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Telegraph Kolkata Bureau | October 5, 2014:: An “accidental” blast in what turned out to be a bomb-assembling flat in Burdwan, a little over 100km from Calcutta, on Thursday has landed the Trinamul government in a controversy rooted in an alleged terror module with suspected links to al Qaida.
The explosion killed two men and injured another. Two women in the flat were accused of staving off firemen and bystanders by threatening to shoot them. No gun was eventually found on the women but they were accused of burning pamphlets with jihadi literature when the police eventually entered the flat. (See What happened)
One of the women is the wife of one of the two men who died, while the other is married to the injured man. The two women have a toddler each. The police suspect that one of the dead, Shakil Ahmed, entered India from Bangladesh seven years ago.
A probe is under way and investigators did not want to jump to hasty conclusions at a time the country is in the middle of celebrating some of the most auspicious days of multiple religions.
However, since the explosion took place in the middle of Durga Puja — the biggest crowd-pulling event in the country during this time of the year — the investigators are probing whether locations in Calcutta were the potential targets of the group.
Materials seized from the flat include 59 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or home-made bombs, 55 improvised hand grenades, an undeclared number of gelatine sticks, chemicals, explosives-making literature and pamphlets.
One of the pamphlets featured the name of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al Qaida leader who had last month announced the formation of the terror outfit’s branch in the Indian subcontinent, wading into a region ripe with fierce anti-western ideology and full of young unemployed men ready to take up guns and fight.
A shuttered room in the blast-hit building in Burdwan with a Trinamul flag nearby. Local Trinamul supporters said the party office’s board was removed soon after the explosion. But Trinamul leader Mukul Roy said the party never had an office there. Picture by Munshi Muklesur Rahman.
Amid the usual haze that shrouded the probe, what stood out is the alleged reluctance of the state administration to cooperate with the federal agency tasked to investigate terror plots and the haste with which local police detonated the improvised bombs, inviting charges of tampering with evidence.“In the pamphlets, we found words and phrases like ‘mujahid’ and ‘salaam to our brothers in Chechnya’. We also found the name of Zawahiri (the Qaida leader) in some pamphlets,” said a police officer.
Bengal home secretary Basudeb Banerjee denied the charges and said the local police followed the standard operating procedure.
But sources said Bengal police did not inform the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is supposed to be alerted to all terrorism-related crimes. When the NIA sent a team to Burdwan on its own on Friday morning, it ran into bureaucratic hurdles, the sources said.
“There were some local policemen. They wanted to know who we were. We disclosed our identity. They looked clueless about our role in a case related to terrorism. When we explained that we are authorised to visit any spot where terrorist activities have taken place, some policemen sought proof of identity, which was fine. When we showed them the cards, they said there was no message from their superiors about our right to visit the spot,” said an official of the central investigating agency.
An official in New Delhi said in reply to a question: “Yes, it is true that the Bengal government is not cooperating with the central investigators. Normally in such cases, different agencies do investigate but some kind of coordination evolves. Maybe the West Bengal government has some compulsion… vote-bank politics.”
Home secretary Banerjee refused to accept the NIA’s allegation of non-cooperation. “Senior officers from both sides are in touch,” he said.
Another factor that stood out was the alleged existence of a Trinamul party office below the flat where the blast took place. The Trinamul board was removed from the ground-floor room after the blast, local party workers said.
In the evening, Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy issued an emphatic
denial that a party office was situated in the same building. “Nischoi noy (definitely not),” Roy said, asked whether the party had an office there.
However, hours earlier, Mehboob Rahman, the working president of the Trinamul Youth Congress in Burdwan town, had said: “We have a party office on the ground floor….” ( )
The owner of the house is an active Trinamul supporter. The police have questioned Nurul Hassan Chowdhury, the owner who is a retired PWD employee, several times since yesterday.
Zahirul Alam, a local Trinamul worker, said: “Nurul Hassan Chowdhury has good contacts with the district party leaders.”
Chowdhury does not stay in the house but in another one opposite the site of the explosion.
“We have detained one person. We came to know he had introduced the suspects to Chowdhury three months ago and asked him to rent out the flat,” said an officer.
A section of IPS officers in Calcutta said initially the police did not take the blast seriously. “The blast was passed off as a gas cylinder explosion,” an officer said.
Asked, Burdwan SP S.M.H. Meerza — one of the officers transferred by the Election Commission during the Lok Sabha polls — said: “We received information that an LPG cylinder had exploded in a house. The police rushed to the spot and found the information was not correct.”
The SP said when the police came across the explosives, “we informed the bomb squad of the CID. The bomb squad arrived and detonated the explosive devices on the banks of the Damodar.”
The decision has triggered a raging controversy.
“Since we are authorised to conduct a probe into terrorist activities across the country, the local police should have waited for our arrival. Sometimes, a particular way of making an IED helps us to identify a terrorist outfit. Had the explosives not been destroyed, we could have got some vital leads in identifying the outfit for which the five-member group was working,” said an NIA official.
At a media conference this evening, home secretary Banerjee said: “It (the detonation) was part of the standard procedure that the police follow after recovering explosives. The process was video-recorded. So, the allegation of destroying evidence is not true.”
But a veteran police officer said: “Devices that run the risk of exploding immediately should be detonated at the earliest to save lives. Since the devices were loaded on to a vehicle, covered up with a tarpaulin sheet and sandbags were placed around them, it does not look the officers concluded that blasts were imminent. If that was so, perhaps they should have first asked the bomb squad to try and defuse the devices and keep them for detailed investigations.”
The officer added that since papers with the name of Zawahiri were found in the house, suspicions of potential terrorism was well founded and the state police should have preserved the devices in a protected place.
The section of IPS officers in Calcutta also pointed to comments by some residents, which the district intelligence branch’s antennae should have picked up.
“Sometimes, we used to see people entering the house and coming out with gunny bags. We didn’t suspect anything wrong. We had an impression that burqas were being supplied in the gunny bags,” said a neighbour.
The IPS officers felt that even if the district intelligence branch was aware of such movements, the presence of a political flag and party office downstairs would have deterred them from probing further.
Some investigators feel that the suspects might have had links with the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh.
Home secretary Banerjee said director-general of police G.M.P. Reddy had formed a task force of officers from the CID, Calcutta police and district police. The team will be headed by the deputy inspector-general (CID), Dilip Adak.
“West Bengal Police is looking into possible involvement of terror outfits like LeT and HuJI in the blast.
Mirza said that 55 grenades, chemicals used in making explosives, a book on how to trigger explosions, some jihadi literature, a video on jihadi training, map of important locations in Bardhaman district were seized by the CID team from the house.
A large number of watch dials, SIM cards and other tools required to make improvised explosive devices were seized from the house immediately after the explosion, he said, raising suspicions that the victims of the explosion were associated with a militant outfit.
The suspected militants had rented the house a few months back and the police had also questioned the house owner Hasan Chowdhury” ~ TOI.
TMC-Jihad-Terror-Tango: Shocking proof shows TMC’s link with Burdwan bomb factory (Newsxlive Video).
An NIA source said: “We have submitted a preliminary report to the Union home ministry. If the MHA gives us clearance, we will register an FIR suo motu and take over the investigation. In such a scenario, the state government will be bound to hand over the charge of the probe to us.”
Courtesy: The Telegraph | TOI | IE | Newsxlive | Links used above.