India's National Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 15 :: No. 10 :: May 09 - 22, 1998
Human bombs and human error
As a fuller picture of the Coimbatore blasts of February 14 emerges, the blame is shifted to individual police officers who failed to act in time.
WERE human bombs kept ready to kill L.K. Advani on February 14 at R.S. Puram, Coimbatore, where he was to address a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election meeting? This question had generated a controversy after the serial blasts in the city with Advani asserting that he was the target of a human bomb and top State police officers denying the presence of any human bomb at the venue of the meeting that day. Now, after more than two months of investigation by the Crime Branch-Criminial Investigation Depart-ment (CB-CID) of the Tamil Nadu Police, a definitive answer is available: there were three human bombs targeting Advani that day.
Informed police sources identified them as Amjad Ali (19) of Melapalayam, near Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu; Mohammed Jameshah (22) of N.H. Road, Coimbatore; and Amanullah (22), also of Melapalayam. All of them belong to Al-Umma, a Muslim fundamentalist organisation. According to the police, the bomb blasts in Coimbatore on February 14 "were planned and executed" by Al-Umma and "masterminded by its leader S.A. Basha as a retaliation for the killing of 19 Muslims in Coimbatore on November 30/December 1, 1997."
While Amjad Ali and Mohammed Jameshah have been arrested, Amanullah is absconding. Sources in the police said that the three wore belt bombs that contained the explosive PETN. The bombs were designed by Basit, also of Melapalayam. Basit, who is absconding, is an associate of Basha. The belt bomb, according to the police, was "fixed" by M. Mohammed Ansari, the second-in-command of Basha. They believe that the explosives were supplied by "Karate" Raju who belongs to Kerala. A deserter from the Assam Rifles, Raju could have got the PETN from the insurgency-affected northeastern region of the country, the sources said.
According to the sources, Amjad Ali was specifically detailed to target Advani and Mohammed Jameshah and Amanullah were stand-bys. One source said: "They were seated at the meeting place but were not able to go near the dais because of the police cordon. They were about 400 metres from the dais. There were others meant for back-up."
The plan to target Advani failed because his aircraft landed late in Coimbatore. Meanwhile, the bombs placed by Al-Umma in cars, two-wheelers and fruit carts went off around the venue of the meeting and at different places in the city, killing about 50 persons. There was rank confusion around the venue and Amjad Ali fled.
In a meticulous investigation, the CB-CID, headed by Inspector-General of Police Param Vir Singh, has cracked the conspiracy behind the bomb blasts. Out of 167 persons identified as involved in the conspiracy, 110 have been arrested. They include S.A. Basha (48), Al-Umma's acting president Tajuddin (38) and leader of the Islamic Defence Force (IDF) Ali Abdulla. A search is on for other top members of Al-Umma, such as Mohammed Ansari, Basha's son Siddiq Ali, Zubair and Zakir Hussain, and top IDF leader Erwadi Kasim alias Mohammed Kasim. Erwadi Kasim allegedly masterminded the blasts on December 6, 1997 on three trains that left Chennai, which killed nine passengers and injured about 70.
Tajuddin (38) had taken over as the acting president of Al-Umma in place of Basha in October 1997. According to the police, Tajuddin had met the chairman of the People's Democratic Party, Abdul Nasser Mahdani, in Kerala, and through him, Raju. Mahdani was arrested by the Kerala Police on March 31 at Kochi and he is now in judicial custody in Coimbatore.
IN a White Paper presented in the State Assembly on April 23, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced that his Government had decided to constitute a special court in consultation with the Madras High Court to try the cases connected with the Coimbatore blasts. The White Paper said that the State Government would enact new legislation to neutralise the extremists. A request had been sent to the Centre on March 18 to ban Al-Umma and the Jihad Committee on an all-India basis because they operated in other States also, it added. (The Tamil Nadu Government banned both the organisations within a few hours of the blasts.)
According to the White Paper, the blasts were carried out "as a measure of revenge for the losses suffered by the Muslims" between November 29 and December 2, 1997 when 18 Muslims and four Hindus were killed in the aftermath of the killing of police constable R. Selvaraj at Kottaimedu, Coimbatore, allegedly by Al-Umma activists. It added that senior police officers of Coimbatore, including the then Commissioner of Police, Coimbatore City (Nanjil G. Kumaran), had failed to prevent the blasts even after the Government had sent them several messages about Muslim extremists planning to set off bombs.
The White Paper, which listed all cases of bomb blasts in the State from 1984, said that events that marred the reputation of Tamil Nadu as "a shining example of communal harmony" started taking place 15 years ago. Provocative speeches made by some persons offended the religious sentiments of others. Conflicts arose when processions of followers of one religion passed in front of the places of worship of another. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 "greatly upset the Muslims in Tamil Nadu and led to the spread of religious fundamentalism" in the State, it said. Explosions at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) building in August 1993 and at the Hindu Munnani office in April 1995, both in Chennai, occurred in this background, it pointed out. The White Paper added that investigations disclosed that the murder of constable Selvaraj in Coimbatore on November 29, 1997 and the death of 18 Muslims in the violence that ensued were "the cause for the bomb blasts in February 1998".
The White Paper listed the series of alerts that the State Government had sent to senior police officers in Coimbatore. A Central Government agency, in a letter dated December 21, 1997, had warned that Basha had instructed his followers to launch counter-attacks on the outskirts of Coimbatore and that police stations, the Police Commissioner's Office and gas tankers might be targeted. The State intelligence alerted the Coimbatore City Police Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police, Coimbatore district.
Again, on January 2, 1998, information was received from a Central agency that Al-Umma planned to attack leaders of Hindu organisations and police officers and create disturbances at Kottaimedu. This information was conveyed to the Police Commissioner and protection was given to activists of some Hindu organisations. A Central agency sent a report on January 19 that Al-Umma men had approached Erwadi Kasim for explosives. On January 23, the Union Home Ministry sent a message that Al-Umma had planned to explode bombs in Coimbatore in the name of the IDF. The police officers in Coimbatore were informed about these too.
The State intelligence sent 12 alerts to the Commissioner of Police between December 3, 1997 and February 10, 1998 on the likelihood of attacks on police officers, police quarters, vehicles and installations of the Indian Oil Corporation and Bharat Petroleum. The White Paper said, "Disciplinary action for major penalty has been initiated against the concerned officers, including the then COP, Coimbatore, for their failure to prevent the bomb blasts in spite of many warnings by the Government."
It added that in the light of information that bombs could be used, the Director-General of Police had sent alerts to all the Commissioners of Police and Superintendents of Police. on January 1, 9 and 10. In the background of these messages, 81 persons were arrested in different parts of the State until February 13. About 2,000 country bombs, 586 gelatine sticks, 1,595 detonators, eight unlicensed guns and two unlicensed revolvers were seized. But no seizures were effected in Coimbatore city during this period, the White Paper said.
In Chennai city, 1,042 electric detonators, 1,022 ordinary detonators, five country bombs, 37 petrol bombs, 187 gelatine sticks, one time bomb, two tin bombs, 12 box bombs, three unlicensed revolvers and three pipe bombs were seized. The White Paper said: "The facts narrated so far will make it crystal clear that the State Government has never brooked terrorism."
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha reacted sharply to the White Paper. She said, "The Government only says it sent out alerts. It does not seem that it gave orders that action be taken against the extremists... What is clear from this is that an inefficient Government that cannot take preventive action is ruling Tamil Nadu."
Jayalalitha called it a "black paper" and said that it was nothing but Karunanidhi's speeches and statements "strung together with some deletions and suppression." The White Paper had been issued only to cover up the allegations against Karunanidhi and his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government, Jayalalitha said.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana said that the White Paper contained only "half-truths". He demanded a complete report on the fundamentalists' activities in the State since 1980 because "the whole story started from the mass conversion that took place at Meenakshipuram, near Tirunelveli, in 1980."