Data-share date with FBI
Terror trail leads sleuths into blind alley
Long rope for runaway cops
People-police push for peace
Bedside tales of terror and trauma
Cops screen parade participants
Shootout just trailer: Sleuths
The City Diary
Homage to courage
Cell cards with a dash of Magic

Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
A long-term collaboration looks imminent between the FBI and the Calcutta Police in exchanging intelligence for combating terrorism and organised crime in the city and other parts of Bengal.

Officials said on Thursday that the collaboration was discussed at various levels of the government as well as the police administration.Three FBI agents who came to the city in the wake of the terrorist attack on the American Center at different points between Tuesday and Thursday discussed how best the premier investigating agency and the police in Bengal could share intelligence on a long-term basis in the mutual interest of fighting terror.

In a meeting with city police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty on Thursday, two FBI agents were assured of cooperation in terms of intelligence-sharing. It was learnt that the FBI team also expressed its wish to interrogate some of the detained persons, including Ali Reza, 28-year-old brother of Asif Reza, who was killed in a police encounter in Gujarat.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, however, said that as far as Tuesday’s killings were concerned, the police were capable of handling the case. “Our country’s self-esteem prevents us from turning to any outside agency to counter terrorism. It will be against the oath I have taken under the Constitution,” Bhattacharjee said.

During his 12-hour stay in the city on Wednesday, the focus was firmly on FBI agent John Timothy Dower. He went about his business quietly, meeting senior officers from the Intelligence Branch, the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, the CID and state government officials.

Dower accompanied US consul-general Christopher Sandronlini to Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. “I did not invite the FBI agent here. We have not asked for their help… Let them first solve the September 11 and December 13 terrorist strikes,” said Bhattacharjee.

Dower studied the taped footage of the carnage in front of the American Center, took notes and then called on Intelligence officials and the CID to learn more about the newly-formed Asif Reza Commando Force and its leader, Aftab Ansari.

It was learnt that Dower obtained details of Ansari’s links with subversive elements in Bengal. “He was keen to know about the activities of Simi and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami along the Indo-Bangla border,” said an Intelligence officer. Sleuths who met Dower admitted to being “impressed” by his knowledge of the insurgent activities in the region and the homework he had done on Bengal.

Dower left the city late on Wednesday and was replaced by two FBI agents early on Thursday. The two agents met the police commissioner during the day and had not left till late in the evening.

“We are cooperating with the FBI and sharing intelligence with them at all levels,” said deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra.


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Two days after the brutal killing of policemen in front of the American Center, the story at the city police headquarters in Lalbazar on Thursday evening was: “No development so far; investigations are on; no one has been arrested in this connection.”

However, according to deputy commissioner, DD, Soumen Mitra, raids have been continuing in various parts of the city and its outskirts and more than 100 persons have been detained for interrogation.

One Bangladeshi, identified as Farukh Fakir, detained on Wednesday, was arrested on Thursday by the North 24-Parganas police, but not in connection with Tuesday’s attack. He has been arrested under the Foreigners’ Act for travelling to this country illegally. If the police find any links with the American Center shoot-out, he will be handed over to the detective department for interrogation.

“We have already interrogated 75 persons in this connection,” Mitra said. “Among them, at least 30 persons have been asked to keep in touch with us every day. We are now crosschecking the information provided to us by them. If they have been telling the truth, we will let them off; otherwise, there shall be further questioning.”

Mitra said that on the basis of the closed-circuit TV recording of the 40-second shoot-out, police artists had drawn portraits of the killers and circulated them to the intelligence agencies, both local and national. “Though the shots captured by the spy camera are blurred, they have been sufficient for sketches to be drawn,” Mitra added.

Investigators believe that the attackers are not from the city, but had been brought in just for Tuesday’s strike. Police, however, believe the terrorists have “very good” local contacts as the motorcycles used in the attack have not been recovered.

“This proves that they have been able to find some very good place to hide them despite the massive search launched by the police,” an official said. The police are also in the dark about the identities or the whereabouts of the local contacts.

Meanwhile, at Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he had asked for four companies of central security forces and additional weapons for the state police . “I have been assured by the home ministry that both will be sent as soon as possible,” he said.

Senior officials pointed out that the request for sophisticated weapons had been made about six months earlier, but it was only on Wednesday that the home ministry had sent 10 AK-47 rifles. “We had asked for 100 AK-47s, 700 SLRs and 400 9mm pistols. Only 10 rifles came yesterday,” confirmed DIG, headquarters Narayan Ghosh. “These have been sent to the police lines in Barrackpore and will be distributed among RAF commandos.”


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Alarmed at the outcry against the “cowardly act” by officers ahead of Terror Tuesday’s attack on American Center guards, the city police administration on Thursday hastened to take remedial measures.

Deputy commissioner, detective department, Soumen Mitra, on Thursday summoned the half-a-dozen officers who had been on duty at and around the Center on Tuesday morning, and sought an explanation for their “inglorious” act.

But, sources said, no disciplinary action was being contemplated at the moment, as the authorities wanted to concentrate on rounding up the terrorist group involved in the strike and not do anything that would harm the morale of the force.

“We are not going to brush this scandal under the carpet. Given that organised crime and terrorism are going to be a part of our lives, we can ignore the danger signals, such as dereliction of duty, only at the risk of imperilling our own existence,” said a senior official.

Senior police officers have rubbished excuses like .303 rifles and revolvers being dated and insufficient against the firepower of AK-47 assault rifles. “The police guards at Parliament, too, were armed with rifles and revolvers. But, on December 13, they took on the terrorists with considerable success,” pointed out a senior officer.

The police administration realises that the force needs to be revamped immediately. The authorities have decided to deploy “fit and agile” policemen at all key installations.

Meanwhile, the CPM-led Calcutta Police Association on Thursday has accused senior officers of “indifference towards the lower levels of the force”.

Association office-bearers said that during any kind of problem, the senior officers always pass the buck to their subordinates.

“It is very easy to blame constables. They are always made the scapegoat. Where were the officers when the constables were being mowed down by AK-47 bullets?” asked Pradyut Mondal, association secretary.

Mondal said that only constables should not be made accountable; the officers should be held equally responsible for any kind of failure. He will submit a memorandum to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Policemen of the 5th and 6th battalions who guard the American Center said that over the past two years, not a single senior officer had visited the site or supervised the arrangements.

“They don’t come to see whether we have a shed over our heads to protect us from the rain and the sun. We have never seen any senior officer leave his airconditioned office and stand by us on the pavement,” charged a constable of the Fifth battalion.

The deaths on Tuesday have drawn a sharp reaction from the association members: “Were the assailants shooting only at the constables?”


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
For the police team piecing together the sequence of events on Tuesday morning, “support from citizens” has emerged as a “real bonus”. From elderly morning-walkers to teastall-owners, passersby to car cleaners — all have either co-operated with the cops or even volunteered information.

“Initially, all the witnesses were injured policemen targeted by the terrorists. Over the next 48 hours, a number of Calcuttans have come forward with various snatches of what had unfolded in front of the American Center on January 22,” said Soumen Mitra, deputy commissioner (I), detective department.

Some were interrogated by sleuths combing Chowringhee for clues. “Almost everyone gave us a detailed account of whatever they had seen or heard. Some people have even come directly to Lalbazar with relevant information,” added Mitra.

All this has helped the probe team arrive at certain conclusions. For one, it has now been established that the assailants had veered left off Chowringhee and into Middleton Street.

The witnesses, whose identities are being guarded closely, have given the sleuths vital clues about the motorcycles and the goons. The course of investigation has revolved around what some of the witnesses have recounted.

“The mood among the people has been extremely positive. They have come up to us and said ‘this is our city and we don’t want a repeat of such an act of terror. So, we’ll do what we can to help you’,” said Mitra.

That’s exactly what director-general Dinesh Vajpai has asked of Calcutta. Calling on all Calcuttans to “unite in the fight against terror”, the state police chief urged the people not to push the panic button, but to be “vigilant” in order to thwart the destructive designs of terrorists.

“Do not hesitate to approach us if you are even slightly suspicious of anyone,” was Vajpai’s message to the people.

“Contact your local police station at the slightest hint of suspicion or the first sign of trouble. If a new person enters your locality or building, please keep the thana posted. Those renting out flats or houses must check the antecedents of the tenants and inform the police at every step… This is a battle we have to fight together.”


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
On bed number F7 of the crowded Edward Ward in SSKM Hospital, Manoj Sarkar is trying hard to focus on the events of Terror Tuesday. Sarkar, a sepoy of the 5th Battalion (badge 14106), remembers being all set to go home — to a hot cup of tea and a warm bed — after an uneventful night shift outside the American Center. The drone of motorcycles and the volley of AK-47 bullets changed all that.

“If only I could remember their faces. Everything is so blurred,” murmurs Manoj. His duty on the wireless van keeps changing periodically and Monday night was his first stint outside 38A Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Now, he is recovering from bullet wounds on his left palm which are yet to heal, two days after the operation.

Manoj’s father, Molin, is struggling to come to terms with the attack on the American Center, which has maimed his second son. As he makes his way to his son’s bedside with homemade snacks, the retired sub-inspector’s eyes turn misty. “My last posting was at Park Street police station,” he recounts. “Never has a thing like this happened to my friends or me. This is unbelievable.”

Tuesday morning was the beginning of just another day at the Sarkars’ Dum Dum home. The family was getting ready for their customary morning tea with Manoj when the phone rang. It was a call from SSKM Hospital. “A little while earlier, a neighbour told us that there had been a shoot-out at the American Center and he had heard a ‘Sarkar’ being mentioned,” recollects Manoj’s father. Fearing the worst, the old man rounded up elder son Jishu, some other family members and rushed to the hospital. “All along, I was praying for his life. Even at the hospital, I was not sure whether we would see him or not. Much later, we got to know he was out of danger.”

For the past two days, Molin has been waiting patiently in the dingy corridors of SSKM. He goes back to Dum Dum for a few hours, before being back near his son. As father and son held hands, comforting each other, Manoj reconstructs the morning of mayhem: “I was getting ready to sit down in the changeover van, while Roshan Chettri and Ujjwal Burman (who died), were chatting nearby. I was urging them to board the van, when the firing started. Suddenly, I saw Ujjal flat on the ground… Roshan was also hit. I leaned out of the van when a figure, draped in grey, turned the gun on me.”

Manoj and four of his colleagues are now in Edward Ward, awaiting word from the doctors about their discharge dates. Shakti Guha is still in ICU, with head injuries. Hospital superintendent Debdwaipayan Chatterjee said he would discuss the condition of the injured policemen before setting a discharge date. What would it be like to go back to the same spot if duty calls? Managing a wry smile, Manoj says: “It will be tough.”

In another section of the ward, 25-year-old Roshan Chettri, on bed 53, is surrounded by family members. Bashanti, a teacher in Nepal, has rushed to her brother’s side. Father Krishna Prasad has yet to get over the shock of Roshan’s brush with death. In broken Hindi, clutching on to the hand of his “only son”, he says: “It’s God’s grace that Roshan is alive. He is my only son. If anything happened to him… I used to work in a factory but now I don’t. When Roshan joined the police service, I was sceptical. See, what’s happened.” His voice chokes as he points to his son’s left leg in plaster. Roshan, whose femur was shattered by the bullets, is made of sterner stuff. He laments the lost chance: “If only I had not been shot in my leg, I would have got them. The only thing I remember is a face covered with a monkey cap and grey trousers. I wish I had not lost consciousness.”


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
As the countdown began to the Republic Day parade on Saturday, a tight security ring was thrown around the city and its vital spots, including the Maidan. Rifle-toting policemen and AK-47-wielding commandos were guarding the airport, the state Secretariat, bridges and the temporary gallery erected along Red Road for the parade.

For the first time, the police have checked the background of every civilian participating in the parade, said a state home department official. The tableaux and floats that will form a part of the ceremony are also being given the once-over.

The invitees and VIPs, including ministers, have been asked not to carry any bags to the parade. “Even if a minister comes with a bag, it will be searched,” the official stated.

Elsewhere, police sought the cooperation of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to keep some guest-houses and apartments under the scanner.

Police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty requested municipal commissioner Debasis Som to supply records of three guest houses in Cossipore, Hatibagan and central Calcutta. Refusing to disclose the names of the guest houses, member, mayor-in-council Swapan Samaddar, who looks after licensing, said: “ I have directed licence officers to conduct a spot verification and reconcile facts with the CMC records.”

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said: “ We can pass on data only of those guest houses and apartments where the owners have recorded their names in the civic records.” But he expressed his concern over the mushrooming of unauthorised guest houses and apartments in the city.

“Just take the example of Kidderpore, Garden Reach, Ekbalpore, New Alipore and Behala. Hundreds of apartments have come up in these areas in the past 15 years and they are all illegal,” pointed out deputy municipal commissioner ( revenue) N.K. Roy.

No record could be found of the occupants of these apartments, either in the office of the registrar or in the CMC, as the business transactions were conducted without a registered sale deed.The owners of these apartments never applied to the CMC for mutation, either.

Subrata Mukherjee requested the police to help bring the occupants of these unauthorised flats under record.

Besides apartments, the police also requested the CMC to pass on information on guest houses operating in the Sudder Street, Kyd Street and Free School Street area. Member, mayor-in-council, Rajib Deb, said guest houses on Sudder Street, Kyd Street and Free School Street were primarily dependent on Bangladeshi tourists. “It is impossible to keep a track of all Bangladeshis who come in,” he pointed out.

According to a conservancy officer, every morning, fleets of Sumos set off for the Benapole-Petrapole border from the Sudder Street-Free School Street area with hundreds of ‘tourists’. They return daily with people from Bangladesh.

The police have also decided to strengthen security in and around Calcutta High Court. In the first phase, entry of litigants and others will be regulated from January 28. Except the three main gates, all other outlets will be sealed for advocates and outsiders. Metal detectors will be installed at these gates and even at courtroom doors.


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the American Center on Tuesday and the subsequent claims of the Asif Reza Commando Force being behind the attack, a Central Intelligence official feels that the shoot-out was just a “trailer”.

“There is more to the attack than just vengeance. It heralds similar attacks to come,” adds the official. Insiders say the subsidiary intelligence bureau (SIB), research and analyst wing (RAW) and Intelligence Branch (IB) have recently been intercepting ISI messages that have proved that the attacks on vital installations of the country are pre-planned. According to sources, ISI wants the jehadi movement to continue in India.

“After the Kandahar hijacking and the attack on the Parliament on December 13, they have trained their guns on West Bengal,” said an Intelligence official. He said with security beefed up in Jammu and Kashmir and the Capital, the terrorists have found a soft target in Calcutta. “The security system here is not so upgraded. It makes things far easier for terrorists,” said an official.

Sources say at least five organisations, including SIMI, want the jehadi movement to continue. The vulnerability of eastern India has attracted the attention of the terrorists, who are being funded and supported by ISI, say officials.

Sources add that at least three organisations — including Harkat-ul-Ansar (part of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen group) and Lashkar-e-Toiba — are thriving in West Bengal and instigating terrorist activities in the state. “The attack on the American Center was intended to be deadly as it was aimed to spread terror. More jehadi movements are surely being planned in the state,” said an IB official. He adds that these groups are funding the terrorist activities in the state.

The latest entrant in the terrorism circle is Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami of Bangladesh which is mushrooming in the border areas of the two countries. Sources say once this group garners greater strength, terrorism activities would thrive in Calcutta, with activists crossing over from across the border.

The report on the ISI messages intercepted by the intelligence agencies have been submitted to the home ministry. The state government, too, has been alerted. Sources say the next attack would probably be on one of the vital installations in the city and around.



Mystery shrouds student’s death

Mystery shrouds the death of Swapna Karmakar, a Class VIII student of a south Calcutta school, whose body was fished out from Dhakuria Lakes on Thursday morning. The body was first noticed by morning-walkers, who informed the Lake police station. Swapna, 13, was a resident of Bawali Mondal Lane, in Tollygunge. Swapna’s sister, Parbati, said she was friendly with Prosenjit Haldar, a student of the same class. “On Wednesday, the teacher found her delivering a letter and a greetings card to Prosenjit during the coaching class. He scolded her and sent her home. She was weeping bitterly. I escorted her home around 6.30 pm and returned to the coaching centre.”

After class, Parbati came home to find her parents searching for Swapna. A complaint was lodged with Tollygunge police station. Anil Jana, officer-in-charge of Lake police station, said: “Neither the private tutor nor Prosenjit could be found after the incident.” Swapna’s mother Bula said she did not know about her friendship with Prosenjit. “The teacher could have informed me before rebuking her so harshly,” she said.

Visitors steer clear of Center

The American Center may be back on its feet after Tuesday’s attack, but the number of visitors to the building has suffered a sharp decline. The footfall to the library has dipped by well over 50 per cent since September 11, as indicated by comparative figures in September-January 2000, which after Tuesday has further reduced to a “handful”. Rex Moser, director of the Center, is alarmed by this trend. “We want to reassure people that we want them to use this facility,” he said on Thursday. The building is now heavily guarded, with commandos toting automatic weapons, the sidewalk cordoned off, and guards asking to see a library membership card before crossing the threshold of the police picket. “But the security is meant to intimidate those who do evil, not those who want to use our services,” adds Moser, who is also the public affairs officer for the American Consulate. Some members have said that they have been put off by the strict security measures, which they feel is an “invasion of privacy”.

CMC entry

All persons, including the mayor, the commissioner and the mayor’s council members, will have to use swipe cards to enter the security zone of the civic headquarters soon. Luggage of employees and visitors will also be checked at the other gates for security reasons.


Twenty-nine late-18th century paintings from John Fleming’s album are on display at Victoria Memorial. Fleming, a medical practitioner posted in Bengal during Lord Wellesley’s tenure as Governor-General, was president of the Bengal Medical Service.

Officer feted

O.P. Yadav, assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, won the IPS medal for 2002 in recognition of his services. Yadav is a veteran of more than 24 years. Police commissioner Sujoy Chakra-borty congratulated him.

Gupta in hospital

Dilip Gupta, chairman of Biddhannagar Municipality, was admitted to SSKM Hospital on Thursday after he complained of weakness. He has been advised complete rest for a week.

Economist meet

Young Leaders Forum, along with Indian Chambers of Commerce (ICC), has a arranged a meeting with Ronald Jones, Xerox professor of economics, University of Rochester, and fellow, National Academy of Science, USA, on Friday on the ICC premises. Jones is an expert on international trade theory. The meeting has been facilitated by the American Center, Calcutta.

Book release

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee officially released a guide book on trade enlistment procedures at the Corporation on Thursday. Leaders of the Opposition Nirmal Mukherjee and Sailen Dasgupta were also present at the function. However, the guide book will have to be revised soon, as it does not include cases where trade enlistment requires clearance from other departments, like health and conservancy.

Trinamul protest

Trinamul Chhatra Parishand president Baiswanar Chattopadhyay announced on Thursday that party leader Mamata Banerjee plans to gherao Calcutta University soon to protest the state education policy.    

Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
When 64-year-old retired government employee Nirmalendu Mukhopadhyay stepped out of his house on a June afternoon last year, little did he know that he would have to rescue two children from drowning.

Neither did Swaran Kapoor and Shravani Ghosh know they, too, were capable of courageous feats. The three Calcuttans will receive the Officer’s Choice Gallantry Award for 2002 for their bravery on Friday.

Standing on Narayan Roy Road, in Behala, Mukhopadhyay heard a hue and cry. People were running about in search of two brothers — Shibanjan, 6, and Debanjan, 8. “Immediately, my intuition drew me to a nearby pond filled with scum and hyacinth. I noticed a motion in a heap of hyacinth. Fully dressed, I dived into the filthy water and swam towards the heap. A small hand was clutching at the roots of the hyacinth,” said Mukhopadhyay.

“It was Debanjan. I pulled his hand and pushed him to a side, from where some people dragged him out. After instructing them to give Debanjan artificial respiration, I started looking for his brother,” he said.

When Mukhopadhyay dived in to the bed of the pond, he found Shibanjan lying unconscious, with his face buried in the mud. He was pulled out and rushed to hospital. Both brothers have survived.

For 62-year-old housewife Swaran Kapoor of New Park Street, the situation was slightly different as she stared down the nozzle of a revolver on a November morning last year. “The doorbell rang and half a dozen armed men stormed in. My husband was at his puja, my son was in the bathroom and my daughter-in-law in the kitchen. I screamed and every one ran out to the drawing room,” said Kapoor.

“When one of the goons hit my son on the head with the butt of a revolver and another assaulted my daughter-in-law, I lost my cool. I caught hold of one of them and started screaming for help. We heard footsteps on the staircase and the goons fled in panic. But I did not let go of the one I had grabbed and beat him up,” she said. The youth was later handed over to the police.

Shravani Ghosh, a teacher and resident of Pyarimohan Sen Lane, in north Calcutta, was in a bus in November last year when a goon snatched her bag. She jumped out of the bus on Brabourne Road, chased the man and dragged him to a traffic sergeant nearby.

“The award is a homage to the unsung civilian heroes whose courage and selfless attitude may be a source of inspiration for others,” said a spokesman of BDA Limited, the company that gives away the prize. The award includes a cash prize totalling up to Rs 1 lakh.

This year, the recipients have been selected by a panel of judges, comprising novelist Amit Chaudhuri, fashion designer Sharbari Dutta, footballer Shyam Thapa and filmstar Mithun Chakraborty.


Calcutta, Jan. 24: 
Tomar life-e Magic achhe? ask Shah Rukh Khan, Sourav Ganguly and Karisma Kapoor. From Friday, Calcuttans can reply “achhe!”.

With the launch of Magic ready-to-use cellular pre-paid cards, Bharti Mobitel holds out the promise of a ‘no jhanjhat, fatafat’ connection. “This is the first time that ready-to-use cellular cards are being introduced in Calcutta,” says Deepak Gulati, chief executive officer of Bharti in the city. “Magic has the ability to address the market, remove barriers to adoption of cellular services and reach out to the masses.”

The cards will be available in denominations of Rs 300, Rs 650, Rs 1,200 and Rs 2,000 at 3,000 outlets across the city. The calling value will be Rs 166, Rs 474, Rs 923 and Rs 1605, respectively. Both outgoing and incoming calls will be charged at a flat rate of Rs 2.25 per minute. The rates are likely to be revised within a fortnight. “We will introduce multiple-tariff plans on the pre-paid cards to target different segments. The international method of recharging through cellular scratch cards will also be introduced,” says Gulati.

With Magic, Gulati hopes to double the pre-paid customer base by year-end. At present, AirTel has around 100,000 subscribers, of whom “almost 80 per cent” are pre-paid customers. “Around 10,000 to 12,000 subscribers in Calcutta take a pre-paid card every month. With Magic, we expect to capture at least 70 per cent of the expanded market,” explains Gulati. In Delhi — where the brand was launched in 1999 before spreading to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — it has cornered around 50 per cent of the five lakh-odd subscribers.

Bharti has lined up roadshows next week at Tantra, Nicco Park, colleges and universities to promote the brand.


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