Spotlight on Buddha’s tough law
Crime zone smells revenge
Friends, foes offer support
Time right for attack & escape
Dubai voice & Khadim’s tape match
Police blame political nexus
Fifth-time lucky for miscreants
Police officer’s dawn brush with Satan
FBI chief clams up
Delhi sees ‘larger design’, trains gun on ISI

Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
The attack on the American Center proved that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee knew what he was talking about when he wanted a special law to deal with extraordinary crimes. If that meant taking off the kid gloves and showing the iron fist, he knew that was exactly what he needed to do. Tuesday’s tragedy on Chowringhee could be another triumph for his line.

The top police and intelligence brass are still debating if this was a terrorist attack or a desperate act by a city-based criminal gang.

But in political circles, the post-attack parleys veered round the aborted law the chief minister had planned to enact recently to deal with such crimes. Unmistakably, the popular mood too was in favour of tougher measures to meet such challenges, even if that involved some unpopular steps by the government.

Signs of this perception were already evident by the evening when some leaders of the RSP, CPI and the Forward Bloc sounded almost apologetic for having thrown a spanner in Bhattacharjee’s move to promulgate the Prevention of Organised Crime Ordinance.

Those members of the CPM politburo who tied the chief minister’s hands, arguing that the Ordinance could send out wrong signals at a time when the party was opposing the Centre’s Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, might also be forced to rethink their idea of political correctness after Tuesday’s incident.

Once again, Mamata Banerjee’s was the lone voice of dissent — and of irrelevance — as she sang her old tune about “Central intervention”.

Here was her chance to stand by the government, as all Opposition parties did after the December 13 attack on Parliament. But Mamata seems hopelessly stuck in her mock-fights.

It was not Bhattacharjee’s case that the Ordinance would have eliminated such organised crimes. In fact, a terrorist attack was not among the crimes envisaged in the Ordinance. All he sought in the Ordinance was a little more teeth in the ordinary laws to deal with such crimes. For example, it provided for the police to hold a suspect longer in custody before the chargesheet was framed.

The argument for this was that it was very difficult for the police to produce the chargesheet within 90 days of someone’s arrest because of the criminal network spread over different states and even outside India.

The abduction of Khadim’s owner, Partha Roy Burman, proved that this was indeed the case with such crimes.

But the opponents of the Ordinance were not interested in the ground situation that made the chief minister think of the law. They were trying to be politically correct, talking of possible police excesses and human rights violations. How could the Leftists bring the kind of laws, they asked, that Congress governments of the past used to suppress popular movements and terrorise the people with?

They should have known better. The Left regime in West Bengal faced two major challenges of armed revolt and on both occasions, the government did not hesitate to act tough to deal with them.

The first such challenge came in the first year of the United Front government in 1967 when Jyoti Basu, then deputy chief minister, sent out the Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans to crush the armed Naxalite movement in north Bengal. He acted tough for the second time when the Gorkhaland agitation in Darjeeling turned violent.

If the United Front government did not fully succeed in weeding out the Naxalite menace, that was largely because the government’s half-hearted steps were compounded by ideological confusion in the CPM about Left sectarianism.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seems determined not to let confusions in the party deter governance. He has shown it in economic and other spheres.

The attack on the American Center may further embolden him to take on spoilers within the party and outside.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
It took hardly three hours for the city to slip back into normality after the attack on American Center.

The investigating agencies went to work to find out who was responsible for the strike and Calcuttans engaged themselves in speculating whether it was Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Toiba.

But the mood was different in the narrow lanes of Beniapukur. In Wellesley Second Lane, Kumdan Bagan Lane and the serpentine lanes of Beniapukur in the heart of the city, it’s a different world altogether.

Despite the proximity to three police stations — Park Street, Taltala and Beniapukur — the region breeds crime and corruption and the police have hardly any clue about the goings-on in the densely populated areas.

For many of the residents there, this morning’s incident wasn’t a terror attack. They believe that the indiscriminate firing in front of the high-security establishment in the city was an act of vendetta by a bunch of boys to avenge the killing of their friend Asif Reza Khan, shot dead in an encounter with police in Rajkot.

This version of the story is in line with a phone call received by The Telegraph this morning claiming responsibility for the attack.

The caller from Dubai identified himself as Aftab Ansari, part of the guerrilla outfit A.R. Commandos, set up in memory of Reza.

The group’s next targets would be Delhi and Rajkot, Ansari added.

Reza was taken to Rajkot by the police in connection with the Khadim’s kidnap case.

When contacted, Asif’s friends in the city said they had no clue as to what had led to his detention under Tada in 1994 in Delhi. But the memory of his cricketing abilities and “gift of the gab” are still fresh in their minds.

“We were in the same batch in Maulana Azad College. He passed higher secondary with us in 1993. Reza was a very good cricketer and was popular in the college. The boy next-door was liked very much by his neighbours in Beniapukur, where he grew up,” recounted one of his classmates in college.

The news of Reza’s arrest in 1994 was a shock to most of his friends.

“He was just like any other boy in our batch — interested in movies and girls. We never had any clue about his criminal activities,” said a one-time friend, who met Reza only once after leaving college.

“While some of us failed to be in touch with him, I knew some of our friends maintaining links with him even after his detention. They could never believe the charges levelled against him,” said one of Reza’s friends, now a political activist in the Taltala area.

According to another classmate, a small-time businessman now, Reza used to talk less than the rest but he was smart and assertive as a speaker.

“He was famous and used to hold command over his group of friends. I can’t rule out the possibility of Asif’s friends masterminding the attack in Calcutta, where he was first booked under Tada.”


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in Writers’ Buildings today that he would not comment on the need for an anti-crime Ordinance. “I will push for bringing the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca) soon,” he told a news conference later.

Bhattacharjee said his commitment to introducing the tough crime law was independent of the strike on American Center.

“The Assembly is not in session now. I will certainly push for it during the next session. I would have introduced the Bill even if today’s incident had not taken place,” he said.

Several ruling Left Front partners, who had blocked Bhattacharjee’s move to promulgate the Ordinance, and the Opposition Congress and BJP indicated they were not against the new law.

Mamata Banerjee was the only one who struck a discordant note.

“The Centre has already promulgated an Act to combat terrorism. Why is Buddhababu not taking advantage of it while fighting organised crime in the state?” the Trinamul Congress chief asked.

Mamata alleged that Bhattacharjee’s proposed Act would be used to suppress her party supporters.

“In the name of combating terrorism, the CPM government will use its police to suppress the democratic movement of our party. The Centre has sanctioned crores of rupees to the state government for purchase of sophisticated arms and ammunition. We want to know where all that money has gone,” she said.

CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said a law was needed to fight terrorism and organised crime. But he added that merely promulgating another Act would not be enough. “It requires active co-operation of people, political parties and the administration to prevent terrorism,” he said.

Many Front partners who had earlier opposed the anti-crime Ordinance also came out in support of Bhattacharjee’s proposal for an anti-crime law.

CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumder said his party had no objection to the plan. “The time has come to fight terrorism unitedly irrespective of political affiliation, religion, caste and creed,” he said.

The Forward Bloc and the RSP, two other important Front constituents, echoed the CPI.

But the Opposition parties blamed the attack on “intelligence failure” and raised questions on the government’s “administrative ability”.

The BJP offered support on a law to check organised crime, but added that Bhattacharjee would have to back the Centre’s Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in return.

“It is difficult for us to give support to Bhattacharjee if the CPM continues to oppose the anti-terror Ordinance,” the BJP spokesman said.

The Congress said it was in favour of a law to combat organised crime, but such a law was “useless unless the police machinery was improved”.

“There is no point in bringing an Act if the police do not have the basic acumen and intelligence to tackle organised crime. For the past two decades, the police have virtually become the stooge of the ruling CPM and lost their capability of functioning independently,” he added.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Timing was the most crucial element of the meticulous planning that went into the attack, investigators said.

Police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty said policemen are at their most vulnerable when shifts change — the outgoing shift unloads its rifles while the incoming one is yet to load its firearms. “As a result, there is a period of some minutes when the police are virtually unarmed,” he said. It was this time that the killers picked for their strike.

Investigators believe the assailants knew the policemen would not be able to retaliate and that they would get away easily. They might have had inside information and had possibly visited the spot on a few occasions in the past to get familiar with the working of the shift change.

“They would certainly have done this as this is the most preliminary exercise that anyone would undertake,” said DC, South, Kuldeep Singh.

“The killers also knew the routes and were familiar with the city because it appears that they made their escape through lanes and bylanes,” he added.

The early morning attack ensured that the assailants escaped the traffic restrictions that are imposed later in the day. “At the time they struck, there are no traffic restrictions in force,” said DC, traffic, M.K. Singh. “Today, with the Republic Day rehearsals in progress on Red Road, the entire traffic was directed through Chowringhee.”

The attackers also knew that during shift change hour, they would get the maximum number of policemen in one place without any protective barrier. The policemen usually sit outside the American Center. “They knew that they could make a clean sweep in one go,” an officer said.

Singh pointed out that there are hardly any constables on the roads at the early morning hour and security is lax. Normally, there are at least four radio flying squad vans patrolling Chowringhee and its adjoining roads. But from 4 am to about 8 am, they are given a break. Police say the assailants were certainly aware of this. “This is precisely what they took advantage of,” an officer said, “They struck at a time of their choosing when police are most relaxed. Unfortunately, we made easy meat for them.”

Police said steps were now being taken to tighten security and correct past mistakes, but it would be difficult to forget the heavy price they had paid.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
On Tuesday, a new name was added to the list of terrorist outfits operating in the country: the Asif Reza Commando Force. A caller, claiming to be Khadim’s kidnap mastermind Aftab Ansari alias Farhan Mallick, informed the media that this was the group that had carried out the “revenge killing”.

But till late tonight, no one had a clue about this new outfit which virtually had a free run of the city, killing at will and disappearing into its lanes and bylanes, managing to remain untraced till late tonight. While police commissioner Sujay Chakraborty said no one had heard of this group, a CID official probing the Khadim’s case said this was a “bogus outfit” meant to shield a “bigger fish”.

But about two things the police seemed certain: that the caller identifying himself as Aftab Ansari was in fact the Dubai-based don and that a group identified as Harkat-ul-Jihadi-e-Islami was behind today’s outrage.

Ansari, officials said today, had also called up a senior CID official claiming “credit” for the act. The call had been traced back to Ansari in Dubai and it tallied with the records that the CID had been maintaining ever since it started the Khadim’s probe.

The clincher came when the voice matched with a recording of Ansari’s voice that the CID had among its documents. “I have heard Ansari’s voice so many times that when I received the call, I immediately recognised that it was him,” a CID official said. “I wouldn’t make a mistake on this score. Just to be doubly sure, we crosschecked it with the recording with us. We don’t know whether he was behind today’s killings or simply taking credit for it — we are still checking it out — but it was Ansari all right.”

The “needle of suspicion”, the police said, points most strongly towards the HUJEI as it is known to be operating in Bengal at the moment. Arrests in the past few months and interrogation have established this, claim the police. They have even found a corridor through Siliguri right up to the city.

But, more importantly Asif Reza alias Rajan, after whom the new “commando force” has been named, was a self-confessed “jidahi” of the HUJEI. After his arrest by the CID as one of the prime movers in the kidnap case, Reza had repeatedly said during interrogation that he had been working for Ansari but only as part of a bigger group, the HUJEI.

But take away the Ansari and the HUJEI factors, and the police have nothing. As both the city police and the CID admitted during the day, they are looking at all angles but “there is really nothing much to proceed on”. “There might be others, other than the new outfit, involved in the attack, but till now we really have nothing other than following up the claim from Dubai,” Chakraborty said.

The police also believe that whether revenge killing or not, the site of the attack — the American Center — was deliberately chosen. But on the reasons for choosing this target, differences arise. One section of the police believes that the American Center was both a “soft target” as well as a major US presence in the city.

“The police were easy picking as they were sitting on an open pavement with no protection while at the same time an attack on an American Center would guarantee international publicity. It was meant to display Muslim displeasure at the US invasion of Afghanistan and was carried out by al Quida supporters,” an officer said. “You don’t find an assembly of so many policemen, with hardly any arms, gathered at a place which offers such easy getaway.”

But another section, mostly the CID, gives the Ansari claim a “fifty-fifty” chance. The reasons: Asif Reza was a prize possession of Ansari and was given charge of operations all over India. His killing has left the outfit crippled and, therefore, there was a strong reason for revenge. Carrying out the killing in front of the American Center would automatically guarantee international publicity for a outfit “desperately in need of it”.

“Our investigations in the Khadim’s case have strongly established that Ansari had been running a well-oiled militant outfit with mujahideen links,” a CID official said. “Asif Reza was a key man, a part of the HUJEI, with access to a storehouse of sophisticated arms and ammunition. Revenge was definitely a motive, especially since his brother Amir Reza is still operating out of Dubai and waiting to settle a score with us.”

CID officials feel that Ansari and his group, who are “jihadis”, were trying to send a message that they cannot be put down.

“What better way of doing this than carrying it out right in front of the American Center and shooting it into international prominence? An act of this nature carried out in front of the Bodyguard Lines would have earned the group just a few lines in the national press,” an official commented. “But we are still in the process of checking out their claim and everything is far from certain now.”


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
Calcutta and the rest of Bengal had become vulnerable to terrorist strikes, thanks to the obsession with political correctness, flourishing human rights lobbies and an ill-equipped police force, officials said today.

“Besides being a happy hunting ground for human-rights activists, the nexus between police, politicians and criminals is very well-lubricated,” a senior additional commissioner of Calcutta Police admitted.

The city police’s special branch, now facing flak for failing to provide prior information about the attack on the American Center, has evidence to suggest that political leaders sheltered youths who joined militant groups.

“There are records in two east-Calcutta police stations about a couple of ministers and senior legislators sheltering criminals,” an official said.

A huge colony of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants that has come up on the banks of the Hooghly has made the city more vulnerable. “The police tried to evict the settlers several times but were forced to give up because of political pressure,” officials said.

Officials also blame too much championing of “underdogs” as another malaise, which interferes with effective governance.

Police officials accuse a senior minister of distributing ration cards “at random”. “Despite sufficient evidence that the ration cards were issued to illegal immigrants at the instance of the minister, we could not take any action,” officials linked to the probe said.

“The porous India-Bangladesh border in the state is preferred by subversive elements for sneaking into India. We are forced to turn a blind eye because of the compulsions of the ruling party,” said an official.

On an average, 50 illegal Bangladeshi arms carriers are caught every month, officials said. “A few arrested miscreants have divulged that they were trained in Pakistan,” they added.

Asif Reza Khan alias Rajan – killed in a “shoot-out” in Gujarat by the police recently – and his brother, Amir Reza Khan, both hardcore members of the Harkat-ul-Jihadi-e-Islami, utilised this “fertile” ground, according to information with the intelligence branch and the CID. They exploited the lax security to recruit youths, officials said.

According to investigators, Amir is in Lahore. Hamid Khan of Beniapukur, Arif Mohammed (Mafizul Islam Lane), Sheikh Akber (J.J. Khan Road), Syed Amiruddin (Churi Mohalla), Syed Mustafa Hussain (Tiljala) – all in their early twenties – were recruited by Amir and taken to Pakistan for “advanced training in sophisticated weapons”. Police also found that Aftab Alam, a close associate of Amir, had taken a dozen new recruits from Rajabazar and Narkeldanga to Mumbai.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
After at least four abortive attempts on key establishments in the city, the militants struck on Tuesday.

Subversive elements enjoying strong links with militant outfits like the banned Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Toiba had drawn up elaborate plans to cause widespread disturbances in the city by targeting landmarks like the Calcutta Stock Exchange, the American Consulate and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Salt Lake, police said.

“We had managed to foil their attempts each time they planned to attack. Asif Reza, alias Rajan, a trained militant who was in custody before being killed in Gujarat, had confessed that Aftab Ansari (a Dubai-based don) was furious that so many of his planned strikes in the city were scuttled,” said a top intelligence official. Three persons were arrested in connection with the attacks that never took place.

The CID had found out while probing the Parthapratim Roy Burman abduction case that Ansari, the mastermind who has forged strong ties with Harkat and Jaish-e-Mohammad, had planned attacks on several key establishments, including the Calcutta bourse and the US Consulate. “Interrogation of those arrested revealed that Ansari had lined up several key assignments. He had plans to create disturbances at the US Consulate and the stock exchange, but our discovery had thwarted their plans,” a senior CID official said.

Sources said that Ansari was desperate to strike at the Consulate. “Reza had admitted that Ansari was furious when the police stumbled on the plot to attack the US Consulate. He told us that Ansari’s men had made several trips to the city to prepare for the attacks,” a city police official said.

In fact, Reza was arrested in Delhi just a week before he had planned to blow up the Calcutta Stock Exchange.

The army, too, had foiled several attempts by militants to hit at vital installations. “We nabbed two people a few weeks ago with detailed sketches of vital army and city installations,” said a senior official.

The city police had seized 14.6 kg of RDX, wrapped in Bangladeshi newspapers, from Sealdah station on November 17, 1999. A few weeks earlier, a blast had ripped through the Jalpaiguri station. Hyderabad-based Sheikh Raju, a mercenary arrested near Fort William, had confessed that he was sent to form a group to disrupt peace in Calcutta. The latest haul came last week in Hooghly when 22 explosive devices with RDX and timers were found from an abandoned factory.


Calcutta, Jan. 22: 
“It was like looking Satan in the face but not recognising him till it was too late.” This is how a senior IPS officer recalled seeing the killers, astride two motorbikes, speed past him on Park Street when he was on his way to the Maidan to supervise Republic Day parade rehearsals.

It was not until the shooting was well under way that he recognised the two motorbikes in the distance amid the hail of firing.

“They were in their mid-twenties, fair, wearing leather jackets and on two motorcycles,’’ the officer said. “Two of the youths were clean-shaven. As far as I can remember, the four youths struck me as non-Bengalis.’’

Police artist Nitin Biswas, who has been asked to make sketches of the attackers, spoke to the officer in the evening.

The officer, who asked not to be named, said the youths turned left to Jawaharlal Nehru Road while his car continued straight towards Fort William.

“I did not pay much attention to them. They were speeding but that is a common sight for morning walkers on Park Street to watch youths speeding in mobikes in that area,’’ he said, adding he did not notice anything unnatural “in the split-second’’ that he saw them.

Additional director general of police Ranjit Mohanty, in charge of the Republic Day parade, said he was briefing 1,000 officers in front of the central gate of Victoria Memorial who had come for the rehearsals when there sound of continuous bullet being fired from automatic weapons.

The top brasses of city and state police, with their full weaponry, were gathered half-a-km from the American Center.

“For a moment, I wondered if one of the weapons in our contingent had misfired,’’ Mohanty said. Within moments, the wireless sets on police vehicles were crackling with news of the attack.

“We had a providential escape. We are sitting ducks for a terrorist attack,’’ the officer added.


New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
FBI director Robert S. Mueller, who is on a whistle-stop tour of the region, refused to draw hasty conclusions from this morning’s incident in Calcutta. He was non-committal on dubbing the shootout in front of the American Center a “terrorist attack” nor could he be forced to comment on the police commissioner’s assertion that it was an “attack on American interests”.

Mueller said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the motive or identity of the attackers. “We will wait for the facts,” he said, adding that it would be unfair to come to a hasty judgement. The US, it was apparent, would rather wait for the investigations to be completed before pointing an accusing finger at any group.

The FBI chief has already been to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to share their experiences in fighting terrorism and explore ways for a better worldwide cooperation in tracking down terrorists. From India, Mueller travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said Islamabad has sought US help in fighting terrorism.

Though the FBI chief is spending just one working day in the capital, the Vajpayee government went out of its way to accommodate him. He called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, besides meeting top CBI and IB officials.

Mueller is said to have brought valuable information for Indian investigators on al Qaida operations and links with suspects in India. Indian and US agencies are examining possibilities that some of the names involved in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu were also involved in the September 11 attacks.

But Mueller refused to go into specifics, saying he exchanged information during his meeting with Indian officials. Cooperation between India and the US had increased considerably since 9/11, he added.

The US has registered a case against the hijackers of IC 814 and investigations are on. Indian officials are hoping that if the US probe can pin Jaish-e-Mohammad as the group behind the hijacking, Washington can ask Pakistan to hand over Masood Azhar, who is on top of New Delhi’s wanted list. Mueller said no answers would be forthcoming till the probe was completed. It was important to recognise that the evidence collected had to be admissible in court. Different countries have different laws of evidence, he added.

CBI director P.C. Sharma told reporters after his 30-minute meeting with Mueller: “We exchanged views on areas of mutual co-operation and (pledged) to help each other in investigations concerning both countries.” All information about the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane have been supplied to the FBI, Sharma added.

Queried on media reports that the FBI had got some evidence during the US-led operations in Afghanistan, Sharma said: “We have asked them to hand over any proof that might be with them.”


New Delhi, Jan. 22: 
L.K. Advani today accused the ISI of backing Farhan Malik and his terrorist outfit, the Harkat-ul-Jihadi-e-Islami, seizing on the Dubai-based don’s claim that he masterminded this morning’s attack on the American Center in Calcutta.

Signals emerging from North Block suggest that an attempt is being made to establish Malik alias Aftab Ansari’s links with Omar Sheikh, one of the three terrorists India had swapped for the hijacked passengers of IC 814 at Kandahar two years ago.

Advani went on the offensive even as the Indian security establishment threw a tight ring around key installations and the capital’s diplomatic enclave. The home minister said the criminal gang based in Dubai was also responsible for the abduction of Calcutta shoe baron Partha Pratim Roy Burman. Delhi, which has an extradition treaty with the UAE, has demanded that Malik be handed over.

Condemning the early-morning strike, Advani said: “I hope we will be able to get to the bottom of it.” The home minister said the group, which had links with the ISI, had called up police in Calcutta to say: “We have done it.” The outfit also threatened to carry out similar attacks in Delhi and Gujarat.

Superintendent of police Rajiv Kumar identified the caller as Malik, whom he had interrogated earlier. This was done through a voice test.

Delhi is reading a “larger design” behind the strike, which coincided with the maiden visit of FBI director Robert Mueller to the country. .

Sources in the government said Malik was enlisted by the ISI in early 2000 to carry out covert operations in India. Malik, till recently known as a small-time smuggler from Uttar Pradesh, was set up in March 2000 in Dubai and provided with a Pakistani passport. In July last year, he allegedly organised the kidnapping of Roy Burman and released him after a ransom of Rs 37.5 million.

In August 2001, Malik was taken to Pakistan by the ISI and put in touch with Omar Sheikh, now an active member of the Harkat-ul-Jihadi-e-Islami. Sheikh, a British citizen, had come to India through Pakistan in 1994. He was involved in a series of terrorist strikes in the country and was in prison at the time of the Kandahar hijacking.

Sheikh is credited with directing Malik to operate through Bangladesh and identify potential “high value targets” in India.

Sources said a group of 10 terrorists, led by Arshad Khan, a Pakistani national, was sent to India early last year through Bangladesh. Arshad and other members of the gang were trained by the ISI and Sheikh in Islamabad.

Malik helped Arshad set up a leather business in Agra and he was given an Indian identity. On October 29, the criminal gang was busted and six of its members were arrested. Around the same time, a consignment of weapons meant for the group from Pakistan was intercepted near the Rajasthan-Gujarat border.

Malik, who operates from Dubai, is said to be a frequent visitor to Pakistan. Officials feel that this morning’s incident clearly indicates Pakistan’s attempts to destablise India through a third country.


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