There is an anecdote about Haidar Ali that a lot of people in Kheriyama village narrated. “Once Haidar was at a house and they offered him tea. Before taking it, he asked his host how he had prepared it. The host said he had boiled the tea on a hot plate. Haidar said he could not accept the tea,” says Haidar’s sister Sama Parveen, the eldest of five siblings. She then pauses for effect before continuing, “He said the tea was haraam since the owner of the house was using stolen electricity. Haidar would always tell us that we should not accept something if we have not paid for it.”
More than seven years after he left his house in Bihar’s Aurangabad district, investigators from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) went there looking for Haidar in November 2013. “Before that, the only sarkar I knew was Nitish sarkar. Then I heard about this Modi sarkar and the riots in Gujarat,” says Sama.
By then, Haidar’s was a familiar name on Ranchi’s streets: they said he prepped the city’s youngsters who were caught for detonating bombs that killed six people at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on October 27 last year, shortly before Narendra Modi, then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, was to address a pre-election rally. In May this year, the NIA arrested him from Ranchi’s Khadgarha bus station.
In the course of the investigation, Haidar has come to be portrayed as a puppeteer of sorts. As a recruiter for the banned Indian Mujahideen —some, including the NIA, say Students’ Islamic Movement of India — he broke from the IM’s supposed tradition of bringing into its fold educated youngsters and targeted uneducated youths.
He was the outsider who disrupted Ranchi’s peace. Parents of the arrested suspects, who have gleaned information from newspapers, talk of him as a disruptive influence on their sons. Apart from all of them being members of the puritan Ahle Hadees sect, Haidar is the only other thread that runs through the Ranchi-based suspects in the Patna blasts case: Haidar taught Ozair Ahmed’s children; Haidar visited Mujibullah Ansari’s room; Haidar was spotted at Sithio village from where five suspects hailed. To top this, investigators began referring to him by a catchy name that he supposedly used: Black Beauty, something that lent Haidar an aura in public discourse.
Haidar’s elder sisters Sama and Najma Parveen say that he was always studious. “Every evening, he would give Munni (their youngest sister who passed away at the age of five) a bath, tie the goats and run to our neighbours’ courtyard to study. Haidar taught himself to sew on a machine, but stopped once he realised it was a job for women,” says Sama.
Over the years, he came to be respected for his views on religious matters. “The only time I remember him getting angry was when the chairman of the local madrasa failed to hire good teachers,” recalls Najma.
Najma says Haidar topped his school in the Class X exams and left to do his Inter (plus-two) in Ranchi. She is not sure when, but it must have been around 2004. “He left with Rs 70 that ammi had made by making bidis. He said that he would grow taller in Ranchi because those who live away from home grow taller,” she says. “He used to come home often. He would call a few days before starting from Ranchi and ask what I wanted from the Bharat Bakery there,” says Sama.
The portrait that emerges is of a boy who was conscious of his complexion and height: the NIA website records Haidar’s height as 5’4”. “All of us in the family are dark. But Haidar is good-looking in his own way. His friends used to tell him he was smart despite being dark,” says Sama. Haidar is said to have told his NIA interrogators that it wasn’t his complexion that earned him the name ‘Black Beauty’, it was simply an operational codeword for friends and cadres.
It is as if he walked into quicksand in Ranchi; the details of his life blur at the edges almost immediately. Presumably during the first two years of his Ranchi stay, Haidar lived with his father Mohd Alam, a tailor, near Doranda’s Jain Mandir. Alam had, about 10 years earlier, moved from Bihar back to his hometown Ranchi after a soured relationship with his wife. “He was with me for two years after he came to Ranchi. Once, when our rent was late by three months, he asked me to leave and stayed back,” says Alam.
Back in Kheriyama village, Haidar’s sister Sama, with mother Rehana Khatun by her side, admits the father-son had a bitter parting of ways. “He wanted to study but abba kept bringing his work material home, distracting him. When it got too much, Haidar asked him to leave.”
Alam says he never met his son again. “I came here to Hathikhana (about half a kilometre from the Jain Mandir) and rented a house for which I pay Rs 550 a month. I cannot take on serious sewing jobs anymore because of my failing eyesight. All I get done are repairs,” says the man, afflicted by polio in both his legs. “During the time we shared a house, I don’t think he brought any friends home. There was nothing suspicious about him. Yes, he was particular about doing namaz five times a day,” says Alam.
Haidar’s mother and sisters say he was in Ranchi at least for six years, by the end of which he was absconding. Till the NIA team arrested him in Ranchi on the night of May 20-21. The NIA says that by 2011, Haidar was on the run, plotting to target “cities and important personalities”. They say Haidar and his associates visited Delhi, Jaipur, Patna and Lucknow, where they collected maps and did a recee of vital installations.
The NIA sleuths say that when they arrested Haidar, they found a mobile phone without a SIM and a laptop with jihadi literature and photographs of Narendra Modi, L K Advani, Praveen Togadia and several other politicians. They say the group, part of what the NIA calls the ‘Ranchi module’, was preparing for another strike after the blast at the Modi rally. Haidar is also believed to have told his interrogators that he had met Yasin Bhatkal before the latter’s arrest in Ranchi.
According to an application form at the Doranda College in Ranchi where he did BA (Hons) in Psychology, Haidar was born on August 21, 1988. “He used to tell me if he had good clothes and good food, he would be the India topper in his MA course,” says mother Rehana Khatoon.
The “topper” reference comes up frequently. “He topped Jharkhand in his Inter. The state government gave him a Rs 52,000 scholarship to do his BA, of which he gave me Rs 25,000. He topped his BA too,” says Rehana. After he was arrested, he told his interrogators that he was in his second year of MA and that had scored 67 per cent in his first year.
According to records at Doranda College, Haidar was part of the 2006-2009 batch. The college, which has seen visits by representatives of multiple internal security and investigation agencies, has submitted all original documents pertaining to Haidar to the NIA and has kept a dossier of the copies of those documents.
Crucially, the college has very little by way of evidence, not even mark sheets, of Haidar’s first year of BA, the academic year of 2006-07. In fact, the college doesn’t have documents from the institute in which he did his Inter. “It looks like the college admitted him even without an admission form and a transfer certificate,” says an official in the administration section, who did not want to be quoted for this report. Haidar scored 66 and 70.88 per cent in his second and third year of graduation.
The college dossier is proof that multiple agencies were on the lookout for Haidar even before the Patna blasts on October 27. On October 3 last year, a man who signed himself as “G Suresh, Inspector of Police, Intelligence Department, Hyderabad”, obtained a copy of Haidar’s third-year college application form “for purpose of investigation and enquiry”. On the same day, “Parvez Ahmed, Inspector of Police, NIA, New Delhi” also took copies of Haidar’s documents and mentioned that it was for the purpose of case RC/06/2012/NIA/DLI, which has come to be called the “IM terrorist conspiracy case”.
Meanwhile, Haidar would have had to walk by his estranged father’s shop everyday: he used to teach Arabic to children at the Young Millat Library and Community Hall in Doranda’s Mani Tola every evening. Haji Ozair Ahmed L, now a co-accused in the Patna blasts case, is listed as one of the founders of the facility. “Haidar was a bright boy and the children liked being with him. Ozair and friends used to organise community meetings at the library, where they would discuss the right way to live a religious life. Older people used to attend such gatherings, so Haidar stayed away,” says Ozair’s wife Fatuma Saini, whose two children were among Haidar’s 12-odd students. Ozair is currently in Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Sources in the Jharkhand Police, who have been briefed by the NIA, claim the library was the primary meeting point for the ‘Ranchi module’ of IM/SIMI. “Ozair and Haidar would meet there. The boys from Sithio (a village on the outskirts of Ranchi) would also come to the library,” says a top police officer.
Haidar apparently used to visit Imtiaz, another co-accused, in Sithio. Whether they also met at the tarpaulin-roofed Ahle Hadees prayer hall in Sithio is a matter of speculation.
“After the NIA showed him to me, I remembered seeing Haidar in Sithio. A short, dark boy who always wore a backpack,” says Mohd Mustafa, father of another arrested suspect, Iftikar Alam, 24. Mustafa’s family, like Haidar’s, follows the Ahle Hadees’s teachings. He did not recall whether Haidar was present during namaz at the makeshift prayer facility in Sithio. “They showed me Haidar at an interrogation facility. He had no beard,” says Mustafa.
Haidar’s relationship with suspect Mujibullah is what is most intriguing: he used to visit the UPSC aspirant at his lodge in Ranchi’s Hindpiri and may even have rented a room near his. They were arrested together.
Sometime in the middle of 2011, Haidar faded from the scene. His father remained oblivious of his son’s whereabouts. His mother and siblings were fighting their own battles. “When he went missing, we thought some jealous student had killed him. We had no time to worry about him. Sarwar was giving us so much trouble,” says Sama.
Sarwar, Haidar’s elder brother and the third of the five siblings, is an alcoholic. When Haidar once brought home an old desktop computer, he smashed it.
The youngest of the siblings, Mohammad Saddam, is enrolled in a welding diploma course in Jharkhand.
“We asked an Ahle Hadees maulana to help Sarwar and the maulana told us that the house was cursed. Someone had performed a Barelvi ritual here long ago,” says Sama, patting the concrete floor. “All our troubles began with this house. Haidar went missing in 2011, and Sarwar became unmanageable.”
The other suspects
Imtiaz Ansari: Supposed to have been the link between Haidar and the rest of the Sithio residents who were part of the ‘Ranchi module’. Arrested on October 27, 2013. Haidar reportedly used to visit Imtiaz’s room at his father’s house.
Ozair Ahmed: Haidar tutored his two children in Arabic at the Young Millat Library, which, investigating agencies say, was the main venue for the module’s meetings. Ahmed used to help out at his father’s grocery shop on the ground floor of their house.
Mujibullah Ansari: Haidar reportedly used to visit Mujibullah’s room at Hindpiri’s Iram Lodge — from where Jharkhand police recovered elbow bombs — or occupied an adjacent one. They were arrested together from the Ranchi bus stand. Mujibullah was studying to appear for the Bihar Public Service Exams.
Tariq Alam, Iftikar Alam: Arrested on May 21. Haidar told his interrogators that Sithio resident Tariq, who died in the blast at the Patna Railway station, gave the keys to his room to neighbour Iftikar when he dropped them near a Ranchi bus station on the eve of the blasts. In the room was a duffel bag that contained elbow bombs intended for Iftikar to bury.
Numan Ansari and Imtiaz’s brother’s minor son: Arrested on May 21. No suggestions yet that they used to meet Haidar. If at all they did, possible venues could be Young Millat Library, Imtiaz’s room or the makeshift Ahle Hadees prayer facility at Sithio village. They were arrested together on May 21 from Daltonganj town in Palamu district, Jharkhand.
Firoz Alam: Arrested on June 7. Connection to Haidar unknown yet. The NIA says he led the team to recover timers, detonators and explosives, which he had concealed allegedly at the behest of accused Mujibulla Ansari after the Patna blasts. Also suspected to be close to Abu Faisal, a SIMI cadre of Madhya Pradesh, who was recently arrested.
Manzar Imam, Danish Riyaz: Ranchi residents who were already in custody in other cases.
(With inputs from Rahul Tripathi)