Bangalore, Sept. 29: Commandos of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police shot Imam Ali, an accused in the Coimbatore blasts case, and four of his associates in a pre-dawn raid on a farmhouse on the outskirts of Bangalore.
The militants, including a 23-year-old woman, were apparently plotting to assassinate deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and other senior leaders.
Ali, the 32-year-old gang leader, was the prime accused in the August 1993 bombing of the RSS headquarters in Chennai that claimed 14 lives. He was also involved in several blast cases in Tamil Nadu and had escaped from police custody on March 7 this year while being taken to court.
The native of Melur in Madurai district, who first shot into notoriety in connection with the murder of Hindu leader Rajagopalan at Madurai over 10 years ago, had trained with both the Kashmir-based Hizb-ul Mujahideen and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Bangalore police chief H.T. Sangliana told a news conference the raid was carried out between 2 and 3.30 am by about 40 commandos. “The action”, Sangliana added, “was the culmination of information collected by Tamil Nadu police”.
Tamil Nadu police had been on Ali’s trail for the past five months and had got information that he was holed up in a farmhouse near Bangalore. Following up on this, Bangalore police kept the farmhouse under observation for more than two weeks and raided it this morning.
They commandos asked Ali and his gang to surrender, but the militants opened fire. The police lobbed teargas shells and broke into the house, gunning down the five militants. The operation lasted about 90 minutes.
“We have information that Ali was planning to go to Allahabad and was plotting to kill the deputy Prime Minister, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and VHP leader Ashok Singhal,” said Ashutosh Shukla, deputy inspector general of police, Coimbatore, who also took part in the joint operation.
An AK-47 rifle, a country-made revolver, detonators, explosives and literature on improvised explosive devices were recovered from the hideout, Shukla added. The police officer said the militants had rented the house posing as Hindus. Ali had adopted a fictitious name, Ravi, and had chandan on his forehead.
Ali, described by Tamil Nadu police as a “most wanted Muslim extremist”, was carrying a reward of Rs 5,00,000 on his head. Al-Mujahideen, one of the outfits he controlled, worked in tandem with the Kerala-based Al Umma, the outfit held responsible for the 1998 bomb blasts in Coimbatore which had also apparently targeted Advani.
Shukla said Advani was on the hitlist of Ali who had “somehow” missed assassinating Joshi in Ahmedabad in July and had planned to set off bomb blasts in Tamil Nadu temples to trigger communal disturbances.
Besides Ali, the other militants were identified as Manga Bashir, Mohammed Ibrahim, Saifullah and his wife Yasmin. They had also been to Delhi, Calcutta, Pune and Bangladesh.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa lauded the police for their “daring and intrepid swoop”.