|Abdul Karim Tunda in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 17: Militancy was still several years away in Kashmir, and terror attacks were still associated in the public mind with Khalistanis. Few in the country had heard anything about “jihadi terrorism”.
Nor had Abdul Karim Tunda — till he was recruited by Pakistani spy agency ISI and “laid the foundations for today’s jihadi terror groups” in India, a senior Delhi police officer claimed.
It is still unclear what prompted a middle-aged Ghaziabad native and cloth merchant to take the plunge in the early 1980s — two decades before the country’s public and government had woken up to the existence of “Indian jihadis”.
Tunda returned to Mumbai in 1985, aged 42, as a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative after long months of intensive bomb-making training in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Just then, Mumbai witnessed communal riots in Bhiwandi.
It prompted a small group of men led by Tunda to gather in Mumbai’s Mominpora slum to discuss the creation of an armed group to defend Muslims, the Delhi officer said.
Tunda met and “indoctrinated” Dr Jalees Ansari, a doctor with Mumbai’s civic body. Together, they formed the radical Tanzeem Islah-ul-Muslimeen, but nothing much happened for seven years till kar sevaks demolished the Babri Masjid.
Tunda and Ansari joined the Islamic Armed Organisation, floated by the Ahl-e-Hadis militant group to avenge the demolition. Another top Lashkar militant, Azam Ghouri, joined their ranks.
One year later, as the demolition’s anniversary approached, “that organisation, now led by Tunda and Ansari, carried out a string of low-intensity bombings in Mumbai and Hyderabad”, the Delhi officer said.
“Those blasts in November-December 1993 laid the foundations for today’s jihadi terror groups,” he added. Tunda was already 50.
The March 12 Bombay blasts had already marked a watershed in the history of terrorism in India, but Dawood Ibrahim was not a jihadi per se but a mafia don, nor did he lay down the template for Indian terror outfits and modules.
When Jalees was arrested in January 1994, Tunda travelled to Calcutta and crossed into Bangladesh, where he set up terror recruitment and training camps, the police said. He became influential among Dhaka’s Darul students and soon assumed the position of a spiritual leader.
He returned to India in 1996 and masterminded a series of bombings in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh before leaving the country for good in 1998. He settled in Pakistan but often shuttled between Lashkar hideouts in Dhaka, Nepal, Dubai and Karachi to train young terrorists.
Tunda increasingly turned a shadowy figure and rumours abounded about his death. In 2000, Indian security agencies stopped looking for him after reports said he had died in a blast in Bangladesh a couple of years earlier.
But Abdul Razzak Masood, the alleged Lashkar chief coordinator in Dubai who was arrested by the Delhi police in 2005, told interrogators he had come across Tunda during a visit to Pakistan in November-December 2003.
In 2008, Tunda was reported to have been arrested at Mombasa in Kenya but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
This month, India’s intelligence agencies made sure there would be no let-off, according to the official version of Tunda’s arrest at the Banwasa-Mahendranagar point of the India-Nepal border in Uttarakhand.
“He had left Karachi around 10-15 days ago and reached Lashkar’s hideout in Nepal via Dubai. We got a tip-off from both RAW and the Intelligence Bureau who were tracking him from Dubai. Our officials rushed to the Nepal border and arrested him,” a Delhi police officer said.