Asif Reza Commando Force
The Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF), representing the growing nexus between organised crime and Islamist terrorism, is one of the two outfits (along with Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islami) that claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American Centre in Kolkata on January 22, 2002.
The ARCF is a marginal group that was raised sometime in the third week of December 2001, probably in an area populated by illegal migrants from Bangladesh near Habibpur, along the Indo-Bangladesh border in the Malda district of West Bengal.
Linkages, Leadership and Activities
The ARCF is a subsidiary group linked to the Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islami (HuJI) which has a strong base in Bangladesh, and very close links with Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). HuJI leaders are believed to have crossed over into Malda from Bangladesh in December 2001, to meet certain maulvis (priests) and cadres of the proscribed Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) to create an affiliate of the HuJI. The HuJI is also reported to have lent some of its experienced cadres to the ARCF.
The creation of the ARCF allows for the extension of HuJI’s operations into new areas, and would be expected to be merged with the parent organisation once it secured a certain measure of success. This has been an established pattern of expansion among certain ISI-backed Islamist outfits in the region.
The ARCF was controlled by Aftab Ansari alias Aftab Ahmed alias Farhan Malik, from Dubai till his arrest on January 23, 2002, by the UAE authorities and subsequent deportation to India on February 9, 2002. Ansari was reportedly arrested while attempting to leave for Pakistan on a Pakistani passport. Ansari, a Mafia Don, operated an extortion and abduction network in India with the active support of Pakistan-based terrorists and the ISI. Ansari was the financier of a large consignment of arms and ammunition, including 14 kilograms of RDX, which was seized in Gujarat’s Patan district in November 2001, after the arrest of Asif Reza Khan and a Pakistani accomplice, Arshad Khan in New Delhi on October 29, 2001. Asif Reza Khan – after whom the ARCF is named – was killed at Rajkot in Gujarat on December 7, 2001, when he attempted to escape from police custody. A First Information Report (FIR) number 73/99 under Section 365 (kidnapping) of the Indian Penal Code has been registered against Aftab Ansari by the Varanasi police in the State of Uttar Pradesh.
Asif Reza Khan’s arrest had led to disclosures of international linkages between with the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), based in Pakistan. His primary link with these outfits was through Omar Sheikh, whom he met at the Tihar jail in Delhi during year 1999, while undergoing a sentence under the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA). Sheikh was one of the terrorists who were released – along with Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of the JeM – in the hostage swap after the hijack of Indian Airlines aircraft IC-814 to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 1999. Asif Reza is reported to have been delegated by Omar Sheikh to execute a series of terrorist strikes in New Delhi when he was arrested in October 2001.
Aftab Ansari played a key role in the July 25, 2001 abduction of Kolkata-based businessman Partha Pratim Roy Barman, who was subsequently released on July 30, 2001 after reportedly paying a ransom amount of Rs 3.75 crore in Dubai through the Hawala network. Reportedly, it is out of this money, Omar Sheikh wired $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, leader of the hijackers in the 9/11 multiple terrorist attacks.
Ansari also managed to procure a passport from Patna, Bihar. The passport helped him to evade police dragnet in connection with various crimes and escape to Dubai. Ansari and some other underworld dons are reported to have regularly taken the assistance of various Pakistan-based terrorist outfits in procuring arms for abduction or killing. According to intelligence sources, Ansari had established bases at Kolkata, Agra, Mumbai, Malegaon and Surat. He reportedly sent coded instructions through e-mail to his agents in these cities who recruited youngsters to carry out abductions and other crimes. Ansari is also known to have operated through various pseudonyms and reportedly kept shifting his base.
Ansari admitted during interrogation on February 14, 2002 that one of the leaders of the Lashkar-e-Toiba had provided him with a Pakistani passport.
Ansari and seven others were on January 9, 2003, charge sheeted for allegedly assaulting the warden of Presidency jail in Kolkata in November 2002.