In a dramatic 90-minute operation, police commandos on Sunday morning shot dead five suspected terrorists, including a woman, in Bangalore.
The leader of the group was Imam Ali, a fundamentalist who police accuse of masterminding the bomb blasts at the RSS headquarters in Madras in 1993 and who had been on the run after escaping from the Madurai prison in March 2002.
He was a native of Madurai district in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and was suspected of being involved in the
serial blasts in Coimbatore.
The operation was conducted jointly by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police.
The deceased were residing in M S Ramaiahnagar, in north-west Bangalore, as tenants in the ground and first floor of an independent house.
Bangalore Police Commissioner H T Sangliana identified the five as - Imam Ali (32) and his four accomplices - Manga Basheer alias Anwar (35), Mohammed Ibrahim (28), Seenappa alias Saifulla (30) and the lone woman Yasmeen (23), said to be Seenappa's wife.
He gave a blow-by-blow account of the operation to mediapersons.
The Tamil Nadu police had been trailing the gang for the last two months ever since it shifted its operations to Bangalore and rented a house claiming to be in the timber trade.
Imam Ali had given his name as Ravi to the owner of the house.
A 25-commando team of the Tamil Nadu police led by DIG (Coimbatore) Ashutosh Shukla, DCP (Madurai) Shakheel Akhthar and SP Ashok Kumar reached Bangalore on Friday to carry out the joint operation with the Bangalore police.
On Saturday, a sub-inspector and a woman constable had been sent to the house in plainclothes to get some idea of the layout of the house and confirm the number of inmates.
The duo surveyed the house posing as a couple looking for a house on rent after the police came to know that Imam Ali had informed the house owner on Thursday that they would be vacating the house on October 1.
The time of the raid was so chosen as to maintain secrecy and avoid unnecessary commotion considering that the house lay in a densely populated residential area. The entire locality was cordoned off before the raid in the wee hours, around 0230 hours IST.
When the commandos knocked on the gate assuming that the inmates were asleep, Imam Ali and Manga opened the door. After being identified, the inmates were asked to surrender.
They replied by firing at the commandos with an AK 47 gun and a revolver.
The commandos lobbed tear gas shells and stormed the house even as the terrorists continued firing from inside. They were eventually overpowered.
The five were rushed to the nearby M S Ramaiah Hospital, but to no avail. They were all dead.
Thirteen commandos sustained injuries in the daring encounter. All are out of danger.
Soon after the encounter, a thorough search of the house led to the recovery of the AK 47 gun used by Imam Ali to attack the commandos, two revolvers used by Anwar and Ibrahim, ammunition, empty cartridges, detonators, explosive materials, including wires, nuts, and bolts used while assembling bombs, hand grenades, and knives.
Interception of messages and investigations by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police during the last one month has revealed that the gang was planning to attack temples, people in public places, and execute armed robberies to raise money required for their sinister operations.
It is learnt that Imam Ali, who is believed to have links with terrorist organisations in Pakistan and contacts with Pakistan's ISI, was planning to assassinate some top VIPs, including Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal.
Imam Ali was, in fact, planning an armed robbery at the house of a businessman on Sunday or Monday.
The police suspect the gang was behind the spate of bank robberies, house burglaries and murders-for-gain in and around Bangalore during the last two months.
Intelligence collected by the police in both states have revealed that Imam Ali may have established contacts with the Pakistan-based Al-Mujahideen. Police believe he had undergone training in handling explosives in Dhaka in Bangladesh.
He had been arrested by the Tamil Nadu police, who suspect him of masterminding the bombing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Madras in 1993 in which 14 persons were killed.
However, his associates helped him escape while he was being taken to a court in Madurai in March this year.
Since then, Imam Ali had been to several places like Allahabad, Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata surveying important venues and public places where bomb blasts could be carried out to cause maximum deaths and disturbances leading to communal fare-ups, Sangliana said.
He said investigations were underway to verify whether the gang was involved in the series of bomb blasts that were carried out in Coimbatore in February 1998 on the eve of Advani's visit for campaigning for the mid-term parliamentary elections.
Incidentally, Sunday was the last working day for Sangliana as Bangalore police commissioner. His one-year tenure has come to end in a blazing glory.
Former DGPs blame government policy for spread of bomb culture
Al-Umma's plot to set off blasts in Madras on Thursday foiled, six arrested
More reports from Karnataka
Tell us what you think of this report