On 5 December, sleuths of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Assam Police nabbed Sahanur Alam, the most-wanted suspect in the Burdwan blast case of 2 October. He was arrested in Nalbari district of Assam. Interrogation of the jihadi revealed that he was No. 3 in the banned terror outfit Jamaatul- Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Investigators believe that Alam was the mastermind of the terror module that was exposed after the accidental blast in Burdwan.
Alam, 32, was produced before a special court in Guwahati on 7 December and remanded to police custody. A “herbal dentist” (quack) from western Assam’s Barpeta district, Alam was popularly known as “doctor”. He is accused of motivating youth to join the JMB and putting together various terror modules. Police sources say that he was also involved in raising funds for the terror outfit and sending youth from Assam to be trained as terrorists in various madrasas in West Bengal.
Alam’s wife Sujina Begum, 30, was arrested on 6 November, but at that time, he managed to slip from the police net. Since then, he had been constantly moving from place to place along the Indo-Bangladesh border, mostly near the border town of Dhubri. He was also reported to have fled to Meghalaya for some time last month, making it more difficult for the police to pinpoint his location.
“We were continuously on the lookout for Alam,” said Assam’s Director General of Police Khagen Sharma. “He had even tried to sneak into Bangladesh. We also suspected that he might have fled to south India as our investigations had revealed the presence of JMB modules in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, besides Maharashtra.”
Alam is said to have visited Hyderabad a few times to meet Yousuf, a key accused in the Burdwan case, and some JMB supporters.
The NIA had announced a cash reward of Rs 5 lakh for information leading to Alam’s arrest. A local youth, Mujibar Rehman, who is a surrendered cadre of terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, had told the police that Alam was not carrying any weapon and was desperate to surrender. “It became easier for us to nab him when he moved to Nalbari,” said Sharma.
Rehman, who is a surrendered cadre of terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, had told the police that Alam was not carrying any weapon and was desperate to surrender. “It became easier for us to nab him when he moved to Nalbari,” said Sharma.
The police claim that the outfit is in a “motivational phase” and using West Bengal as a hub for their current activities. However, several members are also reported to have got organisational training in Bangladesh.
“Mingling with the locals seems to the jihadis’ strategy in this phase. Many of them have married women from West Bengal and Assam in order to create a local identity for themselves,” said Sharma.
While the JMB jihadis are mostly operating from Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and other parts of the North-East are also at risk. Police sources reveal that the jihadis are trying to recruit youth from lower Assam, Barak Valley, Barpeta, Dhubri and Nalbari, which were hit by ethnic riots or have a sizeable Muslim population. Alam revealed during interrogation that most of the JMB recruits from Assam joined the outfit after the ethnic clashes between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in 2012.
Interestingly, many people from Kerala had visited Assam during that period. Moreover, some groups based in the southern state had reportedly promised to provide shelter to JMB cadres in times of crisis, say police sources.
While Alam’s arrest is a major milestone in the Burdwan blast probe, the revelation that he was No. 3 in the terror outfit has come as a surprise. His two superiors are said to have gone underground after the NIA began its crackdown on the JMB.
So far, there have been nine arrests in connection with the Burdwan case. At least five top jihadis and more than 50 of their associates, including four women, are yet to be nabbed.
Bhattacharjee is a stringer based in Guwahati