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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Motivating Terror


Abdul Karim Tunda’s story reveals how an amateur bomb maker became an explosives expert. Shakti Sharma has the details
SHAKTI SHARMA | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Abdul Karim Tunda | India's Most Wanted | ISI | RAW | Lashkar-e-Toiba | Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed | Dawood Ibrahim |

The question uppermost on every one's mind is this: how was Abdul Karim Tunda, one of the most valuable assets of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, whose name prominently figures in the list of India's top 20 wanted terrorists and was absconding for more than two decades, finally caught? Special commissioner of police (special cell), SN Srivastava, told the media that Tunda was held by a special cell team while entering India through the Banwasa-Mahendranagar border from Nepal on August 16 at about 3 p.m.

But such is the secrecy surrounding his arrest that when asked if the tip off came from Interpol or was a result of electronic surveillance, Srivastava declined to go into details. Highly placed sources point out that Tunda's arrest was a result of coordinated efforts of the Indian intelligence agencies, specially the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) who were keeping a track on his movements since his disappearance after a series of bomb blasts in Delhi between 1996 to 1998. Considered a prize catch, Tunda is said to be ‘singing’. He has told interrogators about his closeness to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed, Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and former ISI chief Hamid Gul.

Whatever be the mode of his arrest, Tunda is expected to provide security agencies with intimate details of ISI’s operations in India. ‘‘He will be able to throw light on the various sleeper cells that ISI has in this country. It will provide greater focus on the terror infrastructure that exists in India,’’ says Pakistan specialist Sushant Sarin.

Tunda’s story is a classic account of what went wrong in the 1980s and 1990s when communalism began rearing its head in India in the wake of the Congress decision to lift the locks of the disputed structure at Ayodhya and the saffron backlash which led to the demolition of that structure in 1992. He was born in 1943 at Chatta Lal Miya, behind Delite cinema near Turkman Gate in the walled city of old Delhi. His father worked in a foundry unit engaged in casting of copper, brass and aluminium. Some years later, his family moved back to its native village in Pilkhua in Ghaziabad district. Tunda got married to Zarina in 1964, also a resident of Pilkhua. Till 40 he worked as carpenter, scrap merchant and cloth dealer. The change came in the mid 1980's when he shifted to Ahmedabad. Tunda was a regular visitor to Mumbai in connection with his cloth business.

After he witnessed communal riots of the 1980's in Bhiwandi and other parts of Mumbai in which hundreds of Muslims were killed, he decided to move on the vendetta course. According to the police, Tunda came in contact with LeT terrorist Azam Ghouri and started using Ahl-e-Hadis mosques for indoctrinating Muslim youth to take up Jihad. An inspiring orator, he succeeded in motivating young men. In 1985 he got married to Mumtaz in Ahmedabad and in 1986 he went to Tonk in Rajasthan. Here at a Ahle-Hadees mosque he met another soulmate who taught him to make pipe bomb. While experimenting and trying to make a bomb, an explosion injured his right hand, because of which his right hand had to be amputated from the wrist earning him the moniker Tunda - the man with a shortened hand.

According to the police, in 1987 he came to Delhi and decided to test the bomb he had learnt to make in Tonk. Tunda fabricated the bomb in a wooden pipe and directed some of his accomplices to plant it in a bus. The bomb which was planted in a private bus DEP 5643 running on a DTC route, exploded near the Delhi High Court. In the blast, two to three persons received minor injuries.

After this successful trial, Tunda went to Mumbai and at an Ahle-Hadees mosque in Mominpura, he delivered a provocative speech along with Azam Ghouri, narrating his own version of what had taken place in Mumbai and some parts of UP. Jalees Ansari, who was present, was impressed and decided to join hands. Under Tunda’s advice, Ansari formed the Tanzeem Ishahul Musalmeen with ten active members.

Initially, group members practiced unarmed close combat like Judo and Karate at the nearby YMCA grounds. After a few months, Tunda met Ansari and presented him 5 kg of potassium chlorate and a bottle of sulphuric acid as a token of their friendship. The man from Pilkhua informed  his accomplices that he would soon return with cast iron cylinders in which bombs could be fabricated for maximum impact.

According to the police, after a long wait, Tunda returned in August 1989. At a Ahle-Hadees mosque, Tunda told Ansari and his accomplices to target gurdwaras to create rift and confusion between Hindus and Sikhs. This module of Abdul Karim Tunda caused more than 43 bomb blasts in less than three years. The first occurred in September 1989 when Jalees Ansari planted the first bomb in the toilet of Andheri east gurudwara in Mumbai, but it turned out to be a dud. A few days later, six gurdwaras were targeted in a single day. Later attacks were launched against the police. The module caused at least 12 bomb blasts in side police stations and even police headquarters. The important targets included police headquarters of Bhoiwada Naigoan and Worli apart from a CID office at Crawford market. The Tunda module then struck at the office of trade unionist Datta Samant, then Kamgar Agari party MP, as were Shiv Sena offices at Kurla, Khetwadi and Mulund. It struck twice at Shivaji Park, both political rallies - BJP leader LK Advani was to address one rally and the other was to be attended by then Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. This module did not spare trains, bus and railway stations and exploded ten bombs, casualty figures for which remain unknown.

After Jalees Ansari was nabbed by the CBI, Tunda went and stayed in Dhaka and later to Pakistan and began the task of motivating young men to the cause of jihad. Tunda was gifted a two-storied house in Lahore from where he ran his perfume business.

In 1995, under instructions from the LeT chief, he shifted back to India with Delhi as base. Tunda established a base in Delhi at the Ahle Hadees mosque in Inderlok Industrial Area and started delivering provocative speeches in Ahle Hadees mosques in the capital and adjoining areas. In order to keep the police off his trail – and to point the needle of suspicion at Sikh militants - Tunda exploded a bomb on December 11, 1996, inside the waiting hall of the Ludhiana railway station. The first six blasts were carried out in Ludhiana and Rohtak and two each in Sonepat and Panipat.

In all Tunda's Delhi module exploded 41 bombs. Chemical analysis of material used in making bombs point out that up to February 25, 1997, explosives were made potassium chlorate, sugar and sulphuric acid. In order to make them deadlier, on June 20, 1997, his Delhi module added nitro glycerin, but this experiment flopped as the bomb was too loud and alerted people before it exploded.

Later the Tunda used a mixture of ammonium nitrate, potassium permanganate, aluminium powder and detonated it with hydrochloric acid, a more lethal and combustible mix.

In Delhi, more than 13 buses and congested market areas were targeted. The group also hit the Golden Temple express in Ghaziabad and planted two bombs in the train.

In an interesting aside, say police officers, the bus DEP 5643 in which Tunda carried out his first explosion in 1987, was the scene of another blast on October 10, 1997 and the causalities this time were deadlier.

After these blasts, when most Delhi modules were busted, Tunda left for Bangladesh and later shifted to Pakistan, going on to become a prized possession for the ISI, LeT and other terrorist groups because of his talent for brainwashing and motivation. The key question now is how Indian security agencies are able to use this information to form a bulwark against terror on their soil. Even more important, who else is India going to arrest on its most wanted list? (See list) Everyone wants to know.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017