By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai/Pune, Sep 16 (IANS): It's not just an expressway that connects Mumbai and Pune. Investigators say the two Maharashtra cities are now strongly linked by a terror trail, and revelations in the German Bakery bombing are the latest pointer in this direction.
Separated from India's commercial and entertainment capital Mumbai by a mere 150-minute drive on the expressway, Pune has today emerged as a disturbing hotbed of terror activities, mostly underground - a far cry from the city being referred to as Maharashtra's academic and IT capital.
"Besides easy round-the-clock access - both by road and railway - the two cities have a peaceful population which does not interfere with strangers," a top Pune police officer told IANS on phone.
The Feb 13, 2010, terror blast at the German Bakery in which 17 people were killed was just one - and the latest - in this chain which indicates the significance of Pune for terrorists, police officials say.
The Anti-Terrorist Squad nabbed Mirza Himayat Baig Sep 8 and blew the lid off the Pune terror blast, nearly eight months after the incident. Baig had played a major role to facilitate the integration of the Indian Mujahiddeen with the Aurangabad module of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), police say.
Prior to this, the infamous LeT secret operative David Coleman Headley - now in a Chicago jail - had visited Pune and Mumbai as part of his recce trips to chart out terror plans.
Headley, 48, is also among the key conspirators of the Nov 26, 2008, Mumbai terror attacks and had visited the German Bakery, the Osho Commune nearby and other places of Pune a couple of years ago.
"There are little or no security checks on people entering or leaving both the cities by the surface route and there are many places en route which can offer a temporary hideout to miscreants fishing for mischief," a Mumbai Police officer told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Police point out that there is the case of Rizwan Davare, a software engineer from Pune, who is an accused in the July 11, 2006, Mumbai suburban trains serial blasts and head of the Indian Mujahideen's media wing.
According to police investigations, Davare had arranged funds for the July 11, 2006, serial blasts in Mumbai's crowded local trains and is on the Interpol watch list.
Believed to be holed up in Saudi Arabia, Davare was in contact with LeT commander Azam Cheema, alias Babaji.
Police say another important functionary from Pune is Sohail Shaikh, a wanted in the 7/11 Mumbai terror attacks. He came in touch with Davare when he spent some time in the Camp area of Pune before escaping to the Middle East.
A former activist of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Abdul Wahiddin Mohammed Shaikh, who is an accused in the 7/11 case, hails from Bhawanipeth, Pune. Currently in jail for the train blasts case, Shaikh had come in contact with Davare during his SIMI days.
One more key member of the 7/11 terror team - Mojhammed Faisal Attaur Rehman Shaikh - is from Mumbai, but managed to procure a passport from Pune.
A part-time teacher in Urdu and Arabic at the prestigious National Defence Academy, Anwar Ali Bagwan is one of the accused in the March 13, 2003, Mulund suburban train explosion in Mumbai.
The IM had a full-fledged Pune group comprising an IT expert, M. Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy, 31; 28-year-old M. Akbar Ismail Chaudhary alias Syed Yakub;
Salman Qader Shaikh alias Mubin, 25 and Asif Bashir Shaikh alias Hasan Mehmood, 23, police say.
Even the famous Malegaon terror blast case of Sep 29, 2008, had a strong Pune connection with at least four of the terror group members hailing from the city.
They include retired Major Ramesh Upadhyaya who imparted training in making bombs, Sameer Kulkarni who helped procure the raw material for the blast, Ajay Rahirkar who was treasurer of the right-wing organisation Abhinav Bharat, and Rakesh Dhaware, a weapons expert who helped procure weapons for the group.