Indian security forces on Tuesday arrested a suspected member of a Bangladesh extremist outfit allegedly responsible for killing secular thinkers in that country, just days after claiming to have dismantled an active cell of the group in West Bengal, police sources said.
Police in state capital Kolkata last week arrested four alleged members of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), including three Bangladeshi nationals and an Indian who allegedly arranged for their transportation. ABT is considered an affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), according to Indian agencies.
Late Tuesday, Mohammed Aftab (alias Omar Farooq), who is alleged to be a core member of the group and a wanted criminal in Bangladesh, was arrested along the India-Nepal border while attempting to flee the country, an official said.
Officers were hunting for two other Bangladeshi nationals believed to be part of the same cell that was planning more attacks against bloggers, according to police. Since February 2013, at least 10 writers, bloggers, publishers, activists and intellectuals have been slain in machete attacks by Muslim militants in Bangladesh.
“We recovered a list of names of Bangladeshi writers from the suspects apart from some al-Qaeda leaflets and literature on bomb-making methods,” a senior police officer told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
“We have also found contact numbers of some pharmacies in Kolkata that may have been used to buy materials to make explosives,” he said.
Through interrogations of the four suspects arrested last week, police identified accomplices and determined that ABT sleeper cells were active in southern and eastern India, Muralidhar Sharma, deputy commissioner of Kolkata police’s Special Task Force, told BenarNews.
One of those arrested confessed that the group was instructed to collect weapons in Kolkata and to arrange money required for it by robbing a bank, another police official said.
Analysts said extremist groups from Bangladesh found it convenient to touch base in eastern India because of the porous border and linguistic similarity, especially after a recent crackdown against Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), another extremist group.
Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-km (2,545-mile) border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km (162 miles) in Assam, 856 km (532 miles) in Tripura, 180 km (112 miles) in Mizoram, 443 km (275 miles) in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km (1,378 miles) in West Bengal.
“They know that elections are just around the corner in Bangladesh and security forces will hound them. So they take advantage of the easy border crossing and similarity of language. It is a safe haven for them in West Bengal,” G.M. Srivastava, a Guwahati-based security analyst, told BenarNews.
There are about 25 ABT members hiding in India, according to Indian intelligence agencies.
“These members are basically sent to India to recruit members for their sleeper cells,” Biplab Mandal, a former intelligence official, told BenarNews.
“Their main aim is to create problems in Bangladesh. But they find it easier to procure arms and ammunition in India,” he added.
Rohit Wadhwaney in New Delhi contributed to this report.