The owners of the ‘terror’ houses in Burdwan’s Khagragarh where Jamat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militant Kausar Sheikh was staying are yet to recover from the trauma.
The owners are still avoid meeting strangers, be it a beggar, a hawker or a distant relative, and they shut the door on the faces of unfamiliar people. “It’s enough. We had to suffer just because we gave shelter to miscreants in disguise at the time of their need,” said Abdul Hasan Chowdhury, owner of the house in Khagragarh where the 2014 blast had taken place.
The blast had rocked the nation with the revelation of an active JMB module in the state. The three-storey house located at the convergence of three roads at Khagragarh, barely a few yards away from a local madrassa, became the centre of focus as National Investigation Agency (NIA) sleuths, home department officials, CID and the district police, in the last four years scrutinised it brick by brick in search of some definite clues about Kausar Sheikh and his JMB comrade Habibur Sheikh.
The first floor of this Khagragarh house, barely 500 metres from the old GT Road stretch, was used as an explosives-making factory. Two JMB cadres ~ Shakil Ghazi and Shovon Mondal ~ were killed in the 2014 blast. Their wives (also JMB recruits) ~ Gulshan Ghazi and Alima Mondal ~ were booked by the police from the same house. Later, they became prime witnesses in the case.
Habibur had also taken a house on rent beside a mosque at Baburbagh located opposite to Khagragarh between Burdwan University and Burdwan Medical College & Hospital (BMCH), which was later revealed as the key work station of Kausar. This Baburbagh house is about 1.5 km away from the Khagragarh explosive factory. The NIA had seized a pair of 9 mm and two 7.65 mm pistols with 39 rounds of ammunition and four loaded magazines. A palmtop, a pen drive, Kausar’s driving license and a medical prescription in his name were also found after the NIA broke open the fugitive’s house.
“It was the headquarters of Kausar who used to operate the bomb factory and supervise dispatch of bombs to Bangladesh,” said an official of Burdwan police station who had accompanied the CID’s initial investigations.
Haji Abdul Rezzak, the owner of the Baburbagh house, said: “In August 2014, after the afternoon namaaz, one Habibur had approached me to take my empty house on rent (at Rs 5,000 per month) on the plea that his kin (Kausar) was sick and needed regular medical check-up at the BMCH. So I agreed. I had no idea that I was going to give shelter to a dangerous militant.”
Halima Sheikh, one of the tenants in the other part of Haji’s house, said: “I can still recollect his (Kausar’s) face; it was calm and hard. Both of them seemed to be introverts and spoke very little. Even now I get frightened looking at the closed rooms they used to stay in.”
After four years, the house bears the insignia of terror as the passersby still look askance at it and investigating officials knock on the door every now and then.
The NIA has, however, found no foul play on the part of the owners of the house. About speculation if the state would seize the properties, the Burdwan East district magistrate, Mr Anurag Srivastava, said: “There’s no such directive from the state government and we don’t have any such plan.”
Both the elderly men now are keen to get their houses back from NIA custody, especially in the wake of the arrest of Kausar. “I had pleaded several times to the NIA officials in last August when I was summoned to appear as a witness to the case. I pleaded to them to release my house but they told me that till the end of investigation, there’s no question of it,” said Mr Chowdhury, adding: “My son has completed a course in homeopathy and runs a chamber on the first floor of the house; the rest of the building is still under lock and key.”