Nashik has become a crucial centre for terrorists, say sources in Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism Squad, after interrogating the two terror suspects arrested in connection with Pune's German Bakery blast.
One of the accused admitted that he had conducted reconnaissance of a few security establishments in Nashik.
Sources in the Intelligence Bureau told rediff.com that terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba have been trying to set up base in Nashik. While one of the reasons is to strengthen their hold over Maharashtra, another reason was to target the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which considers Nashik as a major stronghold.
The Lashkar first tried to set up a base in Nashik and Nagpur with the help of Mohammad Faisal Ataur Rehman Shaikh, a key accused in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts case. Shaikh, along with terror operative Azam Cheema, had set up three modules in both Nashik and Nagpur. But these modules were neutralised after a major crackdown by the police in the wake of the serial train blasts in Mumbai.
The Lashkar also realised that some Hindu groups were becoming stronger in these belts -- as proved by the alleged activities of Sadhvi Pragya Singh and Colonel Srikant Purohit -- and tried to counter them.
According to sources, at least eight terror sleeper modules are currently present in Nashik. These modules have been instructed not to carry out any attacks, but conduct reconnaissance of likely targets and collect data about them.
In late 2009, the Lashkar had made an attempt to target the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in Nashik. Intelligence inputs suggested that at least eight fidayeen had slipped into India and they were planning on targeting the RSS headquarters and some security establishments in New Delhi. It was later revealed that the entire operation was part of a dry run to test the security levels in these places.
Pune has been the headquarters for the Lashkar-backed Indian Mujahideen. But the IM is also setting up bases in Nashik and Nagpur. Nashik's closeness to Mumbai, the LeT's epicentre for subversive operations, is another reason for its importance on the terror radar.
IB sources say that operations in Nashik will be supervised by veteran terror operatives like Azam Cheema and Riyaz Bhatkal, who are used to running operations in Maharashtra.