KOLKATA/BURDWAN: When a bomb accidentally went off two months back on Oct 2 in what outwardly looked like a burqa tailoring shop in a semi-urban neighbourhood of Burdwan town, about 100 km from Kolkata, the inmates tried to pass it off as a cooking gas cylinder explosion. For days, the West Bengal government downplayed the incident. But the still unravelling mystery spanning beyond India's borders has left everyone shocked.
Two months on, what has emerged on the radar is an international conspiracy purportedly involving a fanatic terror group from Bangladesh out to trigger mayhem in India through serial bombings and in Bangladesh by assassinating Prime Minister Hasina Wazed and opposition leader Khaleda Zia.
While investigators hold the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh as the culprit, it was significant the explosions took place about a month after Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri announced the formation of its India wing to raise the flag of jihad across the Indian subcontinent.
Though unconfirmed, there have been reports and speculation about the hand of Al Qaeda and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in the incident that prompted Dhaka to despatch senior officials from its intelligence and law enforcement agencies to talk to Indian investigators and interrogate the blast accused.
The various geographic locations from where the accused have been rounded up shows the vast reach of the conspirators.
Half a dozen have been arrested in West Bengal in connection with the blast and two others for supplying SIM cards. A Myanmar man, Khalid Mohammed, was arrested from Hyderabad. Nine others were caught from Assam. In Bangladesh, six people were nabbed for their involvement in the blast while three are behind bars as accomplices.
Apart from uncovering the terror plot, the blasts have prompted the central and state governments to take a hard look at intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism in India, especially in West Bengal.
"The incident has to be thoroughly, meticulously investigated. Every lead must be followed. One has to be very careful because West Bengal has an open border with Bangladesh. Lots of people have relatives on both sides," former state director general of police Bhupinder Singh told IANS.
"Earlier, we had a number of instances where Bangladesh criminals and operators made their hideouts around Kolkata. Some of the militants from the northeast, especially Manipur, also have hideouts in these areas."
But with the investigators and intelligence agencies generally keeping mum, speculation and rumours are rife. One example is the "discovery" of RDX at the site. Finally, the National Security Guard (NSG) issued a denial.
It was on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, and amid Durga Puja festivities that the powerful explosion rocked a two-storeyed house during noon at Khagragarh in Burdwan.
As locals rushed in, two women inmates claimed a gas cylinder had gone off and tried to prevent them from entering by threatening to open fire. But when police arrived they found two bodies and another injured person lying in a pool of blood.
Besides some explosives, police seized several tools, including watch dials, required to make improvised explosive devices (IED), micro SD cards containing Islamist propaganda songs and Taliban training videos, and fake ID documents like electoral cards and passports. Maps and half-burnt books in Arabic too were recovered.
The dead were identified as Shakil Ahmed and Sovan Mandal and the injured as Abdul Hakim - all three suspected Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh militants allegedly making bombs which accidentally exploded.
The two women - widow of Shakil and wife of Hakim - were arrested as the state's Criminal Investigation Department, Anti Terrorism Squad and Special Task Force personnel got into the probe.
A fit again Hakim is facing grilling from the the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the matter despite the initial vociferous opposition from the Mamata Banerjee government.
Under fire from the opposition after the blasts, the beleaguered Banerjee had something to cheer when the state police arrested Bangladeshi Sk. Rahamatulla alias Sajid - described as the chief of the Burdwan module. The NIA had announced a Rs.10 lakh reward for his arrest.
Bhupinder Singh says the government needs to be on high alert.
"At this point there may be danger concerning Bangladesh. This can take a more serious shape if not tackled comprehensively right now."
The incident comes amid the increasing radicalization of a section of Muslims in West Bengal and their links with Islamists in Bangladesh.
Critics have long accused the Mamata government of not taking action against such elements so as to keep the community on its side. Muslims constitute a quarter of West Bengal's population.