Investigations by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police forces have revealed that a series of public hackings of prominent right-wing Hindu leaders, which have occurred in different parts of Tamil Nadu over the past two years, were terrorist operations involving meticulous planning.
As many as six prominent right-wing leaders associated with BJP or its Sangh affiliates have been killed in Vellore, Ramanathapuram, Salem, Madurai and Chennai, while there have been as many murder attempts on other right-wing leaders since October 12, 2012.
The murders are now being linked to remnants of the banned radical Islamist terror group, Al Ummah, which emerged in Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and was charged in the 1998 Coimbatore bombings that left 58 dead.
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For the first five killings, a special investigation team of the Tamil Nadu police’s CB-CID unit has chargesheeted three men who were on the periphery of Al Ummah activities in the past — Police Fakruddin, 36 (nicknamed Police because his father was a policeman); Panna Ismail, 39; and Bilal Malik, 26. The three were arrested in October 2013 in a joint operation by the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh police from Chennai and Puttur near Chittoor.
For the sixth and the latest killing — on June 18 in Chennai — two 24-year-old men, Mohammed Shameem and Syed Ali Nawaz, who are linked to Al Ummah operatives associated with communal crimes in Tamil Nadu, were arrested on August 6 in Bangalore.
Given the crude nature of the murders, the Tamil Nadu police had initially blamed the first two killings — the October 10, 2012, murder of BJP medical wing secretary V Arvind Reddy in Vellore, and the March 19, 2013, murder of BJP ex-councillor K Murugan in Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram — on personal rivalries. The Vellore police initially blamed local gangsters, already in their custody, for the killing of Reddy while the Ramanathapuram police initially blamed a land dispute and a distant relative of Murugan for his death.
It was not until July 2013 when three more murders occurred and the BJP, RSS and its national leadership began asserting pressure that authorities in Tamil Nadu began to suspect a pattern behind the killings.
Following the July 19, 2013, hacking of BJP state general secretary V Ramesh alias Auditor Ramesh in Salem, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa ordered a CB-CID probe into the killings. “Initially there was no suspicion that the killings involved anything more than local enmities. Only after the case was handed to the CB-CID did a different picture emerge,” a Tamil Nadu police officer said.
Although it was the end of July 2013 when the CB-CID zeroed in on former Al Ummah members as the perpetrators of the murders in Tamil Nadu, an older probe by the Bangalore police into a bomb blast that occurred outside the BJP’s city headquarters on April 17, 2013, had already zeroed in on the re-emergence of Al Ummah remnants on the terror front. Following leads from the purchase of a second-hand motorcycle used to plant an IED near the BJP office in Bangalore, the investigators, with the help of the Tamil Nadu police, had within six days of the blast found Fakruddin and Malik to be the purchasers of the bike. The investigations led the Bangalore police to an important logistics provider for the blast — former Al Ummah member and 1998 blast accused Kichan Buhari, 39.
“Interrogation of Buhari provided the first clues of the involvement of Fakruddin and the others in the killing of right-wing leaders in Tamil Nadu. We told the Tamil Nadu police that these men had attempted to kill a Hindu Munnani leader in Coimbatore prior to the Bangalore blast and Buhari had provided the logistics in that case as well,” said a Karnataka Police officer probing the BJP office blast. A CB-CID man hunt for Fakruddin, Malik and Ismail, which began at the end of July, culminated in the first week of October 2013 with their arrest.
Investigations since then have revealed that the trio took orders for the murders and the BJP office blast in Bangalore from a 50-year-old shadowy man identified as Abu Backer Siddique, a PhD in English literature, wanted for terror acts in Tamil Nadu since 1995.
The Bangalore police, who arrested Fakruddin, Malik and Ismail from June 21 to July 17, placed documents in a court in July, stating that the three worked at the behest of Siddique for the killings of right-wing leaders in Tamil Nadu and the BJP office blast in Bangalore. Fakruddin, a former associate of Al Ummah leader Imam Ali who was killed in 2003 in a police encounter in Bangalore, has said during questioning that Siddique provided him a refresher course in bomb-making in 2011. The trio have claimed that Siddique was trained in terror warfare in Afghanistan in the 1990s, police sources said.
The first operation Fakruddin allegedly attempted was the 2011 pipe bombing at Tirumangalam where L K Advani’s convoy was scheduled to pass. An alert passerby noticed the bomb and the attempt was foiled.
Sources said Siddique is suspected to be a member of Al Ummah from its formative days when it emerged out of the Muslim Defence Force that was created in Tamil Nadu by the first generation of Pakistan- and Afghanistan-linked Indian terror operatives.
“It was Siddique who identified the right-wing leaders to be targeted by Fakruddin and the others. He gave them phone numbers, photographs, paper clippings and addresses of the persons to be attacked. They claim that he never gave his own details and preferred to contact them at his convenience,” said a Bangalore police officer. After receiving Siddique’s directives, Fakruddin and his associates identified their targets before arriving on motorcycles with their knives to carry out murders, police sources said.
A day before the July 1, 2013, murder of Hindu Munnani state secretary S Vellaiyappan in Vellore, Fakruddin allegedly approached him and exchanged visiting cards, pretending to be a right-wing leader.
According to the Bangalore police, the arrested trio have claimed that they were motivated into carrying out the crimes by Siddique in the name of jihad. “Siddique seems to have some cells operating under his leadership. The cells seem to function independent of each other,” a Bangalore police source said.
Despite the arrests of Fakruddin, Malik and Ismail, threats continue to exist against right-wing leaders in Tamil Nadu, forcing the state government to provide security to 80 leaders. Threats of a terror attack to rescue Fakruddin, Malik and Ismail have also been issued. This resulted in the trio being brought in an armoured truck for court productions in Bangalore last month.
Hindu Munnani offices in Tamil Nadu have in the past six months received two letters threatening more killings. During their interrogation, Fakruddin and others claimed that Siddique had the names of right-wing leaders like Auditor Gurumurthy in a target list.
6 killed since oct ‘12, many other attempts
October 2012, Vellore: BJP medical wing secretary Dr V Arvind Reddy
March 2013, Ramanathapuram: BJP ex-councillor K Murugan
June 2013, Madurai: Hindu Munnani leader Palkara Suresh Kumar
July 2013, Vellore: Hindu Munnani state secretary S Vellaiyappan
July 2013, Salem: BJP state general secretary V Ramesh alias Auditor Ramesh
June 2014, Chennai: Hindu Munnani Tiruvalluvar district president K P Suresh Kumar.