Suspected Al-Qaeda operative Maulvi Abdul Rehman Kataki’s arrest from Cuttack is a rude wake-up call for Odisha.
Though the State has been engaged in a bloody war against Left-wing extremism for decades, it was so far insulated from jihadi terrorism. Things are, however, changing fast as Odisha has made the distance to mark its presence on the terror map of India.
The developments over the past week are of enormous significance for Odisha even as there are national implications in terms of redirection of anti-terrorism policies and action. The fact that the suspected operative was picked up from his own house on the outskirts of the Twin City of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, should ring alarm bells.
The 37-year-old Abdul Rehman Kataki is linked to Al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Stated to be a key associate of Md Asif, the purported Indian head of AQIS, he allegedly acted as a facilitator and recruiter for the jihadi group.
Though based in Odisha, he was active across the country, particularly in the states of Jharkhand, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. He was even detained by the police in Ranchi a month back for inflammatory speeches.
A fiercely radicalised person, he ran a madrasa near his native village. The unregistered seminary had as many as 85 students with a majority from Jharkhand and some even from Uttar Pradesh.
If seen in the light of Al-Qaeda’s declaration of Ghazwa-e-Hind (final jihad on India) last year and announcement of massive efforts to recruit youths from across the country, Rehman’s arrest falls in place. The jihadi group’s AQIS has pointed focus on Kashmir, Gujarat, Assam, Bangladesh and Myanmar. And Odisha is of strategic importance for the group’s plans for the east.
The “implausible” characteristics of Odisha for the flourishing of a jihadi network, in fact, seems to have been used as an advantage by the group. The Muslim population is very low at 2.1 per cent with no major concentration in the State.
Unlike communally volatile states which attract such elements, Odisha has been largely harmonious in its being. Thus terror groups are finding it easy to work their way in without drawing attention.
Rehman’s story, still being unravelled, is not only a signal of things taking shape but throws up serious questions on Odisha’s capability to deal with terrorism.
The recent success can be attributed to Intelligence Bureau as it had kept a close tab on the movement and activities of Rehman for long, while Odisha police and its intelligence were clueless on the emerging threat in the heart of the State. The arrest came only on a tip-off by the IB to Delhi police.
Intriguingly, this is not the first. Last year, two operatives of Indian Mujaheedin had travelled to the State and spent quite a few days with Odisha’s police and intelligence apparatus oblivious to their presence. It was only after Delhi Police’s Special Cell rounded up the two that the State got wind of their travel plans. Even so, Rehman’s own elder brother Tahyar had been arrested for allegedly sheltering a Pakistani terrorist connected with the Kolkata American Centre attack in 2007.
The Odisha government can no longer lounge around on its assumption of being immune to terrorism. Apart from strategic geographic interest, it is also home to monuments and vital establishments like the Jagannath temple and defence installations of DRDO and Aviation Research Centre. The arrest of contractual photographer Iswar Chandra Behera from the DRDO’s interim-test-range at Chandipur on charges of spying for ISI earlier this year is a grim pointer. Similar is the bizarre case of the serial torching of trains at Puri Railway Station last month by Ramachandran Subash which is now being probed by National Investigation Agency for a terrorist angle.
The State, therefore, has to steel itself for tackling terrorism. While it has managed to put in place an anti-Naxal outfit after years of struggle, it must now work on a greater scale. It has an immediate task of building a robust anti-terrorism force backed by a strong intelligence network. But at the same time, it must avoid build-up of hysteria over Rehman’s arrest and infiltration of terror groups. Islamic terrorism thrives on the concept of religious polarisation. The State has to tread the path carefully so as not to disturb the social fabric and prevent the sowing of distrust among communities which these elements will capitalise on.