Saturday, April 20, 2024

Terror knocks on our eastern border

With Bangladesh being in the grip of terrorism, let the intel agencies in West Bengal not be complacent anymore about our immunity

By Sujit Bhar in Kolkata

The Dhaka Holey Artisan Bakery hostage crisis that ended with 26 dead, including an Indian girl, has many lessons for India. This dastardly act was perpetrated by seven youth from affluent families who suddenly seemed to give up their westernized lifestyles and got indoctrinated by the ISIS. While the surviving terrorist who has been captured is likely to throw more light on the issue, the fact is that this metamorphosis wasn’t as sudden as is made out to be.

Meer Hayet Kabir, father of Meer Saameh Mubasher, 18, one of the terrorists, has ad-mitted that from a fun-loving boy who indulged in music he became a serious, religious-minded one who put his guitar away, saying music wasn’t good. Considering the change that has taken place in youth in other countries under the influence of ISIS, these changes could easily have been deciphered by experts as signs of indoctrination over the internet. But an inexperienced fat-her failed to read the signs.


One may recall that last February, three British schoolgirls had run away from their homes with a plan to join ISIS in the jihadists’ stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. The girls—who were later found—were good students from decent families in Bethnal Green, east London. They were influenced over the internet. Their parents had no inkling of the change. Other acts of terrorism in Orlando, Paris and Brussels clearly fit this methodology.

Three things emerge from these attacks: most of the “converts” were educated and hailed from decent to affluent backgrounds, they had a sudden change of heart, they leaned towards the extreme Islamic ideals of ISIS and they all had unbridled access to the internet.

But if such acts of terror are happening close to West Bengal, will the state be the next target? Bengal is a proven, safe and easy corridor for all terror-related activity that has been going on across the border. The October 2014 explosion in Khagragarh in Burdwan district saw two suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists killed and a third injured. That busted the myth that West Bengal was peaceful. And on July 4 evening, days after the Dhaka blast, a man—Mohammad Masiruddin alias Mussa—was held at Burdwan railway station from a Howrah-Rampurhat train. Investigators found that he had links with the ISIS.


Assasin Meer Saameh Mubasher
Assasin Meer Saameh Mubasher

A source in the Criminal Investigation Department was quoted in the media as saying: “At the preliminary level, we thought the man had links with Bangladeshi terror group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). But after interrogation, we have found his links with ISIS…. We have found him regularly conversing with IS leaders, including Safi Armar in Syria and Afghanistan through email and messenger. Several foreign transactions with his bank account were also found.”

While these operators in India may not fit the general description of “lone wolves” as in Dhaka, they are the principal motivators, acting through the internet and influencing innocent and immature minds.

Vivek Sahay, IG, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Eastern Region, told India Legal: “We have been too complacent. The time for such complacency is over. If we think we in West Bengal are living in an oasis of peace, we are mistaken.” 


So how does one stop this “conversion”? “That depends on how good your intelligence is. It is essential for all security agencies to strengthen their community outreach programs and install robust anti-radicalization programs,” said Sahay.

That is, however, only a part of the entire effort. It is difficult to pre-empt the action of a lone wolf. However, if he or they are going to attack buildings such as Red Fort or Parliament House, they would require huge logistics, long planning, backup and training which organizations such as Pakistan’s ISI could have provided, said Sahay.

“They would leave enough intelligence chatter on the net to pick up. But one person or a group of friends deciding to attack a soft target such as a restaurant would be difficult to pre-empt.”

That is where an agency such as the NIA could come into play if it had enough power to monitor noise on the internet, in social media and over phones, quite like how the National Security Agency has in the US. “It is easy to put all the responsibility and blame on security agencies,” said Sahay. “I believe there has to be all-round awareness and activity—political, civil, enforcement—all acting together,” he added.


What was left unsaid was simple. The promulgation and invoking of acts such as the Maintenance of Internal Security Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2002) may have had their effect. But times have changed, and there should be a modern pre-emptive act that can pick up the bad noise from social media, feel experts. However, law enforcement authorities have to be careful about infringement of privacy even as they make a place safe.

Mohammed Salimuzzaman, director of an engineering firm in Dhaka, does not buy the ISIS theory though. “Why target Bangladesh? People here are religious, soft and empathetic. Experts blame intelligence failure as one of the main reasons for the attack. I also think that a non-democratic system of governance and non-accountability by the government are largely responsible for such an incident,” he told India Legal via e-mail from Dhaka.

Salimuzzaman added: “Bangladesh has been experiencing ‘target killings’ for some time now. Not a single killer has been arrested or tried so far. In the name of catching ‘militants’ and ‘killers’, the law enforcement agency has arrested thousands of people. They have repressed political opponents as well as killed many ‘criminals’ in ‘crossfire’ without any trial. All this has paved the way for crime on a bigger scale like what happened at the café.”

That is all the more reason for Indian intelligence agencies to keep their eyes and ears open.

Picture credits UNI


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