The United States of America and the United Nations declaring the Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami as a terrorist organisation recently has come as a welcome relief for India, especially since this dreaded outfit has been spreading its tentacles across the country. Vicky Nanjappa takes a look at the inception of HuJI and also the major attacks that it has been involved in.
HuJI is commonly known as the 'younger sister' of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and is a Bangladesh-based outfit. Their primary focus is West Bengal and also southern India. Intelligence Bureau sources say that their strongest base is in Kerala, and most of their cadres come from there.
Although this outfit has come to the forefront only recently, the IB says that it has been existent since the Soviet invasion of in Afghanistan (1979-1989). Pakistani spy agency Inter Services Intelligence and the Lashkar found the need to branch out and have a strong base in Bangladesh, and hence created the HuJI.
At that point of time, the main idea was to train men and send them for the war against the Soviets.. After the war, it merged with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and also the Harkat-ul-Ansar, and continued the fight in Kashmir for a while.
It was then that the ISI felt that it was necessary to have a Lashkar-like outfit in Bangladesh. All the fighters battling in Kashmir were pulled out and there was a lull until 1992. The year, the outfit was re-launched as the Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami Bangladesh, and since then it has been operating from there.
Since then the HuJI has been fighting against the Bangladesh government and has always fought to ensure that Islamic rule is imposed completely there.
While the HuJI has been active in Bangladesh for a long time now, there was a shift in its operations from 2000 onwards. There was a directive from the Pakistan based groups and the ISI to start concentrating on India and also begin the infiltration process through the West Bengal borders.
The India operations were launched under the leadership of Bashir Ahmed Mir who proved to be very effective. Prior to being shot dead in Jammu and Kashmir in 2008, Mir had undertaken various operations apart from setting up the command base in India.
He did a long stint in Manshera in Pakistan where he recruited people for the outfit. He shuttled often between Bangladesh and Pakistan before he was killed, the IB points out.
The IB says that Mir managed to set up bases in India with ease with the help of Shahid Bilal, the Hyderabad-based operative who was blamed for the twin blasts in the city. Bilal had a major following in Hyderabad and managed to recruit boys with ease.
However, Bilal was killed in an encounter in Pakistan. His death saw a slow down of operations in Hyderabad, and the HuJI decided to gradually migrate to Kerala where they saw a huge potential in the communally-sensitive state.
The IB says that the HuJI has never found it a problem to appoint successors. Bilal was specifically told to focus on operations in Gujarat as well. He took the help of Rasool Khan Party to build operations in Gujarat. It is alleged that the duo had even masterminded the assassination of Haren Pandya, the then home minister of Gujarat.
The death of Bilal was quite a setback for the outfit. But they managed to find Amjad Mohammad, a Bangladesh-based operative, to take over from Bilal. Amjad has primarily been focusing on West Bengal and Kerala. In these two states the outfit today has a cadre strength of 750 persons, IB reports suggest.
The HuJI today is a large force, says the IB. While India is their primary concern, they are believed to operate along with other Pakistan-based groups in 20 other countries such as Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Iran among others.
Intelligence reports suggest that they operate more in the southern parts of India and Kerala will continue to remain the target.
In West Bengal,where they started off their India operations, they have been advised to go slow since there is already unrest being caused by the Naxals.
It is believed that the HuJI plays a great role in helping the Naxal movement and there have been evidence of them having supplied arms and providing financial assistance to the Naxals in Bengal. HuJI, however, has only one major operation to its credit in the state -- the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata in 2002.
Today in India a large number of cadres belonging to the HuJI are ex-Students Islamic Movement of India operatives who had in the past provided logistical support to the group.
Today the entire operation of the HuJI is being controlled by Ilyas Kashmiri who is based in North Waziristan, Pakistan.
Although Indian intelligence officials have been issued warnings regarding this man, he started to be taken seriously by the United States of America only after LeT operative David Headley confession.
Headley had repeatedly spoken about Kashmiri and his role in the HuJI. Kashmiri along with Amjad had stated on several occasions that they relied heavily on the cadres from Kerala to build their India force.
Moreover they were planning another 26/11 type attack in India, intelligence alerts point out.
Trail of terror:
The first of the terror strikes undertaken by the HuJI was in 2002 when it carried out an attack on the American Centre in Kolkata. The attack left five police personnel dead. Investigations led to the HuJI trail and even the outfit claimed responsibility for the attack.
They announced their arrival in south India when they sent a suicide bomber into the Special Task Force office in Hyderabad in 2005. One policeman died in the incident. Two months later in the same year, an attack was carried out at the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bangalore in which one professor was killed.
In 2006, HuJI executed a successful attack in association with SIMI at the Sankatmochan Temple and the railway station at Varanasi.
A year later, the HuJI carried out its biggest attack on Indian soil when two blasts took place simultaneously in Hyderabad. The twin blasts at the Gokul Chats and the Lumbini Park killed 40 persons. This attack was masterminded by Bilal in retaliation to the Mecca Masjid blasts.