September 30, 2002


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The Rediff Special/M D Riti

Shootout at Ramaiah Layout

But for the bandh, I would have arranged for storming the hideout of the terrorists a day earlier," Bangalore Police Commissioner H T Sangliana told "The commandos would have arrived here on Thursday and we would have initiated our attack in the early hours of Friday."

The commissioner was referring to the police commando operation in which five alleged terrorists from Tamil Nadu were shot dead at 0230 IST on Sunday in a rented house in the lower middle-class M S Ramaiah Layout of Sanjaynagar.

"They were well-armed, with ammunition and AK-47s," Sangliana said. "If they had surrendered quietly, that would have been ideal for us. But they started firing from inside through the windows. So we had to gatecrash into the building after lobbing teargas shells. The shells disturbed them, as they could not aim at our people properly. In the process, everyone was hit. The five terrorists who were there died, and 13 commandos were injured."

The drama had all the ingredients of an Indian masala movie.

Imam Ali and five friends moved to Bangalore about three months ago and took up a house in Ramaiah Layout from a man named Chinnappa for a monthly rent of Rs 3,500. This was soon after Ali had had a close shave with the Kerala police in Thiruvananthapuram.

Ali, according to the Bangalore police and local residents, shaved his beard and head and sported a big sandalwood mark on his forehead in an attempt to pass off as a brahmin. But none of the six people in the house mixed with anyone in the neighbourhood. One of the men left about a week ago.

The landlord of the house himself lived on the first floor while Ali and his companions lived on the ground floor of the house, which is located on a narrow street with houses packed closely on both sides. Ali had paid ten months' rent in advance, as is the practice in Bangalore's rental market, but there were frequent disputes with Chinnappa over what the landlord felt was overuse of water, which is always in short supply in Bangalore.

The Ali household consisted of the man himself and his aides Seniyappa alias Saifulla, 30, his wife Yasmin, Mangai Basheer, 35, alias Anwar of Tirunelveli, Mohammed Ibrahim, 25, of Madurai, and one more man, whose name the police refuse to divulge. Following the frequent fights with the landlord, the group planned to move out in two days.

Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu police, who had been trying hard to find Ali ever since he escaped from custody six months ago, had announced a reward of Rs 500,000 for information leading to his capture.

Ali had been arrested in 1997 in connection with a bomb blast in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh head office in Chennai in 1993 that killed 12 people. But he escaped in March while in transit from a court to the Madurai prison.

Ali and his gang were shadowed by the intelligence wing of the Tamil Nadu police and ultimately traced to Bangalore. The area in which they were staying was identified, as was the house. This happened over the past two or three weeks.

"As this is our territory, the DGP [director general of police] of Tamil Nadu called me up and asked for help," said Sangliana. "I planned the manner in which things could be acted upon."

The plan was put into action. Two policemen first visited the house, one as a milk vendor, the other as a vegetable vendor. Then, on Saturday evening, a few hours before the raid, two sub-inspectors of the Bangalore police, Subramanya and Shashikala, called on Chinnappa pretending to be a married couple looking for rented accommodation.

Chinnappa took them all over the first floor of the house and told them that the present tenants would be vacating soon. Yasmin Saifulla was in the house, but never caught on to the pretence. Ali, who was also at home, went and locked himself in a toilet. "We are now so distressed that such terrible people had taken our house," a visibly upset landlady Kantamma said.

"Thereafter we planned the whole strategy," Sangliana continued. "I asked the Tamil Nadu DG to send his commando force, at least 25 of them, with one SP [superintendent of police]. Ashok, the SP, is currently working with the Tamil Nadu STF [Special Task Force]."

The terrorists, of course, had no idea about all this. The commandos arrived in three vehicles from Chennai on Saturday evening. Once they arrived, the police reconnoitred the area and planned their strategy. Then, early on Sunday morning, they moved in.

Sangliana refused to disclose details of the operation, such as the time the police vehicles moved into Ramaiah Layout and how they surrounded the terrorist hideout. "Those details are all part of our secret activities," he explained. "We do not disclose them because criminals will then understand how we go about these things."

The first hint local residents got that something was amiss was when they heard gunshots at about 0200 IST. Some of them came out and were shocked to see policemen engaged in a gun battle. Some of the residents said they could even hear screams from within the hideout.

"At first I thought it was some students fighting," remarked one neighbour. Close by are the Ramaiah medical and engineering colleges, which attract many students from within and outside Karnataka, some of whom can be quite rowdy in their behaviour. The police, however, immediately ordered the sleepy residents inside for their own safety.

When the encounter got over, police found in the hideout an AK-47 assault rifle that Ali had allegedly grabbed when escaping from the custody of the Tamil Nadu police. They also found two country-made weapons, a detonator, and some bombs.

The sheer violence of the episode, however, has stunned Bangaloreans and raised concerns whether their city is increasingly becoming a base for terrorists and criminals. The police too are quite worried on this score. "I want to warn extremists and underworld elements," Sangliana said sternly, "that they are not to consider Bangalore a safe haven. The Bangalore police are not to be taken for granted. We will track them down quickly and apprehend them."

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