By Rajesh Ahuja
THE FIRST clues were picked from an encounter site in Kashmir two years ago. An army unit recovered a cell phone that, it was subsequently discovered, belonged to Umar (9469402337), a Kashmir-based Lashkar-e- Tayyeba (LeT) operative. The call list showed a series of phone calls had been made from this mobile to one in Kannur (9744382047). This gave the investigating agencies a lead into the conspiracy behind the 2008 Bengaluru blasts case, and also to the alarming trend of recruitment of Malayalis living in Gulf countries for terror activities.
The calls were made on 1 and 2 October 2008, a week prior to the killing of four Malayalis in an encounter with the army in Kashmir. The Kerala government formed a Joint Investigation Team to probe the involvement of Malayalis in terror activities. During the probe, the alleged involvement of T Nazir in the conspiracy came to light. Nazir, a historysheeter jailed earlier on murder charges, was a member of Abdul Nasar Madani’s People’s Democratic Party.
Nazir was also charged with conspiring to assassinate former Kerala CM EK Nayanar in 1999. An air-conditioner mechanic by profession, Nazir had, as a 16-year-old, taken part in protest rallies organised by Madani in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
According to the JIT investigators, the Kerala number belonged to 38-year-old Kannur resident Abdul Jaleel. A painter by profession, the Kerala Police alleged that Jaleel acted as a middleman, passing messages between Nazir and the recruits. He was arrested on 18 October 2008. Jaleel spilled the beans that five Malayalis — Abbul Raheem, Mohammad Fayaz, P Fais, Mohammad Yaseen and Abdul Jabbar — were sent to Kashmir by Nazir, an alleged LeT recruit, for training in a LeT-run camp near Lolab valley. The camp was raided by the army in the first week of October 2008.
Only Jabbar managed to flee and made his way back to Kerala. But the police, armed with the information provided by Jaleel, nabbed Jabbar at his second wife’s house in Hyderabad. With Jabbar in their hands, the investigators got their first glimpse into the conspiracy behind the 2008 Bengaluru blasts case and the involvement of a Gulf-based Malayali recruit of LeT in it. Jabbar told police that Raheem, one of the four boys killed in the encounter, was the son-in-law of Zainuddin alias Abdul Sattar who, along with his son Sarfuddin, helped in preparing the bombs used in Bengaluru. Both were arrested.
Nearly Rs. 3 lakh was moved through the hawala route from Oman to fund the Bengaluru blasts
Jabbar and Zainuddin told the investigators that the Bengaluru conspiracy was hatched by Nazir with the help of a Gulf-based Malayali Sarfaraz Nawaz, who was based in Muscat, Oman. Indian investigators got a shot in the arm with the arrest and extradition of Nawaz.
The interrogation of Nawaz filled in the blanks in the terror nexus involving fundamentalist youth in Kerala. Nawaz, a diploma holder in computer hardware and networking, told his interrogators that he was involved with the activities of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in Kerala before it was banned in September 2001. He moved to Muscat in 2003 and moved to Dubai two years later. Soon he joined a fundamentalist discussion group of expatriate Malayalis.
In the meanwhile, he was introduced to Nazir in 2006 when he was on a trip back to Kerala. Nazir and Nawaz hit it off immediately. During one of their later meetings, Nazir expressed his desire to send some boys abroad “for training”. Nawaz assured him that he would find a way to organise the training.
Nawaz has told police that in 2006 he met with an LeT operative, Haroon, through a Pakistani imam, Muslim Bashir, in Muscat, who in turn took him to the regional in-charge of the LeT known by his operational name Wali. In their first meeting, according to an account provided by Nawaz, Wali spoke about the global situation and the problems of Muslims in India, with reference to Kashmir, Gujarat riots and Babri Masjid. When Nawaz sought Wali’s help for the training mission, he suggested he go for training first. Nawaz reluctantly agreed. His entrapment was complete.
“It happens in a very subtle manner,” says Union Home Secretary GK Pillai in an exclusive chat with TEHELKA. “Suppose you have overstayed your visa or done some criminal act and the Dubai or Bahrain police is after you. You are scared that your work permit may get cancelled. There are guys who come and help you. Once they have helped you out they have got you into their clutches. Then you get brainwashed over a period of time. You are given a Nepali or Pakistani visa and sent to Pakistan for training in arms.There you learn how to make a bomb and handle weapons.”
According to Nawaz’s statement to police in January 2008, Nazir told him that he was planning a “big job” and asked him to arrange at least Rs. 2 lakh. Nawaz discussed the matter with Wali and revealed that Nazir was planning simultaneous bombings in Chennai and Bengaluru. Wali immediately agreed to finance the operation but suggested that they should target only Bengaluru because it would attract far more global attention than Chennai. Nawaz sent 2,500 rials (Rs. 2.9 lakh) in two installments to Nazir through a hawala channel.
According to figures available with the Union Home Ministry for Kerala alone, the total annual remittance through hawala is around Rs. 20,000 crore. Pillai explains that the hawala network is the easiest way for genuine Malayalis living in the Gulf to send money home. “Sometimes terrorists are also using the same channel, which is more worrisome,” says Pillai.
Terror finance sent through hawala was used to set off eight bomb blasts in Bengaluru on 25 July 2008. One woman was killed and 20 others were injured. The police managed to defuse one live bomb in the nick of time.
According to the chargesheet filed by Bengaluru police, when Nazir told Nawaz that he had five boys ready for training, Wali was informed of the development. Wali gave Nawaz the phone number of Umar, a Kashmir-based LeT operative. Nazir provided fake identity cards to the boys, who were handed over to Umar in Srinagar in September 2008. After a few days, Wali informed Nawaz that two boys were creating problems.
JABBAR, WHO managed to come alive from Kashmir, told the police they were shocked to learn that their training would be in arms and ammunition. They had been under the impression that they would be taught the Quran. The unhappy boys wanted to go back to Kerala. Nazir called his boys and warned them that the LeT operatives would kill them if they didn’t finish training.
In fact, the calls made to cajole and threaten the unhappy boys were the same 10 calls which eventually put investigating agencies on Nazir’s trail. With the arrest of Jaleel, Nazir came on the radar of the investigators. After the encounter in Kashmir Nazir fled to Bangladesh in November 2008. Nawaz has told police the he had made arrangements for Nazir’s safe passage to Bangladesh, where he was taken to various safe houses of LeT. However, after spending around six months in Bangladesh, his luck finally ran out in the middle of 2009.
He was ensconced in an LeT safe house in Chittagong when the local police raided the hideout and arrested him. He was handed over to India to face trial. The challenge before the police is to prove the charges against Nazir and his terror module in court.
(With inputs from Shahina KK in Thiruvananthapuram)