In yet another demonstration of the fact that their religion is the root cause of the violence they perpetrate, a big group of madrassah (Islamic seminary) teachers have been found to be running terrorist modules in Assam. Assam Police has found this in its continuous operation over the past two months, where it unearthed several Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), al Qaeda modules and sleeper cells in which madrassah teachers were terror operatives.
The arrest of Abbas Ali, 21, an imam from Pakiuruwa village of Assam’s Goalpara, on 24 July for his alleged links to the ABT and al Qaeda busted the terror racket. The cracking of the Goalpura module led to the exposure of the Morigaon and the Barpeta modules.
Also known as Ansarullah Islam or Ansar Bangla, the ABT is a proscribed Islamic Jihadi organisation in Bangladesh.
The ABT is said to have made inroads in the north-eastern states of India along the Bangladesh border, particularly in Assam and Tripura.
Acting on the leads provided by Ali, the police in Goalpara picked up Abdus Subhan and Jalaluddin Sheikh, who acted as conduits for the ABT in Assam, on 19 August. The following day, the police arrested them. Abdus Subhan had been serving as an imam at the Tinkoniyapara mosque for 2 years. He taught also at the Tinkoniyapara madrassah while Jalaluddin Sheikh was an imam at Maitya Tilapara mosque.
How madrassah products operated terror modules
"They were directly linked to the Barpeta and Morigaon modules. In Subahan’s house, we found posters, books, incriminating documents, secret phones and SIM cards, while Arabic literature was recovered from Sheikh’s residence. Both were providing logistical support to ABT and AQ, including sheltering the recruits. They were organising sessions for ABT operatives from Bangladesh and were handling funding for these events. Sheikh organised talent hunts for recruitment drives and the formation of sleeper cells. Subhan later confessed that he had joined al Qaeda in 2018 and Sheikh was his brother," said Rakesh Reddy, superintendent of police, Goalpara.
A four-member team of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) has reached Matiya to investigate the case further.
Meanwhile, the search for Abu Tallah, an ABT operative from Bangladesh, is on. His wife, Johura Khatun, has been arrested by Dhubri police.
Tallah stayed in Goalpara as an imam of Abu Bakar Siddique Masjid in Morigaon and also used to teach in Jamiul Huda Madrassah run by Mufti Mustafa. The madrassah has been brought down by the government, while Mufti Mustafa, who was running a sleeper cell for the ABT, is in custody, along with his wife Asmina Khatun and brother Jakaria Ahmed, said police.
A video of Tallah, along with five other members, sleeping on a bed perched on a luggage-carrying vehicle has been doing the rounds. This, sources say, means that they are trying to radicalise more people. Several others have been arrested from Morigaon, including the caretaker of Noor Mohamed mosque, where Abu Tallah is said to have taken shelter.
The arrest of Khatun shows that women, too, are being used in the ABT operation. The ABT is also using the Dark Web and Dark sites to get more recruits. Acting on Tallah’s instruction, Khatun, who had studied till Class 8, operated the Dark Web and destroyed a mobile handset once the police crackdown began.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had mentioned that the radicals associated with the modules use highly sophisticated technology that even cyber experts find difficult to monitor.
"They have messaging systems with peer-to-peer encryption, unknown apps for one-time use and deletion and self-destruct programmes. Their financial transactions have also been in small doses to avoid suspicion," he said.
The ABT and AQ operatives in Assam receive money from certain accounts in Bangladesh and other foreign countries in tranches frequently, he added.
On 2 August, the Assam Police arrested another person in Barpeta district for alleged link with the ABT; previously, nine more persons with links to jihadi organisations were arrested, along with one Sofique Uddin Ahmed. On 28 July, Assam Police detained 11 persons on suspicion of having ties to terrorist groups. Several electronic devices and incriminating documents were also recovered from their possession.
"…It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Assam is becoming a hotbed for Islamic fundamentalists. When you bust five modules and the whereabouts of the other five Bangladeshi nationals are still not known, you can imagine the gravity," Sarma told reporters.
"We are on a mission to completely uproot the jihadi network in Assam and steady progress is been made in the right direction," said Ashok Singhal, Urban Development Minister of Assam.
As per police sources, the search for the five Bangladeshi nationals is on. The Union Home Minister, too, has alerted the Director General of Police of the state, which shares an international border with Bangladesh, to be on alert for the rise of radicalisation in the border districts.