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Eight jihadis of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh convicted in 2018 Bodhgaya blasts targeting Dalai Lama in India

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On Friday, December 17, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court handling the 2018 Bodh Gaya serial bomb blasts case sentenced three Islamic jihad terrorists, Nur Alam Momin, Paigambar Sheikh, and Ahmad Ali to life imprisonment. Five others have been sentenced to ten years imprisonment by the NIA court in Patna city. All eight were pronounced guilty by the court headed by Guruminder Singh Malhotra on December 10.

They are members of the Bangladesh-based terror outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB); all except one accused have admitted to the crime. The JMB, which is banned by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), had masterminded the conspiracy of planting multiple IEDs inside and around the premises of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya on January 19, 2018. One of these explosives detonated, leaving two Buddhist monks with splinter injuries; the other two bombs were defused. The blast took place outside the Mahabodhi temple just minutes after one notable Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, completed his religious sermon at “Kal Chakra Maidan.” A complaint was lodged concerning this incident on February 3, 2018. After an extensive investigation, on September 27, 2018 a thorough charge sheet was submitted against the three accused. On January 28, 2019, a supplementary charge sheet was filed against the remaining six. They all were booked under section 16, 18 and 20 of UAPA Act and section 4/5 of Explosive Substance Act, as well as other sections of the Indian Penal Code, for waging a war against the State.

Although eight of them have been found guilty and sentenced accordingly, Mohammed Zahidul Islam, a resident of Jamalpu, Bangladesh, has not admitted his involvement in the terror act; officials said the trial against him will continue. Zahidul Islam is a top leader of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and the alleged kingpin in the 2018 Bodh Gaya bomb blasts case. Zahidul Islam is a feared jihad terrorist in Bangladesh as well as India. In 2014, he escaped from a prison van and fled with two other jihadis while being taken to court. Although the Bangladeshi police managed to take down one jihadi and apprehend another, Zahidul Islam slipped into India through the state of Assam that shares boundaries with Bangladesh, and found refuge in West Bengal.

During his stay in West Bengal, India, he hatched the plot of carrying out serial explosions in Bodh Gaya as an act of jihad, and attacking the Buddhist temple (Mahabodhi Temple is one of the four holy pilgrimage sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha). All this was meant to avenge the alleged persecution of Rohingya Muslims by the Buddhists in Myanmar.

The Bodh Gaya plotters travelled to several cities in southern India to get the required aid and information to hatch the terror plot. Zahidul Islam had direct contacts with the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen in Bangladesh and had gradually brought it into India.

This was not the first Islamic jihad attack on the Mahabodhi temple; a series of ten explosions carried out at the Buddhist site in July 2013 left five people, including two monks, severely injured. Local Mujahideen, one of them a minor, were behind those blasts. These blasts highlighted the need for raised security measures for the temple; the Central Industrial Security Force was bought in for the security of the temple.

As per the NIA, these Islamic jihad terrorists had maintained constant contact with one another and would hold meetings at various places. To evade detection by authorities, they arranged some inconspicuous hideouts around Masaurhi and Jehanabad, and gathered information about the Bodh Gaya temple. They also procured the raw material and explosives for the IEDs.

The NIA arrested Zahidul Islam and West Bengal resident Adil Sheikh, aka Asadullah, at a hideaway near Ramanagar in Karnataka’s Bengaluru in August 2018. NIA sleuths also apprehended Mustafizur Rehman, a resident of Birbhum in West Bengal, and Abdul Karim, a resident of Murshidabad in West Bengal, from a labor camp in Malappuram.

NIA officials revealed that the accused jihad terrorists, who had escaped after executing the terror act, had been hiding in and around Bangalore and other sites; while hiding in those places, they had also carried out many robberies to raise funds to support the JMB terror network in Bengaluru. All the convicts were moved to the Beur central jail near Patna, Bihar, under tight security measures.

These nine terrorists are also accused of being involved in the 2014 West Bengal Burdwan blast case that killed two. The police seized about 55 improvised explosive devices, wristwatch dials, RDX and SIM cards. Both cases are being handled by the NIA.

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