Assam Islamist Group's Link To Al-Qaeda: Why Previous Congress Governments Stand Accused Of Turning State Into Hub Of Jihadists

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Mar 14, 2022 06:00 AM +05:30 IST
Assam Islamist Group's Link To Al-Qaeda: Why Previous Congress Governments Stand Accused Of Turning State Into Hub Of Jihadists Map of Assam. (Representative image)
  • Chief minister Sarma also concedes that rooting out this grave menace from the state is going to be difficult. “But we are determined to do it, and we shall succeed in our task".

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is an extremely worried man. That’s because his state has become a haven for Islamist fundamentalists and terrorists, or jihadists. They come from the illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh or their descendants.

Sarma, earlier last week, openly expressed his apprehension about the presence of many jihadists in Assam. “This is very ominous for Assam,” he had said.

Sarma was reacting to the confessional statements of five jihadists with links to the al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (aQIS) who were arrested by Assam Police from Barpeta district of the state late last week.

According to top police officers of the state, sustained interrogations of the five have revealed the existence of more aQIS modules in the Muslim-dominated lower Assam districts, especially the char areas of the state.

The kingpin of the aQIS module busted in Assam last week is Saiful Islam who hails from Narayanganj in Bangladesh. He sneaked into Assam through the porous Indo-Bangla border three years ago and settled down in Dhakaliyapara in Barpeta.

Islam, a member of Bangladesh’s the notorious Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) of Bangladesh that had murdered bloggers and atheists and is a front for the aQIS, had started teaching at a private madrassa in Dhakaliyapara and in an Islamic seminary by the name of ‘Shaikur Hind Mohammadul Jamiul Huda Islamic Academy’ at Jashihatipara near Howly in Barpeta.

“Islam, within this relatively short span of two years, managed to radicalise many young men and even teenagers through his preaching of the regressive Salafi form of Islam. And after radicalising them, he recruited them into the terror outfit (aQIS). Islam has also revealed that there are many other aQIS modules in lower Assam,” a top Assam Police officer told Swarajya.

Chief minister Sarma told Swarajya that while the state police was actively pursuing the leads that came up after sustained interrogation of the five arrested Islamist terrorists and more terrorists would be nabbed soon, it is important to go into the root causes of the birth of these modules in Assam and then eliminate those causes.

“The only reason why all this has happened is because of vote bank politics of the Congress which has ruled Assam for most of the time since Independence,” he said. Successive Congress governments in the state encouraged illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh to settle down in Assam since they were valuable vote banks of that party. The Congress was dependent on these vote banks to stay in power.

The Congress governments in Assam had created an enabling environment for illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants to settle down in Assam, get citizenship documents and prosper. All in return for their votes.

Keen to keep these illegal Muslim immigrants happy and even appease them, Congress governments of the past turned a blind eye to all their activities, including their many illegal actions and enterprises.

“The imams and mullahs (religious teachers) were patronised by the Congress and they, in return, delivered the votes of the community to the Congress. Being poor, vulnerable and illiterate, the illegal Muslim immigrants were in the complete grip of the mullahs. And these mullahs were funded by Islamist foundations in the Middle East which were keen on spreading the Salafi form of Islam,” said former state BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass.

A huge number of madrassas and seminaries came up in the Muslim dominated areas of Assam, especially lower Assam and its char areas (chars are landmasses formed by alluvial deposits of rivers), with funds provided by Salafi outfits. Radical preachers came in even from Bangladesh to indoctrinate and radicalise youngsters.

“State and central intelligence agencies alerted successive Congress governments in the state and the Centre many times about the radicalisation going on through these madrassas and seminaries and the dangers that they were posing to Assam. But for its petty and selfish interests, and its desire to stay on in power, the Congress government junked those intelligence reports and alerts. The Congress sacrificed the interests of Assam and jeopardised the future of the state for its greed for power,” said chief minister Sarma.

In fact, say police officers, Congress governments of the past discouraged police and intelligence agencies from monitoring the activities of radical mullahs and the goings-on in the Islamic seminaries and madrassas. And, thus, these madrassas and seminaries became the breeding grounds of jihadists.

Whats was worse was that the governments of the past turned a completely blind eye to even radical preachers from Bangladesh coming in to Assam to deliver toxic sermons urging youngsters to launch jihad and make Assam a Muslim-majority state ruled as per the sharia.

“Young children in the private madrassas are not taught about Sankardev and Madhabdev (Vaishnavite saints of Assam) or about Lachit Borphukan (who repulsed and defeated invading Mughals many times). Instead, figures like Aurangzeb, Taimur and Osama bin Laden are glorified,” said state BJP spokesperson Ranjib Kumar Sharma.

That’s why, said Sharma, the BJP has urged the state government to strictly monitor what children are taught in the private madrassas and seminaries. “The state government needs to put in place a system of registering the teachers and preachers in these madrassas and seminaries and constantly monitor their activities,” he added.

Bangladeshi nationals have been coming to Assam with medical or tourist visas and not only preaching Salafi Islam, but also collecting huge sums of money from Muslim businessmen in the state. Recently, the visa of one such person was cancelled after the Assam government took up his case with the Union Government.

“Such things used to be rampant in the past and many prominent Salafi preachers used to come to Assam and address huge gatherings, delivering provocative and very toxic speeches. They were never restrained and monitored and that’s why Islamists felt encouraged to carry on with their radicalisation agenda,” said a former senior officer who retired as an IGP and held charge of the Assam Police’s Special Branch (SB) for many years.

Sharma alleges that many Congress politicians used to interact and patronise such ‘visitors’ from Bangladesh. “Many Congress leaders would fete radical Salafi preachers publicly and support them, and the preachers would in return issue firmans (directives) to the illegal Bangaldeshi Muslim immigrants to vote for those Congress politicians,” said Sharma.

Over the decades, a huge number of youngsters got radicalised. And they became ready recruits for the Islamist terror groups.

Chief minister Sarma told Swarajya: “I fear that the terror outfits like aQIS have recruited a large number of people in Assam and there are many sleeper cells in the state. These cells can be activated and can create mayhem in the state, and can also be used as a ‘fifth column’ in case of hostilities with an external adversary”.

Top police officers endorse this apprehension. “Assam is sitting on a huge explosive keg and the clock is ticking. The outlook is very ominous and if very strong measures are not taken immediately, a disaster of unimaginable proportions will unfold in Assam,” said the retired police officer who did not want to be named.

Chief minister Sarma said that the state police and other agencies have been asked to mount vigilance and monitor activities of suspected Islamist radicals in the state. Many measures are in the pipeline to root out aQIS modules and arrest all jihadists.

But it won’t be an easy task, say serving police officers, since the ‘cancer’ of Islamist radicalism and terror has been allowed to take firm roots and spread in the state due to indulgence by Congress regimes of the past.

Chief minister Sarma also concedes that rooting out this grave menace from the state is going to be difficult. “But we are determined to do it, and we shall succeed in our task. We have the strong resolve that is necessary,” he said.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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