India 'decapitates' jihadi
group By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - The Students Islamic Movement
of India (SIMI), a proscribed organization
believed to be involved in almost all major terror
attacks in India since 2001, suffered a major
setback last week when 13 of its top leaders were
arrested in Indore in the central Indian state of
Among those who were taken
into custody were the organization's general
secretary and ideologue Safdar Nagori, his brother
and chief of operations in Andhra Pradesh,
Kamruddin Nagori, the leader of its Karnataka
unit, Hafiz Hussain and Kerala-born software
engineer-turned-terrorist Shibly Peedical Abdul.
Seven other activists were taken into custody in
raids in subsequent days.
others have been on the run since September
SIMI was designated a terrorist organization.
Nagori is said to have organized a meeting at
Ujjain a few days ahead of the July 11, 2006,
serial bomb blasts in suburban trains in Mumbai,
which was attended - among others - by SIMI's then
Maharashtra chief Ehtesham Siddiqui, one of the
suspected bombers now facing trial. Nagori does
not figure on the list of co-conspirators in the
Mumbai bombings but he is suspected of having
played a role in the planning of the attacks and
in providing logistical support. All the 13
arrested in Indore were SIMI hardliners,
"uncompromising warriors of its jihadist faction".
Police officials have described the
arrests as a big blow to SIMI. They have described
Nagori as a "prize catch". SIMI "is like an
iceberg", a senior police officer in Bangalore
told Asia Times Online, adding that "interrogating
its leaders would provide security agencies with
some glimpse of its functioning, its sources of
funding, its external links and its plans to wage
jihad against India".
So far, the police
assessment has proved correct: after a week of
interrogation Madhya Pradesh police have located
an additional terrorist training camp at a popular
holiday spot some 35 kilometers from Indore and
discovered the existence of SIMI's women's wing
called the Shaheen Force, the Times of India
reported on April 3.
According to police,
jihadi and explosives training were conducted at
the camp in Choral, a riverside area surrounded by
mountains. The police also found 122
super-explosive gelatin sticks, 100 detonators and
switchboards buried underground in Gawali village.
Founded as a student organization in 1977 in
Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, SIMI was set up to
energize the Jamaat-e-Islami's network among
students. According to its founder Mohammad
Ahmadullah Siddiqi, it was set up as a "study
circle", "to present Islam through lectures and
seminars to students at colleges and schools". But
within a few years of its founding, SIMI had
little to do with student life on campus aside
from recruiting students to become its cadres,
according to officials in India's Intelligence
"SIMI's outlook was
fundamentalist and while its activity in the early
years might not have been anti-national, its
ideology and objectives ran counter to India's
secular-democratic constitution," an IB official
said. Its literature was confrontational and
vitriolic and its leaders routinely railed against
the "moral degeneration" of "anti-Islamic
cultures" like India and the West and called for
waging jihad to establish Islamic rule in India.
In the 1990s, SIMI came under the control
of extremist activists. Its transformation from a
fundamentalist students' organization to a radical
extremist group was rapid thereafter. The
destruction of the Babri Masjid (Mosque)in
December 1992 and the anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai
that followed, added fuel to the fire and further
radicalized SIMI cadres. SIMI pamphlets openly
called on Muslims to avenge the death of their
co-religionists by following in the footsteps of
the 11th century conqueror Mahmud Ghaznavi, who
repeatedly attacked India and is said to have
destroyed many Hindu temples.
suspected of inciting communal riots in Uttar
Pradesh and Maharashtra and of carrying out a bomb
blast in the Sabarmati Express near Faizabad in
2000. SIMI activists were increasingly being
arrested for engaging in violent attacks.
Following the attacks on New York City on
September 11, 2001, SIMI organized demonstrations
in India lionizing Osama bin Laden and calling on
Muslims to "trample on infidels".
designated a terrorist organization and proscribed
under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). POTA
was revoked in 2004 but the ban on SIMI remains
under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,
SIMI was charged with "anti-national
and destabilizing activities" for "making
controversial remarks questioning the country's
sovereignty and integrity", "working for an
international Islamic order" and of having "links
with militant outfits and supporting
extremism/militancy in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir
Critics of the ban said
the allegations leveled against SIMI were vague
and not adequately substantiated, that the
offenses it was accused of and the provocative
statements its leaders were alleged to have made
were tame compared with those made by Hindu
extremist groups against whom no action was taken.
The proscription of the organization was followed
by sweeping arrests of SIMI cadres.
ban pushed SIMI's leaders underground but did not
stand in the way of the organization expanding its
presence and profile. It is said that under
Nagori's leadership, SIMI was restructured;
separate wings for propaganda, finance and weapons
procurement were set up.
organization that was centered in Uttar Pradesh,
SIMI has grown into an organization whose
tentacles extend from Kerala in the south to
Kashmir in the north, from Gujarat in the west to
Assam in the northeast.
It is this network
across India that SIMI has to offer and which has
made it an attractive partner for terrorist
organizations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the
Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HUJI) and the Hizb-ul
Mujahideen looking to expand their area of
operations in India. It was thanks to foot
soldiers, safe houses and support provided by SIMI
that these outfits were able to carry out terror
attacks across the country. A supportive hand from
SIMI was visible in the terror attacks at
Ghatkopar (2002), Ayodhya (2005), Bangalore (2005)
Varanasi (2006), Mumbai (2006) Malegaon (2006) and
Panipat (2007) among others.
arrests in Karnataka have revealed the deep
inroads SIMI has made into southern India and the
growing influence it wields over well-educated,
professional Muslims. Several of the hardcore
activists arrested in Karnataka and Kerala in
February were engineers and doctors with profiles
quite different from the stereotypical SIMI
Police officials say that the
arrest of the SIMI top brass is a breakthrough.
But they are cautious about evaluating the impact
it will have on the organization. "SIMI has been
decapitated but this doesn't necessarily signal
the beginning of the end of the organization," the
senior police officer said, pointing out that the
outfit's network is widespread and will be
difficult to dismantle.
"SIMI enjoys the patronage of politicians."
Hardcore activists, who were arrested in
Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh "have often been
released on orders from above [politicians]", the
police officer said.
It is not just
counter-terrorism officials and intelligence
agencies that will be following the arrest and
interrogation of the SIMI leaders. A section
within SIMI - the moderate faction - is also
likely to follow the developments closely.
In a recent article in the fortnightly
newsmagazine Frontline, Praveen Swamy discusses an
ongoing struggle between the jihadis and political
Islamists in SIMI. It appears that the political
Islamists have been uneasy with SIMI's jihad
links, which they believe have "hurt both the
organization and Muslims as a whole".
Moderates in SIMI are reportedly fed up with
life on the run following the proscription of SIMI
and are keen to come above ground. They have
convened several meetings, even elected new
leaders in an effort to shake off the jihadis'
stranglehold over the organization. However, they
have met with little success so far.
that could now change. The arrest of Nagori, Abdul
and others - all of the SIMI's terrorist faction -
could loosen somewhat the grip of the jihadis over
SIMI. It could provide space for the political
Islamists to wrest control over the organization
and its agenda. The question is whether the
political Islamists have the stomach for the long
Wresting control from the
jihadis will not be easy but it has now become
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.