by Abhay Vaidya
Syed Zabiuddin alias Abu Jundal, a key mastermind in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, was among the Muslim youth who took to terrorism as a result of the backwardness in Marathwada coupled with indoctrination from ultra-fanatic groups in Beed and Aurangabad.
The emergence of terrorists of Indian origin from the backward Marathwada region became evident in mid-2006 after serial blasts in Mumbai's suburban train network in which nearly 200 people were killed. While this happened in July, a huge consignment of the deadly explosive RDX was seized by the police near Aurangabad in May that year.
Zabiuddin, who was then in his mid-20s, was close friends with 24-year old Mohammed Faiyyaz (alias Faiyyaz Kagazi), one of the prime accused in the train bombings. They lived in lower middle-class neighbourhoods of Kagazi Darwaza and Shehenshah Nagar and it was their Ahl-e-hadees connection which was suspected to have brought them in touch with the The Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
During a visit by this journalist to Beed in 2006, Syed Abdul Sattar, a Maths teacher at the Millia High School in Beed, who knew Kagazi, said that during namaz Kagazi would stand in the typical legs-apart, hands-across-chest style of the ultra-conservative Ahl-e-hadees sect. Kagazi and Zabiuddin “Zaby” were part of the quiet, efficient and independent-minded Ahl-e-hadees group in Beed.
During that visit to Zaby’s neighbourhood in Beed, friends and neighbours had expressed shock that their neighbourhood boys were now being viewed as ‘dreaded terrorists’. As one of them said, “We are unable to fathom that these are the same boys who are being accused of transporting RDX and being instrumental in the Mumbai blasts. If they are guilty, then clearly much bigger forces were behind their acts.”
Zaby, with five sisters, was the son of an insurance agent who had moved to Beed from Georai tehsil. He studied up to MA locally and later did an electrician’s course from a technical institute. According to those who knew him, he would work quietly without any fuss and earned the reputation of an efficient electrician. One of his assignments was also some electrical work in the Beed police superintendent’s office.
Kagazi, son of Millia High School’s assistant headmaster, studied agriculture but gave it up mid-way to do a BSc and then a BEd from Aurangabad’s Maulana Azad College. According to his father Riaz, Kagazi kept to himself, never got into a fight with anyone, was particular about his religious beliefs and did not have any vices.
During the 2006 visit, people from Marathwada told this journalist that the emergence of terrorists from Marathwada could be easily linked to the economic depression in the region juxtaposed with the heady indoctrination from fundamentalist organisations like Simi and LeT.
Pointing out to the economic backwardness of Beed and the high unemployment, especially among Muslim youth in the region, community leaders and scholars like economist HM Desarda had spoken of the vulnerability of Muslim youth to the lure of religious fanaticism and easy money.
Aurangabad became a major recruitment centre for the banned Simi more than a decade ago. Simi gathered strength among the college-going youth in Aurangabad and the then assistant commissioner of police Sudhir Dabhade told this journalist in 2006 that the first-ever case of sedition against Simi was filed in Aurangabad in 1997 for organising provocative speeches in the city.
He noted that the first-ever proposal to proscribe Simi because of its anti-national activities was submitted by the Aurangabad police. Simi had established a firm presence in Aurangabad’s prestigious Maulana Azad College by 1999 when LeT commander Azam Ghauri made an inflammatory speech at Simi’s national ikhwan (brotherhood) conference in the city.
According to the people of Aurangabad, Simi became very popular with the Muslim student community after it aggressively promoted a ban on drinking, smoking and chewing gutkha. In latter years, the youth were indoctrinated by showing them inflammatory video cassettes of the Ayodhya demolition (1992), Mumbai serial blasts (1993), the attack on the World Trade Centre and America’s military campaigns in Afghanistan, Godhra (2002) and the Gujarat riots. They urged students to embrace jihad.