New Delhi: Salahuddin Ahmed, the chief of the banned terror organisation Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) which has resurfaced in the news after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday said that the organisation was recruiting youths from madrasas from Burdwan and Murshidabad districts of West Bengal, had fled to India in 2014 and is believed to moving from one place to another along the porous West Bengal-Bangladesh border.

The fact that he is still moving around, mostly in West Bengal, more than five years after “shifting” to India, reveals the local support that he enjoys as the National Investigation Agency (NIA), despite its best efforts and putting in a large amount of its resources to apprehend him, has not been able to catch him.

The Sunday Guardian has accessed an interview of Ahmed, which was meant for the internal consumption of JMB cadre to boost their morale. This was shared with them in January 2019 through a messaging application that they use to communicate with each other. A similar article was shared with the cadre in 2017 too.

In this interview, Ahmed had called for “inspiring other people to join the group, train to carry out operations and finally armed war against the non-believers” while working to establish Sharia in the country. He has also mentioned that they were working very actively in India on the three principles of “inspiring, training and armed war” and said that he was trying to set up something on the lines of Al Qaeda in India.

The Sunday Guardian has also accessed the digital places where the JMB sympathisers/cadre interact with each other. And unlike the popular perception that most of them are illiterate individuals, they appeared to be experts in information technology and well-versed with international and national events.

What JMB is capable of carrying out in India, if it is not nipped in the bud, can be gauged from what Bangladesh witnessed on the morning of 17 August 2005. At 11.30 am on this fateful day, almost 500 bomb blasts took place within half-an-hour at almost 300 locations covering 63 of the 64 districts of the country, leading to the deaths of two individuals and leaving more than 100 injured. More than 1,100 JMB cadre were arrested later and close to 60 were sentenced to death. In the interview that was shared with his cadre, Ahmed boasted about this “feat” to use this attack to get more recruits.

The JMB had first emerged on the radars of the Indian Intelligence agencies after the blast at a nondescript house in Burdwan, West Bengal, in October 2014. The investigation into the “accidental bombing”, as it turned out to be, which was carried out by the NIA, had revealed that after being pursued in Bangladesh by the police, the group had shifted to West Bengal and that house was among the many which were being used to manufacture and assemble explosives, which were being brought from from Pakur in Jharkhand. Pakur has hundreds of stone quarries and the explosives used in producing the IEDs are easily available there.

In its investigation, the NIA had found that Salahuddin Ahmed, who also goes by the alias of @ Salehin @ Hafizur Rehman Seikh @ Mahin, had first made his base at Nimra village in Nanoor block of district Birbhum, West Bengal, after fleeing from Bangladesh. After that, his location and stay for a substantial period has found to be in Kolkata, Howrah, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas and Assam and Vellore (Tamil Nadu).

The security agencies believe that he is still lying low in the bordering areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh and spends his time by hiding in one of the many unauthorised madrasas that have come up in the area in the last 10 years.

An official with a security agency said: “Just like the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) adopted a policy of turning a blind eye towards the JMB during the early 2000s in Bangladesh, the state government in West Bengal has adopted the same attitude in India. It was only after the August serial blast that the Bangladesh government woke up. The TMC needs to definitely do a lot more to make sure that these groups stop their activities in the state or else when the time comes, it will be the local people of West Bengal who will suffer in the hands of these terror groups.”

Incidentally, in the multiple charge-sheet filed by the NIA in the Burdwan blast case, the agency has clearly mentioned how some of the madrasas in Nadia, Murshidabad, Burdwan and Birbhum in West Bengal and Sahibganj in Jharkhand were being used as terrorist camps, base to organise radicalisation programme, organisationals meetings, fund collection centers and as hideouts for the terrorists and their relatives”.

The mushrooming of unrecognized madrasas in West Bengal, (which, as per an estimate, out of the more than 4,000 madrasas in the state, only 500 are recognised) is not a new problem which the agencies are dealing with.

With the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, a pliable state police and local administration and well-funded “trusts” that finance the people behind these madrasas, these safe-sanctuaries, which are termed as “madrasas” so that they are not “disturbed”, have come up in large numbers in the state.

The NIA, during the Burdwan blast probe, had found that one such building in Simulia in Burdwan, situated 40 km from the Burdwan blast site, and a building in the Lalgola area of Murshidabad were the hubs of the JMB terror module.

The said building in Lalgola had caught the attention of the investigators after its name was found scribbled in a piece of paper that was found during the probe into the Burdwan blast. This building was situated barely 7.5 km from the India-Bangladesh border. The investigation had further revealed that it was set up by an illiterate mason who had no source of funding to invest the money required to build the building.

It is not for the first time that Murshidabad’s name has cropped up in the context of the international ramification of such developments.

In June 2015, Wikileaks had released an official document that had originated from the embassy of Saudi Arabia, New Delhi. This document had revealed that at least nine NGOs in India had got financial assistance from Saudi Arabia to set up institutions across India. One of them was Tahiria Arabia Tabligh-E-Deen mission, Murshidabad, which got close to Rs 5 lakh. The total such donation, as per that one page of document, was more than Rs 10 crore that was distributed to nine  organisations.

An official in Delhi said: “Murshidabad has seen a massive increase in radicalisation in the last 10 years. Some of the areas there have virtually become safe-havens for anti-India elements. The local security agencies need to do more to develop intelligence on the ground, which has so far been found wanting.”

In fact, intelligence gathered by the Central agencies shows that the land price in these areas have shot up astronomically in recent times, with people with no source of income, readily paying whatever is demanded by the locals. The JMB cadre had paid double the price of the market rate for one such land in Burdwan. Ideally, this transaction should have led to an alarm bell ringing among the local police, but it did not. The investigation in the Burdwan blast had revealed that the JMB had collected at least Rs 65 crore from Kolkata-based traders, which was then sent to Bangladesh through the hawala route.

The cadre of JMB had so deeply assimilated themselves among the locals, that by the time they came on the radar of the Central Intelligence agencies, they had managed to get PAN cards, voter ID cards and Aadhaar cards, with one of the accused in the Burdwan case even applying for an Indian passport on the basis of the forged documents.

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