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Lashkar takes roots in God's own country

By Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
February 09, 2009 11:00 IST
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The Karnataka police may have cracked the Bangalore blasts case, but it has also revealed the functioning of a deadly Kerala module.

Rediff.com has learnt that Abdul Sattar, one of the men arrested in connection with the serial blasts case, told interrogators that it was the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's Kerala module -- managed by the absconding Riyaz Bhatkal -- which carried out the attack in Bangalore and the aborted assault on Surat.

Intelligence Bureau agents told rediff.com that Kerala is a hot bed for terror-related activities and for the Lashkar, it has been the gateway to south India.

A decade ago, the Lashkar set up links with the Students Islamic Movement of India and the Islamic Sevak Sangh to carry out terror-related activities in southern India. However, both outfits were banned, which forced the Lashkar to rethink its strategy.

The Lashkar utilised the services of Bhatkal, then a member of the underworld, and appointed him leader of south operations.

Over the past five years, the Lashkar regrouped with Bhatkal's help and the birth of the the Indian Mujahideen.

The IB says that setting up a base in Kerala was easy for the Lashkar.

First, it exploited the state's communally-sensitive nature. Second, the Lashkar used the Kerala coast and its proximity to international waters to its advantage.

The Malabar coast has been used for smuggling activities for decades, if not centuries, and this helped
the terror outfits, the IB agents say. Oceanic routes are used to send cadres in and out of Pakistan and also to smuggle in arms and ammunition for terror- related activity.

The first traces of a Kerala module came to light during the February 14, 1998 blasts in Coimbatore. The Al-Humma group, which worked under the Islamic Sevak Sangh's patronage, was blamed for those blasts.

The Lashkar has also made Kerala a recruitment hub for its Kashmir operations.

Two Kerala-based terrorists were killed in Kashmir some weeks ago, evidence of Malayalee involvement in terrorism.

Sattar told the Bangalore police that eight other men involved in the blasts received training in Kashmir after which they returned to Kerala.

The Indian Mujahideen is said to have at least 18 modules and an equal number of sleeper cells in Kerala.

The IM strongholds are Binanipuram, Kozhikode and Ernakulam, the IB agents add.

Although the Bangalore blasts saw the emergence of the Kerala module, for the IM and its sponsor the Lashkar, it was more of a dry run.

The merchants of terror wanted to test the capabilities of its Kerala wing. Second, it wanted to send out a signal to the governments in other southern states that it is capable of striking outside Hyderabad.

The IB officers say there is a need to strictly monitor the Malabar coast and bust the IM modules in Kerala.

The Lashkar, the IB sources believe, confronts a shortage of manpower in Kashmir and increasingly relies on IM cadres, especially from the south, for its terror operations in the valley.

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Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
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