How unprepared Odisha is becoming a soft target for terrorists

By Debendra Prusty

That the system has become dysfunctional became clear when an Italian national named Paula Bosusco stayed put in the temple town of Puri for 19 long years without any valid visa or work permit before police came to know about him — and that too only after Maoists abducted him along with another foreigner, Claudio Colangelo of Italy, in March 2012.

Little wonder, then, that the authorities did not know anything about Maulavi Abdur Rehman of Paschimkachha village near Cuttack, an Al-Qaeda operative, till late evening on 15 December, 2015 until a team from Delhi Police Special Cell arrived in Bhubaneswar to arrest him.

Rehman was allegedly recruiting Jihadists and operating for Al Qaeda’s sleeper cell in Indian Subcontinent or AQIS, the terrorist organisation launched by AQ head Aiman Al Jawahari in September 2014.

 How unprepared Odisha is becoming a soft target for terrorists

The Jagannath temple in Puri was reportedly a terror target this year. AFP

Rehman, 37, was operating from a Madrasa called Madrassia Jamiatul Hasomin Madinatul Asad near Jagatpur, beside NH 16, where he was reportedly aiming to radicalize Muslim youth. He had about 85 students, 80 of them from Jharkhand.

That says a lot about Odisha police’s ‘intelligence’ network.

Of late, Odisha has become a soft target for terrorists and jihadi organisations. They have chosen the peaceful but backward state for safe stay away from limelight.

Taking a cue from hardcore criminals of UP, Bihar and Maharashtra, operatives belonging to Indian Mujahideen, Al Jihad and ISI have begun to use the state as a safe shelter. They have also identified soft targets in Odisha to spread their hate campaign.

Odisha has a 487-km long mostly unguarded coastline. It has three all-weather ports, mostly used by miners and mineral traders to export iron, manganese, chrome and other minerals and import coal from Australia and other countries.

The drowning of Black Rose Ship in the Paradip coast in 2009 exposed the security vulnerability of Odisha’s ports and coastline.

One can find illegal fishing trawlers from Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar frequenting the coast throughout the year. Lakhs of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have settled along the coastline. The identification and deportation of these illegal immigrants have been stalled for the last 5-6 years. This makes Odisha highly vulnerable to jihadist forces networking with national and international terrorist organisations.

On 24 January this year, based on a tip off from Delhi, police arrested Ishwar Chandra Behera, a contract worker of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur on the charges of spying for Pakistan’s ISI for over a year. The 35-year-old photographer and video cameraman was arrested after being kept under surveillance for nearly six months.

The arrest assumed significance as the state was on a high alert following intelligence inputs about a possible strike by Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen, which were reported to have dispatched four teams to India with a plan to strike in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan apart from Odisha before January 28, 2015.
The Integrated Test Range in Chandipur has been the launching pad for some of the most important missiles. The Wheeler Island, the other missile launching facility in the state, is not very far off.

DIG (Eastern range) Asit Panigrahi had then said, “We have information that Behera had shared vital information pertaining to missiles and the test range with the ISI in exchange for money.”
Similarly, the grilling of nabbed Ramachandran Subhas in Puri serial train burning cases by the 5-member National Investigation Agency (NIA) team led by NIA SP Prashant Kumar revealed some sensational information on the terror threats looming large on Odisha and other prime Hindu pilgrim spots.

Even though nothing was officially divulged to media, sources revealed Ramachandran had apparently confessed that the Puri Jagannath Temple was a terror target. Ramachandran was also taken to Balasore to ascertain his links with Pakistan’s ISI. He has already received Rs 1 lakh through bank account transfer from one Mohammad Ali of Jammu and Kashmir and he had been to Kashmir in 2014 for undergoing training in terror activities.

The state police were also in the dark when two dreaded IM operatives visited Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri in January last year. Tehsin Akhtar and Waqas stayed for over two weeks and toured Puri and Cuttack between first and third weeks of January before Delhi Police arrested them in March.

“It is a warning signal for the state,” said Gopal Nanda, a retired DG of Odisha Police. He suggested that the state has to improve its intelligence infrastructure as well as counter terrorism apparatus to be able to face up to the challenge.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in his twitter handle, expressed satisfaction that Rehman was arrested and promised to fight against terror. The reality, though, is far from what he would like the state to believe.

Updated Date: Dec 18, 2015 20:52:57 IST