1,500 files have been found on Kafeel's computer and partly analysed by the security agencies. Some are said to contain data on making bombs, including one file on making bombs that could be detonated using cell phones. But most of the information was described as "amateurish" by security agencies.


Kafeel and Sabeel’s parents, Maqbool and Zakia Ahmed

They are yet to translate a number of files which are in Arabic, a senior intelligence official said. The British external agency MI6 has told its Indian counterpart that Kafeel was "spotted" meeting a suspected Al Qaeda activist during a routine surveillance in 2003. However, this was not shared with the Indian authorities then.

As for Bangalore, the Kafeel saga makes for unhappy news. With a history of communal polarisation, India's hi-tech capital does have a sensitive underbelly. Already, the police has intensified security and will keep a watch on foreign tourists and students. Apparently, at least 100 foreigners have vanished without a trace from the city in the last few years. Their whereabouts will be probed. But more than anything Muslims will come under the scanner. The air of fear and suspicion does not augur well for a city which prides itself on being one of the most happening addresses in the subcontinent.

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