A couple of days ago, captured Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative T Naseer reportedly told his Kerala police interrogators that Hyderabad is the Pakistani-based terrorist outfit's Indian headquarters.
Information provided by the security agencies reveal that Hyderabad has the most number of alleged terror operatives who have gone missing or are currently believed to be resident in Pakistan.
Walking through the streets of Hyderabad's old city, one does get the feeling of alienation amongst its youth. Old timers in the area say many of them have not come to terms with the fact that the city was liberated from the Nizam in September 1948 and handed over to the Indian government. They speak about how prosperous the city was under the Nizam and allege how after the liberation thousands of Muslims have been killed.
Maulana Nasirrudin, a Muslim cleric who has just been acquitted of charges under the Terrorist and Disruptive (Prevention) Activities Act, says that many residents have not forgotten the lives lost when the city was liberated nearly 62 years ago. He claims there have been several police atrocities against Muslims since as a result of which some have gone to Pakistan in a bid to take revenge.
"This is not the right approach. We need to stay and fight the government and demand our rights," the maulana points out.
Mohammed Shahid Bilal, the alleged mastermind in the August 2007 twin blasts in the city and the Mecca Masjid blasts in May that year, who is said to have been killed in an encounter in Pakistan, continues to remain a hero in the area where he lived.
A youth from his area, who preferred not to be identified for this report, says, "Saab jab tak Bilal tha, paani or current ka problem nahin tha. (When Bilal was alive, we did not have water or power problems)."
"He was framed by the police since he stood up to a RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) leader," alleges the young man. "The RSS leader wanted to instal a Ganapati pandal on wakf land and Bilal opposed this. After this they started fixing him in murder cases and later terrorism charges. He went to Pakistan to take revenge on the Indian establishment and has not returned since."
The Hyderabad police dismiss this allegation. City police officers say many young men are influenced by Lashkar propaganda. "We have evidence to prove that these men owe allegiance to the Lashkar. In 2002 the Lashkar decided to get aggressive. In October 2002, 14 men were sent to Pakistan for training. Various reasons like the liberation of Hyderabad, the demolition of the Babri Masjid were given to brainwash these men," the police sources say.
These men, the police sources claim, established sleeper cells in the city. In 2007, when the Lashkar gave a call for jihad, the likes of Bilal and Rehman Khan became full-fledged terror operatives. They were among the 14 men who had been sent to Pakistan and told to set up Lashkar networks in the city.
Intelligence Bureau agents believe Rehman Khan changed the thinking of many Muslim young men in Hyderabad and ensured that several Hyderabadi youth traveled to Pakistan to pursue jihad.
Hyderabad police sources say the first batch of 14 men executed several terror attacks including the assassination of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya, the May 2007 blast at the Mecca Masjid and the August 2007 twin blasts at Lumbini Park and Gokul Chaat.
"Muslims have always been blamed and sidelined," says Riyaz, a resident of the city's Moosrambagh area. "Today there is anger since many youth are being framed in terror-related cases. Why would a Muslim bomb a mosque and kill his own people? It was the blame for the Mecca Masjid blasts which angered us the most. I know it is stupid to join some organisation in Pakistan and fight the Indian government. But several youth have crossed the border to take revenge."
Human rights activist Lateef Mohammad Khan, who is fighting for Muslim youth booked in cases of terrorism, believes it is a conspiracy against the community. "Is there anything wrong in raising your voice against injustice? If the youth raise their voice, then they are branded terrorists. Following the blasts in Hyderabad several youth were picked up. Thirty six youth were charged in these cases. As of today 30 have already been acquitted of all charges."
Motasim Billa, who has been acquitted of terror charges, said during an earlier meeting: "I feel like laughing at what you guys write in the press. One day I am the commander of the HuJI (Harkat-ul-Jamaat-e-Islami) and the next day I am the chief of Lashkar's southern operations. Here I am standing in front of you. Do I look like a terrorist? It is all a conspiracy."
While the 2007 bomb blast cases and the charges that followed angered several Muslim youth, Maulana Nasiruddin's arrest was a turning point. When the maulana was arrested for provocative speeches in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat violence, there was a protest outside the police headquarters. A young man named Mujahid was shot by the police.
IB agents claim this incident led to Nasiruddin's son Riazzuddin Nasir, a friend of Mujahid, to take up arms. He was recruited by Lashkar agents and sent to train in Pakistan. Before he could carry out attacks, Nasir was arrested by the Karnataka police. He is currently in a Gujarat jail facing charges for the July 2008 Ahmedabad bombings. The maulana's other two sons, Yasir and Jabir, are in an Indore jail facing terrorism charges.
The Lashkar, the IB sources say, has planned to set up a terror network in Hyderabad since 2000 when its founders Mohammad Saeed and Abdul Rehman Makki declared at a rally in Pakistan that the time had come to liberate Hyderabad from Hindu rule and restore the rule of the Nizam.
IB sources say the Lashkar first sent a man named Ishtiaq with an Indian passport. He married a local resident and tried setting up a network, but was picked up by the police.
Azam Ghauri then took over; he was accused of involvement in the March 12, 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. IB sources say Ghauri set up a network comprising nearly 70 men before he was killed in a police encounter.
Abdul Aziz, who had done jihadi service in Bosnia, was Lashkar's next choice for leader. With the help of the city's criminals he roped in the likes of Bilal and Rehman Khan.
A large part of Hyderabad's old city remains underdeveloped. Many of its winding lanes are havens for petty crime, pervasive unemployment and poverty. The promoters of jihad find willing recruits from these lanes. Controversial clerics aid their cause.
"We have seized material several times which say the time has come for a jihad to liberate Hyderabad and restore the rule of the Nizam," police sources say. IB sources believe the Lashkar has its strongest network in the old city.
During a meeting of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and Indian security officials it emerged that 21 terrorists operating in Pakistan, including Abu Jundal, have Hyderabad origins. Hyderabad, the IB sources say, has surpassed Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala as a breeding ground for Indian terrorists.
Hyderabad police sources believe Lashkar recruiters, foot soldiers and planners operate in the city. "We have intelligence that in the years to come they will set up modules for fidayeen (suicide attackers)," the sources say. "We suspect that there are at least 10 dedicated Lashkar modules in the city. It is a cat and mouse game. Since the blasts of two years ago, we have neutralised at least four of them (modules), but they are constantly working and keep setting up more modules."