There was something strange about he mud house with its thatched roof and small compartments-cum-rooms that stood amid vast stretches of
Once the motorable road ended, we had
to walk along the aal, a narrow piece of land
between paddy fields to reach the main
The main gate was locked, but the backyard had a metal door latched from the
Entry was denied as an assistant sub
inspector and six constables belonging to
the West Bengal police guarded the mud
“We have been staying here for the past
few days,” the plainclothes police officer
told India Abroad after verifying our credentials over and over again.
“You can take photographs from outside,
but from a distance,” he added in a stern
We were at the Simulia madrassa in
Bardhaman’s Mongolkot, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the town.
The madrassa allegedly had links with
Gulshana Bibi and Amina Bibi, the two
women who were arrested for their alleged
involvement in the October 2 blast at a
two-storey house in Bardhaman’s
According to sleuths, members of the
terror outfit Jamat-ul-Mujahideen
Bangladesh, a wing of the Harkat-ul Jihadi
Islami-Bangladesh, were involved in the
The National Investigation Agency, led by
Deputy Superintendent of Police
Vijayendra Singh, is investigating the case.
The NIA is assisted by National Security
Guard commandos, the West Bengal police
and its Criminal Investigation Department.
Subsequent inquiry and cross-examination of three suspected terrorists held by
the police on the day of the explosion and
others arrested later exposed the Simulia
madrassa’s alleged link to the incident.
After questioning Gulshana Bibi and
Amina Bibi, the investigators discovered
that the Simulia madrassa only admitted
women at an early age.
Women at the madrassa were experts in
handling all sorts of arms, police sources
The madrassa had ‘recruiters’ who would
bring in new students from districts other
than Bardhaman and hand them over to
‘trainers’ (the students had no clue about
As many as 30 to 40 young girls lived at
the Simulia madrassa till October 2, the
day of the explosion, after which neither
the landowner nor the students could be
The madrassa land belongs to Borhan
Sheikh. His family refused to speak to us
despite persistent efforts.
The madrassa had an unwritten convention: The women trained there would be
married only to men who were on the same
‘mission,’ police sources said.
Soon after marriage, the couple would
either set out on an ‘assignment’ or await
instructions, the sources added.
Investigations revealed that terror networks operating in West Bengal use couple
modules and rent houses across the state to
carry out subversive activities.
According to sources, jihadis united in
such a marriage hardly had any emotional
attachment. Theirs was a marriage of convenience.
When the police broke open the house at
Khagragarh after the explosion on October
2, they were stunned to find two men lying
in a pool of blood and their ‘wives’ washing
away the blood.
While scanning the Simulia madrassa,
NIA investigators discovered a secret tunnel behind a heap of steel trunks in a corner.
The tunnel opened into an adjacent
To ensure that no bombs or improvised
explosive devices were hidden in the pond,
the NIA hired local residents to scour the
The investigators believe the tunnel was
used by terrorists for clandestine visits to
The investigators also seized bows and
arrows, air guns, punching bags filled with
sand and a phone book, believed to be of
one Yousuf Sheikh, the madrassa’s mentor.
The phone book contains contact numbers of women who were trained at the
Simulia madrassa, sources said.
Yousuf Sheikh is yet to be traced.
After interrogating the arrested women,
investigators discovered that Sheikh
received arms training in Uttar Pradesh for
about four years before he came to the
The NIA also seized Arabic and Urdu literature that the ‘students’ were asked to
The investigators also discovered an
abandoned orange Tata Nano close to the
madrassa, with the registration number
The car’s registration number belonged
to a two-wheeler and dated back to 2006.
The first batch of Nano cars hit the roads in
The Nano car had an ‘army’ sticker to
hoodwink the police, sources said.
The investigators picked up the car’s
owner, a resident of Beldanga in
The Nano was used to carry arms and
ammunition and also to transport people,
The car and its passengers fooled the
police mainly because of the ‘army’ sticker,
Keeping in mind that the Panagarh military base is nearby, police pickets granted
the vehicle safe passage.
Two school students who live in a house
close to the madrassa said they had seen
the Nano car parked close to their home.
“It would be gone by the evening and
would be back the next morning or afternoon,” they said.
Asked if they had any friends at the
madrassa, they said, “The girls who studied
there hardly ventured out and even if they
did, they were in burqa and would not
speak to anyone.”
The Simulia madrassa has paddy fields
all around, a pond (linked to the tunnel)
towards the back and a bus stand close by.
While the terrorists could have used the
tunnel and the paddy fields to access the
madrassa at night, they could have availed
of the Nano and state transport buses to
move to any other part of the state, espe-
cially villages in Murshidabad bordering
Bangladesh, sources said.
The NIA’s investigation has uncovered
intricate links between the Simulia
madrassa and some madrassas in
Birbhum and Murshidabad districts.
The NIA has conducted raids at suspicious madrassas across Bengal.
“They had no links with the village, all the
people there were outsiders. They wouldn’t
talk to us,” said a man who lives near the
“Often poor villagers send their daughters to unrecognized madrassas like this
one which take care of their lodging and
boarding in lieu of Rs 500, Rs 700 ($8 to
$11) per month,” the man said.
According to sources, there are more than
3,500 unrecognized madrassas in Bengal.
Bardhaman itself has 600.
Of these 600, only 32 are aided, sponsored or recognized by the state government.
“Didn’t you ever see anything suspicious?” we asked another man whose home
has a clear view of the madrassa.
“Nothing seemed suspicious,” he said.
“The madrassa belonged to a different
world, it seemed. Life has changed after the
Khagragarh incident. We are often ques-
tioned by the police. All of us who stay close
to this place live in fear. Perhaps, we should
have been more alert.”
The NIA is not ruling out a possible link
between the Bardhaman explosion and the
May 1 blasts aboard a train at the Chennai
Central railway station, which had killed a
young IT professional and injured 14 others.
The Assam police, which arrested six people for probable links to the Bardhaman
blast, is on the lookout for 30 suspects.
Did this Bengal madrassa train terrorists?
Indrani Roy reports from Mongolkot, Bardhman
The Simulia madrasaa on the outskirts of Bardhaman.