The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Simi slinks back in cousins’ garb

Calcutta, Aug. 28: When under fire, change your name.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the September-11 attacks in New York, which ultimately led to the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India in this country, the intelligence wings of the Centre and states have something more to chew on: continuing Simi operations in the city and elsewhere in the state, albeit in the garb of organisations yet to be banned by either government.

Officials say most of Simi’s followers have shifted allegiance en masse to mainly two organisations, the Students’ Islamic Action Force and the Students’ Islamic Organisation, whose operations are mostly concentrated in the state’s districts bordering Bangladesh.

The latter — SIO — existed even before the ban on Simi and was known to have “certain fundamental” differences with Simi vis-à-vis its objectives and modus operandi. But, after the ban on Simi, SIO, too, say officials, has started “behaving more and more like Simi with apparently the same objectives on its agenda”, objectives that led to the ban on Simi.

SIAF, however, is a relatively new phenomenon, its operations having come to the surface some time after the ban on Simi. This has prompted intelligence agencies to suspect that SIAF is a direct off-shoot of the banned organisation and comprises mainly Simi followers who have kept their original organisation in suspended animation.

Causing bigger creases on the intelligence agencies’ foreheads is the fact that SIO, in particular, has spread its base in the city and its immediate neighbourhood. Posters of the organisation have been seen even in the Rajarhat New Township — some of them were seen pasted on the walls of the Derozio College (built with the active involvement of former CPM MLA Rabin Mandal) — and wall-writings, still fresh, have appeared on the approach-roads to the township.

In the adjoining Kharibari belt, also in North 24-Parganas, leaflets inviting people of a certain community for “cultural programmes” have been seen. The leaflets, however, contain an appeal to join “like-minded organisations” and ask people to “come forward to help brethren in distress” as the “atmosphere in India is not conducive to Muslims or the propagation of Islam”.

Intelligence officials say Simi began its operations similarly, not directly coming to its anti-state propaganda. “They also took some time to reveal their real agenda and we suspect that SIO and SIAF are following the same route to build up a support-base before coming out and launching open programmes,” a senior Union home ministry official said.

The lead-up to another incident — that did not come off only because of strict vigil by the law-enforcing agencies — has also rung alarm-bells. There was “definite information” that there would be efforts to raise the Pakistani flag in the Maheshtala and Budge Budge areas of South 24-Parganas on August 14 and the district police “had to be on its toes” throughout the day to prevent any untoward incident, officials told The Telegraph.

Other districts where the two organisations are known to be active are Malda (Ratua, Gajol, Kumedpur) and Murshidabad (Beldanga and Dhuliyan).

Simi was banned amid the worldwide clampdown on militant organisations after the twin suicide strikes on the World Trade Center. Several key leaders were arrested and, though some of them were chargesheeted, officials admitted that many of them got bail.

Soon after the ban, the Lenin Sarani state headquarters of the organisation was sealed and its publications banned. SIO and SIAF did not attract too much attention for some time but, of late, have stepped up their activities, say officials.

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