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How Gujarat plans to counter terrorists

By Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad
July 15, 2004 20:46 IST
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Having come to the conclusion that the state is becoming a haven for terrorists, the Gujarat government has drawn up a counter-terrorism action plan, which traces its origins to the murder of former state home minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Haren Pandya.

Pandya's murder in Ahmedabad, in broad daylight last year, opened the eyes of the Narendra Modi government to the possibility that the state had become an operating ground for terrorist organisations like the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Investigations revealed that Mufti Sufiyan, head of the Zakaria Masjid in Ahmedabad and prime accused in the Pandya murder case, had allegedly been luring unemployed and poor youth into his fold. He allegedly sent some of them to Pakistan via Dhaka for arms training.

He was exposed when a few youngsters changed their mind and escaped en route to Pakistan. They then went to the police. Mufti fled to Dhaka.

The state police also discovered that some Islamic organisations in the state obtained funds from the Gulf, routed through religious organisations based in Akkalkua, Maharashtra.

Another trend was that most of the accused in terrorism-related cases in Gujarat belonged to the Tablighi Jamaat, a conservative Islamic organisation, a senior home ministry official said.

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These developments convinced the Gujarat police that it needed a clear plan to counter terrorists. The state government then set up a team of senior Indian Police Service officers led by Additional Director General of Police (CID, Crime) Kuldip Sharma to conceive an agenda to combat terrorism.

The team reportedly studied more than 6,000 First Information Reports related to terrorism-related activities filed in Gujarat and other states, the constitution of more than 130 Islamic organisations and referred to many books before coming up with an action plan.

Among the information the team came across was that out of 102,346 masjids in India, 1,825 are located in Gujarat. An overwhelming number had sprung up in the last decade. Out of 49,612 madrassas in India, 3,173 are located in Gujarat.

The police observed that many towns in Gujarat that experience communal tension have outsiders as the imams (priests) and religious teachers (at the madrassas). They were often found to hold radical views.

A senior police officer in Gandhinagar told that the plan suggests a list of things that every policeman from the constable level upwards must do to keep the police force abreast of the situation at the ground level and one step ahead of the terrorists. One of them is to keep tabs on meetings at masjids and sermons made by members of the Tablighi Jamaat in the state.

"The plan is going to be a trend-setter in India with respect to tackling terrorist activities," a source in the state's home ministry said, adding, "After the communal riots in 2002, Gujarat has become vulnerable. Gujarat Chief Minister) Narendra Modi faces the biggest threat from Islamic terrorists. We have taken the challenge seriously."

Already, the Gujarat police has foiled four attempts on the chief minister's life. Eleven terrorists have been arrested or killed. In each case, locals had provided logistical support.

Once the plan is implemented, the government hopes to nip emerging problems in the bud and deny terrorists a free run of the state.
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Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad