MANTRAYA BRIEF#07: 30 JUNE 2015
Profile: Amir Reza Khan of Indian Mujahideen
Bibhu Prasad Routray & Manoj Kumar Panigrahi
Born on 5 January 1978, Amir Reza Khan, alias Parvez (also known as Rizwan and Muttaki) was one of the four sons of Ishaque Ali Khan and Hasina residing in Beniapukur’s Mafidal Islam lane in Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal. Ishaque Ali Khan managed a small construction business and a large joint family. According to the National Investigative Agency (NIA), Amir’s permanent address is in Gaya district’s Mheyan, in the state of Bihar, which is the hometown of Ishaque Ali Khan. Amir’s life was significantly influenced by that of his elder brother Asif Reza Khan.
The riots following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 had a profound impact on Asif, a graduate from Maulana Azad College in Kolkata and a meritorious student. He gradually turned religious and started attending Tablighi Jamaat congregations. Asif joined relief committees formed to assist the riot victims. In 1993, he was arrested under Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA) and sent to Tihar jail in New Delhi where he spend five and a half years before being released in 1999. Life inside the prison as an undertrial appears to have shaped Asif’s post-release career. He is said to have met Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh inside the jail. Ishaque Ali Khan claimed in an interview that he had to spend Rupees 4.5 lakhs to get Asif out. This loss of money ruined his business and made him a pauper. Ishaque Ali Khan said that after Masood and Omar Sheikh were released at Kandahar airport following the hijacking of IC 814 in December 1999, Asif revealed his association with them. Masood appeared to have made Asif even more religious. Asif once claimed that he himself has converted at least “12 persons to Islam”. Omar Sheikh appears to have played a key part in converting Asif into a terrorist and put him in charge of carrying out explosions in New Delhi.
Over time, Asif, who had married and had joined his father’s business, emerged as an extortionist along with Amir Reza Khan. In 2001, Asif was arrested in Delhi after he fled Kolkata for his involvement in the abduction of businessman Partha Roy Burman, vice-chairman of the Khadim group, a Kolkata based footwear company the same year. Subsequently, the Gujarat police took Asif to Rajkot in connection with the abduction of two diamond merchants there a few months ago. On 7 December 2001, according to the police, Asif tried to attack the constables by snatching an AK-47 rifle from one of them. None of the two policemen he had allegedly fired at was hurt. Yet, they opened fire and killed him with the explanation that he was trying to escape.
The Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF), founded in 2001, in the memory of Asif Reza Khan, and controlled by underworld mafia leader Aftab Ansari alias Farhan Malik from Dubai, was involved in the terror attack on the American Center in Kolkata on 22 January 2002 to avenge the death of Asif. Five police personnel were killed and 20 others injured in the attack. Incidentally, Aftab also spent time in Tihar jail where he had briefly met Omar Sheikh in a jail hospital.
Apart from the revenge factor, founding of the ARCF also represented the nexus between terror and organised crime. The Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islami (HuJI), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the JeM, along with the underworld elements like Ansari and Amir Reza Khan were involved in the founding of the organisation. Both Asif and Amir had developed linkages with the Persian Gulf region and were also involved in arms trafficking. A cache of explosives, arms and ammunition including RDX, hand grenades, anti-personnel mines, pistols and rifles seized in November 2001 in the Patan district of Gujarat in November 2001 revealed this nexus. Following his brother’s death, Amir left Kolkata leaving behind his wife and daughter. He is known to have fled first to Bangladesh, then to Sharjah, UAE before landing in Pakistan, where he is currently based under the patronage of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Although Karachi is identified as his location in many reports, he is believed to have been frequently shifted between cities and ISI safe houses.
The attack on the American Center in Kolkata was Amir’s first terror operation, which helped raising ARCF’s profile. Amir, who operated as a deputy to Aftab Ansari, took over the organisation after Ansari’s arrest in Dubai few days after the attack. Ansari was deported to India on 9 February 2002 without extradition proceeding formalities, an incident that went down as the first ever counter-terrorism cooperation between India and UAE. A psychology graduate from Banaras Hindu University, Ansari was sentenced to death by a sessions court and the Calcutta High Court upheld the same in 2010. However, in May 2014, a Supreme Court bench commuted the death sentence ruling that this case cannot be equated with the 2001 Parliament attack case or the shootout at the Red Fort in 2000. Ansari has been sentenced to life in 2009 in the abduction case of Partha Roy Burman.
Operating in an area populated by illegal migrants from Bangladesh near Habibpur, along the Indo-Bangladesh border in the Malda district of West Bengal, ACRF benefited from HuJI which had lent it some of its experienced cadres. ARCF got most of his initials funds through a series of abductions in Varanasi, Surat and Kolkata, with Amir managing the extortion rackets targeting businessmen from Pakistan. In February 2010, for example, a managing director of a five-star hotel in south Kolkata received an extortion call from Amir demanding Rupees 20 crore. The ARCF is also thought to have run explosives across the Bangladesh-India border.
ARCF’s gradual marginalisation, mostly because of the neutralisation of its leaders, was made up by Amir Reza Khan with the founding of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) in 2005. IM was established with Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) cadres and with logistical assistance from HuJI. Amir headed the IM till 2008 and played a key role in each of the IM’s terror strikes targeting Indian urban centres. The 2008 Batla House encounter changed the IM’s operational structure. Following the encounter, a number of IM operatives fled to Nepal. Amir was responsible for providing logistical support to these cadres. However, his failure to do so led to an acrimonious spat with Riyaz Bhatkal and his brother Iqbal. In the subsequent years, ideological differences and IM’s position vis-a-vis the Al Qaeda created further divide. Amir is reported to be inclined towards working along with the Al Qaeda in support of a larger caliphate.
Amir figures in the list of 50 most wanted terrorists India wants to be deported from Pakistan. He carries a reward of Rupees one million on his head.
(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director of Mantraya and Manoj Kumar Panigrahi is a lead researcher at Mantraya. This brief has been published under Mantraya.org’s Mapping Terror & Insurgent Networks project.)