The second person Bilal Malik is suspected to be the brain behind the murder of BJP leader V. Ramesh in Salem in July this year. The police zeroed in on both of them after they nabbed Fakruddin of the Islamic Liberation Front on the Tamilnadu-Andhra Pradesh border and he reportedly spilled beans on the presence of Malik and Panna in Puttur.
From a security angle, it was the first action that the OCTOPUS (Organisation for Counter Terrorist Operations), the elite anti-terror commando force of the Andhra Pradesh police, that was set up to take care of terrorist operations, handled. And handled successfully, given the challenge flushing out the two alleged terrorists who were using a woman and her three children as human shield posed. It turned out that they were Malik’s family.
It was around 5:30 am on Saturday when the phone of the OCTOPUS chief rang in Hyderabad. It helped that in addition to the one team of OCTOPUS that is permanently stationed at Tirumala-Tirupati, another team too had been sent across ahead of the Brahmotsavam at Dussehra time. Within an hour, one of the teams consisting of 35 men had moved to the location.
The initial foray into the area by the Tamil Nadu police had run into trouble, with one inspector stabbed by one of the men inside. By the time the OCTOPUS arrived, the local police had ensured cordoning off of the house. The Tamil Nadu police helped in communicating with the men, who spoke only in Tamil. “They were the ones to shout back and negotiate with them in Tamil,” said an officer.
Once the commandos realised that they had to first get the woman and the three children out, they knew this was going to be a long operation that would mean tiring out the two men inside through prolonged negotiations. They were apprehensive that the children may get scared because of the gunshots. Seeing a cradle inside the house through a window confused them because if one of the children was an infant, it would complicate the operation. They were also unsure of the kind of ammunition the two men had with them.
“If there was no one else, it would be a five-minute job. But with the possibility of an infant, we could not take any chances,” said an officer. The team said they are trained to take on armed terrorists so weapons with them wasn’t a concern. It was only the possibility of a hostage crisis that created doubts in the mind.
The team had covered all possible exits, with expert snipers positioned at appropriate places. The intention was to capture, not to kill. Finally, the eleven hour long siege ended with the two men surrendering to the police.
Their presence so close to the Tirumala temple set off alarm bells especially with the Brahmotsavams starting at the shrine coinciding with the Dussehra festival. Investigators will now try to probe the activities they indulged in during the six months they stayed in Puttur to find out if they were up to something or just using the time to cool their heels after the two acts in Bangalore and Salem.