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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

IM,post-Patna: Terror outfit has signalled its ambitions even after Bhatkal’s arrest

The bombs targeted Narendra Modi's rally in Patna in one of its highest-profile battlegrounds.

Written by Rahul Tripathi | Patna |
November 10, 2013 2:45:56 am

By targeting a Narendra Modi rallyin battleground Bihar as well as deploying new bombmaking techniques,the terror outfit has signalled its spread,reach and ambitions even after Yasin Bhatkal’s arrest. Rahul Tripathi reports

Just when the authorities were celebrating the arrest of Indian Mujahideen chief coordinator Yasin Bhatkal,an elusive figure who had frequently given them the slip,the series of blasts in Patna shook them out of their complacence.

Thebombs targeted one of the highest-profile targets in the country,in one of its highest-profile battlegrounds; they put a stamp on the outfit’s evolution from explosions in marketpaces to aiming at ‘big targets’; and by changing its bomb-making techniques once again,the IM showed it it continues to be one step ahead of authorities.

Security agencies now admit that the terror outfit may have become stronger with a pan-India presence. With indications of strong links between the Patna and Bodhgaya blasts and the Ranchi seizures,investigators also believe that a new module has taken over the leadership of the IM after Yasin,possibly with a new method of assembling bombs. Alleged IM operatives Tahseen Akhtar and Waqas or Hyder Ali,who are absconding,could be the link to these new modules.

Distancing from Pak

After the 2001 Parliament attack,global pressure mounted on Pakistan to terminate the jehad against India. Indian jehadists based in Pakistan were told that they could no longer have direct operational support of the Harkat ul-Jihad Islami or Lashkar-e-Toiba. Explosives like RDX,that could be traced to Pakistan-based groups,could no longer be used. A need was then felt by Pakistani groups to create an army of local youths in India for attacks,who could assemble IEDs using local material. The brief was clear — the trail must not lead to Pakistan. This led to the emergence of the IM.

It created its ‘signature’,with an emphasis on its Indian origin in its emails,and its use of improvised explosive devices,ammonium nitrate,and Samay or Lotus watches. The gelatin rods used in Patna and Ranchi,for example,were of Rajpower 90 brand. The detonators came from APEL (Andhra Pradesh Explosives Limited) and RECL (Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals Limited).

During Yasin’s interrogation,investigators found that the group mostly uses a concoction of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

On their links with Pakistan’s ISI and terror groups across the border,Special Commissioner of Delhi Police Special Cell S N Srivastava says,“A majority of the bomb-makers have been trained in Pakistan and operate through their handlers. They have been instructed to use locally available explosives and fertilisers to deny Pakistan’s role.”

Growing sophistication

The group has always experimented in bomb-making techniques,which continues. From milk-can bombs to explosives packed in suitcases,tiffin boxes and pressure cookers,to boat-shaped and now elbow-pipe bombs,these have gradually become more sophisticated.

During the 2011 Mumbai serial blasts and 2013 Hyderabad blasts,the group used pressure cooker bombs. While old cycles were used to plant explosives in Hyderabad,stolen two-wheelers were used in Mumbai.

The bombs were again placed on a cycle in Pune in 2012. Three holes were made into a wooden frame through which three electric detonators were inserted. The detonators were connected to the delay mechanism,digital alarm clock,9 volt battery. Cycle ball bearings/ nails were fixed to an adhesive tape which was placed on the convex side of the container.

According to forensics experts,the explosives used in Patna and those seized from Ranchi suggest the IM is now using a combination of two different kinds of IEDs. “They are using high-intensity gelatin-based pipe bombs and flame-based elbow bombs that are relatively weak,” says Additional Director General of Police,Jharkhand,S N Pradhan.

The elbow bombs seized from Ranchi’s Iram lodge are unlike any bombs used by the IM. Police seized 25 gelatin sticks which were allegedly supposed to go into iron pipes,with brass caps on either side to make pipe bombs. These iron pipes would have turned into shrapnel resulting in serious injuries. Earlier,the IM used convex-shaped wooden frame closed with a fibre sheet on either side.

At Patna and Ranchi,though the damage was not much,the IEDs suggested the group’s plans to carry out multiple strikes.

Improvising bombs

Between 2003 and 2005,the first group of trained operatives used milks cans to keep IEDs. These bombs were first planted at Varanasi’s Dashashwamedh Ghat on February 23,2005. One of the bombs exploded,the other did not. The two bombs were reportedly planted by Dr Shahnawaz and Arif,both reported to be in Pakistan now. After the failure of the milk-can bombs,Atif Ameen,who was later killed in the 2008 Batla House encounter,allegedly made a suitcase bomb and planted it on the Patna-New Delhi Shramjeevi Express at Varanasi in July 2005. The blast took place at Jaunpur,killing 13 and injuring 50.

Next serial blasts took place in Delhi on October 29,2005,at crowded markets. IM operatives packaged the bombs in pressure cookers and tiffin boxes. All the bombs exploded,killing more than 60. The Delhi Police’s Special Cell claimed the LeT was behind the attack and arrested one Tariq Ahmad Dar. Years later,disclosures of IM operatives revealed its role. However,no re-investigation has been ordered so far and Dar continues to be behind bars.

The experiment with pressure cookers was replicated in Varanasi in March 2006. Three IEDs were kept in a pressure cooker at the Sankat Mochan temple,the railway station and a market. One of them did not explode.

The next targets were Mumbai’s local trains where seven pressure cooker IEDs were planted in July 2006. The blasts resulted in death of more than 200 people. Mumbai police claimed it to be a work of LeT and SIMI.

In 2007,when Yasin returned from Pakistan,the IM changed strategy and started using boat-shaped bombs. These were first used at Gorakhpur in May 2007. Three IEDs on bicycles were kept at Baldev intersection,Golgarh and Bal Vihar. Between 2005 and 2007,the shape of the container of the bomb changed.

Boat-shaped bombs were also used in the 2007 Hyderabad twin blasts. Of the three bombs planted in Hyderabad,only two exploded. In 2008,the IM targeted Ahmedabad,Jaipur,Surat and Delhi.

Except Surat,alleged Atif Ameen model was used to carry out the attacks. They even took photos of the bomb at the time of planting and  uploaded the same in terror emails.

The IEDs used in the 2010 German Bakery blast were kept in a bag while the 2010 Varanasi bombings were carried out using a pressure cooker. Intelligence agencies believe that after the 2008 crackdown,the IM changed its strategy to confuse investigators. The group again used boat-shaped bombs in the 2012 Pune blasts. Says a senior NIA official,“Bomb-makers have signs,and whenever a new variety of bombs is found,it points to a new bomb-maker.”

The IM has also experimented with timers and detonators. They first used Ajanta clocks,digital clocks and China watches,but all of these failed. Then Samay watch was preferred as it had a small open portion. Presence of two detonators necessitated a battery with high voltage. In Samay watches,the alarm was cut and direct connection could be given to detonators and the other battery of 9 volts. In 2012,a digital watch was used for the first time as a delay mechanism. The man behind the first set of timers is alleged to have been Arif Badruddin,one of the founders of the IM,who is currently in jail. The recent use of Lotus watches at Bodhgaya,Patna and Ranchi suggests that the group has changed the brand. “This is also because of a new bomb-maker,” says an officer.

Motivation

The first set of emails released in 2007 talked about the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. The manifesto released said,“Raising the illustrious banner of jehad against the Hindus and all those who fight and resist us,and here we begin our revenge with the help and permission of Allah…” The manifesto called upon Hindus to “realise that falsehood of your 33 crore dirty mud idols and the blasphemy of your deaf,dumb,mute and naked idols of Ram,Krishna and Hanuman are not going to save your neck from being slaughtered by our hand”.

After a crackdown in 2008,a network of planners,executors and think tank came to light. After the 2010 Varanasi blasts,no emails were received. No emails or claims have been made by the IM in any of the subsequent blasts.

The origins

Security agencies trace the emergence of the IM to 10 years back. They say that it was formed as an offshoot of the Asif Raza Commando Force. Amir Reza Khan,Iqbal Bhatkal and Riyaz Bhatkal,all three currently in Pakistan,are said to have been the founders. Intelligence agencies believe that the three were supported and guided by the LeT and HuJI-Bangladesh,which helped them build a small but highly effective army of home-grown jehadis.

Initial recruits belonged to prosperous but conservative middle-class Muslim families from Azamgarh. The first group was allegedly from Saraimeer and Sanjarpur villages of Azamgarh district. Almost all the operatives belonging to Azamgarh studied together in school,several went to Delhi for higher studies in business administration,computers and media. In the first batch,most were either former SIMI activists or were trained in Pakistan. Azamgarh jehadists seem to have been drawn to the IM because they were angry over the 2002 Gujarat riots.

After 2008,the top leadership left India and operations were left to Yasin. Yasin moved to Darbhanga in Bihar and allegedly trained a module with the help of Fasih Mehmood. This module was reportedly responsible for blasts in Delhi and Mumbai. It was busted by the Delhi Police. Their questioning revealed that the IM was responsible for blasts in Varanasi and Mumbai as well.

Yasin recruited youths who were not very educated and got lured to the outfit to make easy money. Law enforcement agencies say that the group has weakened as far as dedicated jehad is concerned. The post-Patna blast arrests and interrogations also indicate this. Broadly,two groups are emerging. There are the likes of Hyder Ali (21),described as a bright college student,Uzair,a 44-year-old polytechnic graduate,and Commerce graduate Mujibullah Ansari (21) from whose lodge room the nine IEDs were found in Ranchi. Then there are the four from Sithio who,barring one who had enrolled in a plus-two course,didn’t study beyond Class X,and except Imtiaz (25),are all below 18 years of age.

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