Jihadi Terror Plot in Bengal- The Larger Context

Written by: Pathikrit Payne

Jihadi Terror Plot in Bengal- The Larger Context
Kolkata, Oct 7: Perhaps it was nothing short of divine intervention that saw an accidental blast in a house in a nondescript village in Burdwan district of West Bengal exposing the extent of penetration of Bangladesh based Jamaat ul Mujahideen in Bengal and the deep connection it now is suspected to have to with other similar organizations like SIMI and even Al Qaeda.

It was barely a month back that two explosive news had come to the limelight each of which had major ramifications on the national security of India and the present case seems nothing but vindicating the sinister spread of radical jihadi base in Bengal heartland.

Almost a month back it had come to the light about the growing nexus between the Saradha Scam and how the money of the scam was being routed through Jamaat e Islami of Bangladesh as well as the connection of ruling TMC party of West Bengal in all of it. In fact such was level of outrage in Bangladesh regarding this nexus that it had prepared a dossier on the alleged links and was handed over to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by none other than Bangaldeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena during their meeting in US. It was also around a month back that the Al Qaeda chief had announced about his plans to start a new terror outfit for the Indian subcontinent and spread jihadi terror over here.

Is it the tip of the iceberg?

The accidental explosion in a house in Khagragarh in Burdwan and the amount of explosives that were found in it in addition to the manner in which the wives of the alleged slain terrorists were trying to resist the entry of police and attempted to burn off the jihadi literature and even tried to describe the explosions as mere blast of gas cylinder, vindicate that they were thoroughly trained to deal with such eventualities.

Investigations revealed that the bomb-maker Shakil Ahmed who died in the blast was a Bangladeshi citizen who had been living in India for the last seven years and that he was a leader of the Bangladeshi radical terror outfit Jamaat ul Mujahideen.

The revelations as a result of the accidental blast might just be the tip of the iceberg and there might be several such sleeper cells operating in Bengal which the police and other agencies might be completely clueless about. The discovery of a huge amount of ammonium nitrate, IEDs and lathe machines along with design blueprints (downloaded from internet) for making even rocket launchers suggest that the game-plan was big and most possibly Al Qaeda chief Al Zahahiri's statement about terror plans in India was more than just hot air.

The complete failure of West Bengal Police

Yet the bigger question is what would have had happened if the accidental blast had not taken place? Why is it that the West Bengal Police had no inkling about such nefarious activities being carried out right under its nose? The West Bengal Police's actions over the few years have been extremely disappointing for several reasons and its neutrality and capability has been severely questioned on several occasions.

This time too, serious allegations have been raised by the NIA team which visited the site about the attempts of the local police to stonewall the involvement of NIA in the investigation as well as issues related to destruction of evidence.

Why was West Bengal Police in a hurry to destroy the recovered explosives?

The large cache of explosives that was recovered from a place was a crucial piece of evidence and often the chemical composition of explosives and the pattern in which they have been used in making IEDs give crucial hint regarding the involvement of any particular terror group. For example, Indian Mujahideen is known for using the easily available ammonium nitrate for making IEDs.

In this case as well large amount of ammonium nitrate was recovered but instead of waiting for the NIA team or the Central Forensic personnel to arrive, the local police albeit with permission from the top brass of the West Bengal Police destroyed all the IEDs and along with that got destroyed crucial evidence. Was this decision taken on purpose for specific reasons? Was it not tantamount to destroying of evidence?

The lackluster approach of Union Home Ministry

Further, the turf war between central agencies and the state police is extremely disturbing. Even worse than this is the inability of the Union Home Ministry to garner enough courage and directly handover investigations of this sinister terror plot to NIA instead of depending on West Bengal Police. It is shocking that Union Home Ministry has allowed the West Bengal Police to continue with the investigation while asking the NIA to play a second fiddle role of running a parallel investigation.

If even in this kind of a dangerous terror plot with international linkages, the Union Home Ministry finds it difficult to gather courage and immediately hand over investigations to the specialized counter terror agency, then one is forced to wonder as to why then have an NIA kind of organization in place if it is not used for the purpose for which it was created?

Is MHA trying to play it politically safe?

Is the Union Home Ministry or the NDA trying to play a politically safe game by allowing the West Bengal Police under TMC to run the investigation? It appalling to witness that the officials of Union Home Ministry have not yet woken up to the dangerous and sinister threat looming large over the fate of India. The question is, can such a grand preparation for a major terror attack be considered as a mere law & order issue and be allowed to be investigated in a lackluster manner by State Police? Is this not a case of national security? Can terror issues be considered mere law and order issue?

Learn from US how to avoid turf wars...

In case of USA, their federal counter-terror organization namely FBI automatically comes to the picture the moment any terror attack takes place or a terror suspect is caught. There is a clearly laid standard operating procedure (SOP) which rules out possibilities of turf wars between state and central agencies. FBI does not need the permission of the federal government to step in. India too should ideally create similar SOPs to do away with precious time lapse that happens in the long drawn process of NIA sending reports to MHA and then waiting for the Babus of MHA to take a decision as to whether NIA should be involved in investigation or not.

The porous Indo- bangle border- Can India be secure without stopping infiltration?

The other key issue that needs deliberation is that of the porosity of Indo-Bangladesh border and the sloth approach that was taken during the UPA rule which almost had institutionalized infiltration by strictly prohibiting BSF from firing at infiltrators. Has that changed over the last four months since NDA came to power? Has the Union Home Ministry asked BSF to have a zero tolerance approach towards infiltrators? Is it possible for India to keep its hinterland safe without having a strict border policy?

It is evidently clear that terror mastermind and radical preachers continue to have a free run across the boundaries and have been pushing in funds and explosives for nefarious activities. The threat that India today faces from Bangladesh based jihadi groups is no less than the threat it faces from similar Pakistan based groups. And yet, India's border management along the Indo-Bangladesh border continues to be a striking contrast to the strict approach that it has towards Indo-Pak border.

Terrorism is a national security issue- Time for a national approach

It is thus time that India's Home Ministry wake up from its slumber and take a ruthless approach towards dealing with all kinds of radical terror elements along with preemptive strikes if needed, instead of wasting time on deliberations and calculations of political ramifications of bypassing state agencies and handing over critical investigations to NIA.

If the approach of India does not change and if it continues to be under the utopian illusion that terrorism is a law & order issue and not a national security issue and that the highly politicized state level agencies instead of central agencies can take care of issues, then only god can save India. India continues to lack a comprehensive national approach towards rooting out terrorism and adhoc approach continues to be the norm. One can only wonder as to what would have happened if the accidental blast had not taken place. Perhaps another 26/11 was then round the corner.

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