Bengaluru: The imposing wall decor – a framed gun – perhaps a memento, tells a story about the house and its inmates. The stairway leading up to this second floor house, is all dusty and messy, as if it’s not been cleaned in a while. This lean, green building’s neighbour is even more interesting.
The board on the adjoining structure reads: Al Hind Educational and Charitable Trust, #15/3, 6th main road of Gurappanapalya. The office, which is now locked by the police, used to host karate classes. But its covert operations were different – a misnomer to the “educational and charitable trust” that it claimed to be.
A south Bengaluru extension, Gurappanapalya recently hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. The largely Muslim-dominated, lower-middle-class locality is now under heavy surveillance. For, last month, some suspected terrorists, who allegedly had a big attack planned, were flushed out of this area.
Cut to the present. Any stranger stepping into the narrow, dusty and unasphalted byways is viewed with suspicion. Women peep through the half-opened windows of their homes, young boys talk in hush-hush tones giving sharp looks and men lazing on the pavements stop their chatter to size up the new entrants. The air in Gurappanapalya is so hostile that it is an unsettling feeling for outsiders.
One cold January morning this year, three men were picked up by the police’s Central Crime Branch (CCB) along with the Q Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Tamil Nadu from the very same house on 6th main road, Gurappanapalya – Jabeebullah, Mohammed Mansur and Azmatullah. They were suspected to be key operators of Al-Hind, the lesser known arm of Islamic State (ISIS), a designated terrorist organisation. They were also wanted in the murder of a Hindu leader and a police officer in neighbouring Tamil Nadu recently.
Before the neighbourhood could digest the police storming their area, there was more in store. After 10 days, another arrest was made – that of Mehboob Pasha – who lived on the next lane in building #74/41. Pasha is allegedly the southern commander of the terror outfit and went absconding when his associates, including his brother, were picked up. According to the local police, he came back to the area to collect money from his father one night. The police who had put him and his family members on surveillance, nabbed him near Jayadeva Hospital, which is just across the road.
"We had upped the surveillance and Pasha used to get in touch with family members using multiple numbers. When the money he had on him exhausted, he contacted his father. They decided to meet near Jayadeva Hospital. A close watch was kept and security was mounted. He was arrested at the right time," a police official who was a part of this exercise told News18.
Though Al Hind Trust ran karate classes for the neighbourhood boys, it was allegedly a place where major plotting was taking place – to ready a blueprint for an imminent attack. “After dusk, Pasha held meetings with his associates, young educated boys who were technically sound in the making of explosives. The Al Hind Trust was clearly a back-end office for anti-national activities. Even their boss, Moinudin, who is the mastermind, had visited this office,” another senior police officer explained.
The neighbours knew Pasha as an autorickshaw driver who diligently took out his vehicle in the morning and returned after dusk. His landlord, a Hindu, did not think twice before renting out the place to Pasha and his family. M Chandra Babu, who runs a hair salon, has rented out nine crammed, cluster houses in his two-storeyed building. For two years, Babu had no clue about the infamous tenant who lived on the first floor.
“Two years ago, he came to me asking for a place for rent. My house on the first floor was vacant and I agreed. I quoted Rs 6,000 per month as rent and he agreed. Subsequently, Pasha, his wife and three children moved in. We only exchanged pleasantries occasionally and never actually had any interactions with the family. He owned an autorickshaw that would be parked downstairs. It was a jolt for us when the police came knocking on our doors,” said Babu, displaying the rental agreement and copy of Pasha’s voter ID card which he had submitted as proof of identity. Pasha’s voter ID card has the address of Lakkasandra, another lower middle-class area.
Babu has lived in the locality since 1985. In fact, the neighbourhood was witness to a similar terror operation, about a decade ago. Just opposite Babu’s house is another pigeonhole where a suspected terrorist was holed up. "The operation was undertaken by Alok Kumar (now ADGP) and at that time the area was filled with policemen. The suspected terrorist was flushed out of that flat with heavy security," reminisced Babu.
Since January, the CCB has made the arrest of several suspected members of groups linked to ISIS. Investigators have identified a bigger plot being hatched by them to unleash terror across India. Subsequently, the police have registered an FIR against 17 such suspected terrorists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act with the main accused being Pasha.
Following Pasha’s arrest, his family has left the house. “Just a few days ago his daughter had come to pay the rent. I have asked them to vacate the house at the earliest,” said landlord Chandra Babu.