On July 6, when the Supreme Court rejected a petition lying before it for four years with a ‘‘dismissed as withdrawn’’ order, the petitioner withdrew the plea.
The petition had been filed by the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) following the September 2001 federal ban on its activities, which the organisation had challenged on grounds that the Government had no concrete evidence of its involvement in anti-national activities.
Five days later, on July 11, Terror Tuesday struck Mumbai, with around 200 train commuters killed in serial bomb explosions. It took only hours for the investigating agencies to name SIMI as the ‘‘prime suspect’’ and take 200 suspected ansars, or SIMI cadres, into custody.
The 7/11 plot is still unravelling but in the absence of any clinching evidence, the timing of the attack is being considered crucial. Did the SIMI give logistical support to the action as a retaliation to the rebuff from the Supreme Court? Or did the masterminds of a group like the Lashkar-e-Toiba use their ready ground support system since enough explosives had been stockpiled in and around Mumbai despite over 50 kg of RDX being intercepted in May from places like Aurangabad, Malegaon and Nasik?
The Aurangabad seizures and the discovery that of the 12 arrested persons, several were SIMI activists alleged to be couriers bringing in deadly cargo to the financial capital, was the latest indication that a major strike was being plotted. Most of the Lashkar hideouts raided during combing operations belonged belonged to people associated with SIMI .
Earlier, SIMI activists were identified as suspects in the seven blasts that took place in Mumbai between December 2002 and August 2003 in Mulund, Ghatkopar, Zaveri Bazaar and the Gateway of India, which also heralded the dangerous alliance between Pakistan-based groups lke the Lashkar, the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI-B) and local religious groups like SIMI. The terror network was exposed again in the aftermath of the March 7 Varanasi attack, when the alleged chief conspirator, Waliullah, turned out to be a SIMI cadre and the perpetrator of the crime, the HuJI-B.
The link between SIMI and terrorist groups like the LeT and HuJI-B, according to intelligence officials, have by now fallen into a familiar pattern. While hardcore militants continue to form the core of a jehadi or suicide squad, the logistical support and hideouts are believed to be increasingly provided by SIMI.
The group boasts of a membership of 400 full-timers and a fast-expanding back-up membership base. After an aggressive nation-wide recruitment drive, SIMI has been picking cadres with educated and often technically qualified backgrounds. In Kerala, SIMI has set up an all-woman jehadi wing. Police say there is a trend of hideouts being located in Hindu localities and of operatives working with Hindu identities.
While the 2001 ban on SIMI — the notification mentioned its ‘‘involvement in engineering communal riots and disruptive activities and supporting extremism/militancy’’ — evoked a support for the group from some political parties, the complicity and involvement of its cadres is now chronicled in the aftermath of scores of incidents and attacks, with a concentration in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
It’s not a cut and dry case against SIMI though. When Congress leader Salman Khurshid, defending SIMI against the ban, approached the Supreme Court, his arguments were:
a) No reasons given for SIMI’s proscription
b) No evidence or any link found so far to connect SIMI with any terrorist activity
c) It is a cultural organisation.
d) It has not so far been found indulging in any terrorist or anti-national activity.
Khurshid appeared in the Supreme Court for SIMI on July 6 but the petition was withdrawn after the apex court made it clear that the appeal against the ban should be first argued before the tribunal established for the purposes.
Defending his role, Khurshid says, ‘‘I would refuse a client only when I am personally satisfied that taking up the case would go against the ethics of the profession. A lawyer has to appear for an accused. It is the constitutional duty. A party and the government too cannot pre-judge an organisation.’’
But the pinning down of the outlawed group to a culture of violence has resulted in a see-saw swing in its fortunes in courtrooms across the country, specially in Mumbai. In January 2003, for instance, Mohammed Altaf, the main accused in the Ghatkopar blast, was deported from Dubai. But in July 2005, all the eight accused in the blast case, were acquitted by a POTA court due to lack of evidence. In dozens of other cases, where SIMI cadres have been detained for acts of terrorism, rioting and sedition, freedom and recidivism have been a short distance away.
This, police officials say, is typical of terrorist crime cases, where the evidence hinges on the testimony of a few witnesses who often turn hostile. The reason why, perhaps, the Mumbai Police have now invoked the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against the LeT and SIMI cadres apprehended with RDX and explosives in the Aurangabad case.
Despite the group being proscribed and its activities stalled, SIMI’s influence has been on the ascendency as has been its recruitment and ability to raise funds from countries in the neighbourhood and in the Gulf.
The organisation, which was created in Aligarh in April 1977 and was originally meant to be a student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), now depicts the contours of a pan-Islamic network, linking groups operating in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following the Mumbai blasts, the group now faces yet another crackdown on its hideouts and recruitment bases, just as it had five years ago when it was declared outlawed.
With inputs from R Venkatraman
TRIAL BY TERROR
February 14, 1998
Coimbatore bomb blasts
58 killed, more than 200 injured. Charge sheet names 166 persons including Peoples Democratic Leader and founder of banned outfit Islamic Sevak Sangh Abdul Nasser Madani and leaders of banned Islamic outfit Al-Umma S A Basha, Tajudden and Mohd Ansari
• Trial pending
December 13, 2001
Parliament Attack case — 17 killed including five terrorists
• Four accused charge sheeted: Mohd Afzal, Shaukat Hussain Guru and his wife Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru, S A R Gelani
• Trial court: Geelani, Shaukat and Afzal sentenced to death, Afsan gets 5 year RI
• High Court: acquits Geelani and Afsan, upholds death penalty of Afzal and Shaukat
• Supreme Court: Upholds Afzal’s death sentence, upholds acquittal of Geelani and Afsan, Shaukat gets 10 year RI
• Review petitions also dismissed. Curative petition filed by Shaukat pending in SC.
January 22, 2002
American Center attack, Kolkata
4 killed, 20 injured
Seven chargesheeted: Aftab Ansari, Jamiluddin Nasser, Musarat Hussain, Rehan Alam, Shakir Akhtar, Hasrat Alam and Adil Hasan — were given death sentence on April 27, 2005
March 30, 2002
Suicide attack on Raghunath temple, Jammu
• Ten killed, 19 injured. Both terrorists killed in the attack.
September 24, 2002
Akshardham temple attack
33 killed, 81 injured
• 34 accused — six arrested, 26 absconding, two killed during attack
• Three given death sentence on July 1, 2006: Chand Khan, Adam Seleman Ajmeri, Abdul Kayum Mohd Hussain Mansuri
• Mohd Salim Arif Sheikhsentenced for life.
• 10 year RI for Mufti Abdul Miya Yasim Miya Kadhri
• 5 year RI for Altaf Hussain Asghar Hussain Malik
November 14, 2002
Attack on Raghunath temple, Jammu
• 13 including two militants killed, 42 injured
May 22, 2005
Blasts at Liberty and Satyam Cinemas, Delhi
• One killed, 60 injured
• Chargesheet, filed on August 27, 2005, names India chief of Babbar Khalsa International Jagtar Singh Hawara and seven others — Jagannath, Balwinder Singh, Jaspal, Vikas Sehgal, Yogender, Ajit Raj and Visan Lal
• Trial pending
October 29, 2005
Blasts at Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj markets and in a bus at Govindpuri
• 59 killed, 155 injured
• Filed on January 1, 2006, chargesheet in Sarojini Nagar blast names three — Tariq Ahmed Dar, Ghulam Ahmed Khan and Farooq Ahmed
• On March 6, chargesheet in Govindpuri blast names Tariq Ahmed Dar and Rafiq Shah
• On March 18, chargesheet in Paharganj blast names Tari Ahmed Dar and Rafiq Shah
Dec 6, 2002
Mumbai Central blast
• 25 injured
Jan 28, 2003
Vili Parle blast (outside railway station)
• 20 injured
March 13, 2003
Mulund blast (local train)
• 11 dead, 70 injured
• Accused chargesheeted on July 19, 2003
• Saquib Nachan, Asib Mulla, Gulam Khotal, Mohammed Kamil, Farhaan Khot, Noor Mohammed Ansari, Anwar Ali Khan, Nadeem Paloba, Muzammil Ansari, Haroon, Rashid Lohar, Rashid Ansari, Adnan Mulla, Mohammed Sayyed Siddiqui, Areef Mulla, Dr Wahid Ansari and Arif Hussain Shaikh.
• Trial pending
August 25, 2003
Twin bomb blasts near Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazar, Mumbai
• 53 killed, 150 injured.
• Charge sheet filed against 6 accused on February 5, 2004. The accused are Sayed Mohd Hanif, his wife Fahimida and associates Arshat Ansari, Zahid Patni, Mohammed Hussain Batterywala, Mohammed Rizwan Ladoowala.
• Trial pending