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Terror groups shifting bases to smaller towns

July 30, 2009 11:32 IST
The formation of the Southern Corridor of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba was probably the turning point for India where terrorism is concerned.

Taking into account the importance of setting up a base in the South of India, the Lashkar had identified four key men for each state to run operations. Although the four key men handling the South of India for the Lashkar have been identified, the worry for Indian security agencies continues since the network is still deep-rooted.

The worrying factor for intelligence and security agencies is that terror groups are no longer meeting up at high profile spots but are choosing places which are completely out of the radar.

Take for instance this particular meeting which Abdul Sattar, the man heading the Lashkar operations in Kerala, speaks about during his interrogation.

Somwarpet, Kodagu, a hill station in Karnataka was one of the places that the Lashkar operatives chose to discuss their deadly plan.

The 57-year-old Edapana Thodika Zainuddin alias Abdul Sattar alias Abdul Salam alias Saleem, who devised Improvised Explosive Devices, told the Bengaluru Anti-Terrorism Squad that there was a meeting conducted in Somwarpet in Kodagy prior to the blasts at Gujarat, Bengaluru and Surat.

Sattar says during his interrogation that one of the key operatives in this operation, Naseer informed Riyaz Bhatkal, the south India chief of the LeT, that he had arranged for a meeting at Suntikoppa near Somwarpet in Kodagu, which is around 200 kilometres from Bengaluru city. 

Naseer who hailed from Suntikoppa owned a bit of land and grew ginger on it. He had invited the rest of the operatives and told them they could mix both work and pleasure.

While taking the rest of the members for sight-seeing, he also discussed the plans with them. He also told them that there were several workers from Kerala who came down to Kodagu to work in the ginger fields and it would work out cheaper if they could hire them to plant bombs instead, a plan that was readily agreed upon.

Another unassuming place that a meeting of the Lashkar operatives was conducted was at Kuttypuram in Kerala. The operatives stayed at the Aishwarya lodge in this place and held a meeting with Riyaz Bhatkal before finalising the plan.

Intelligence bureau officials say that the fact that these two places were chosen for meetings makes it clear that these operatives are clearly trying to stay away from the radar of security agencies. Initially, meetings were held only in bigger cities, but now they have started picking places where the police would not imagine could be used to hold such meetings.

Due to this change in plan, security agencies say that sleeper cells which were rampant in the cities of Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ernakulam have come down.

Terror groups are gradually moving their base into smaller places so that they are noticed less. Investigating officials say that not only are they moving out of the cities, but are also attempting to recruit people from smaller towns. The fact that Naseer was trying to recruit ginger workers from Kerala itself is a proof that the recruitment process is more village-centric now.

There are advantages of recruiting people from smaller towns, the Intelligence Bureau says. The operation works out cheaper and moreover such people obey instructions for the sake of small money.

Moreover, the labour sector is in doldrums and hence it is easier for terror groups to coax them into joining them. The other factor is that even if these people are caught it is extremely difficult to interrogate them.

Such people do not bother finding out what the operation is about, who are behind it and on many ocassions, they would not even know what they would be planting.

There are several instances when such people have blindly carried out instructions and planted a bag and not even known that there was a bomb inside it. All these factors make it difficult to interrogate them, investigating officials say.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru