My brother, the terrorist

Posted on: August 27, 2013

  • LOOKING BACK: Abdul Karim Tunda; and (below) his brother Abdul Malik

One man’s terrorist is another man’s unruly pupil. Abdul Karim alias Tunda is believed to have spread terror and death across India. In his village, though, he was terrified of one person — his schoolteacher.

“Karim used to be very mischievous. Once our teacher, Chhuttan Issai, scolded him so hard for not paying attention in class that he wet his pants,” says Khursheed Ali, Karim’s old classmate. Karim — now 70, and a supposed member of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba — was then eight.

Karim, known as Tunda because of a severed arm, spent his childhood in Pilkhuwa village in Hapur district, 50km from Delhi. After being arrested from the Indo-Nepal border last week, he is now being interrogated by the police for his alleged role in 40 blasts, including those that shook Delhi in 1996-1998, and the Mumbai bombings of 1993. The Delhi police allege that he was recruited by Pakistani spy agency ISI and also laid the foundations for jihadi groups in India.

His ancestral one-room house in the Bazar-e-Khurd area of Pilkhuwa doesn’t exist anymore. A two-storey building stands there, occupied by another family. Concrete buildings have come up on both sides of the narrow lane which led to his home. The courtyard where he played marbles with his brothers is now divided by a drain.

Karim was the eldest son of a brass cleaner and metal moulder who wanted all his four sons to be educated. “But Karim would always do what he wanted to do,” says his brother Abdul Malik, 67. He would, for instance, not have a bath for days. “One day, his teacher and friends forcefully pushed him under a running tap,” Malik recalls.

Malik, in a white kurta and a checked lungi, with a white skull cap, looks similar to Karim. “But we only look alike — we are very different by nature,” he says. Their youngest brother lives in Delhi, while the middle one is not in touch with the family.

As a child, Karim was a loner and difficult to get along with. The Delhi police say that a psychology test conducted on him found him “manipulative and often misleading”. Schoolmate and cloth dealer Ali endorses that.

Karim, he says, would steal money from his blind grandfather’s pocket. “He used to replace the notes with pieces of paper of the same size so that when his grandfather felt his pocket, he thought the money was all there,” Ali adds.

Karim studied till Class V but dropped out after his father’s death. He went to Meerut to learn carpentry “but was sent back home soon after he had burnt the asbestos roof of someone’s house there,” his brother, who is also a carpenter, recalls.

A man of few words, he became an avid reader. Even after dropping out of school, he read Islamic scriptures and teachings and apparently even the Bhagavad Gita.

Karim moved to Delhi later and worked as a carpenter, but Malik maintains he did little to help his family. “Initially, he used to send around Rs 15 out of his monthly income of Rs 40 or so, but stopped doing that after some years,” he says. Their mother remarried so that she could support the family.

For many years there was no trace of him. Malik eventually found him in Delhi, and brought him back home. A skillful carpenter, he soon made a name for himself. “Even now, he is known for his carpentry here,” Malik says.

In 1964, the two brothers got married — to two sisters. Karim was lean and dark those days. His sister-in-law, Tahira, who was five when he married her cousin Zarina, thought he was handsome. “He did not have that long flowing red beard then.”

Tahira, whose husband Mehmood Alam spent six years in jail on charges of being Karim’s accomplice, recalls him as an affectionate brother-in-law. “He used to buy biscuits and chocolates for me whenever I visited them,” she says.

Karim soon started disappearing again — but would return to his village every now and then. He told his family he worked with diamonds. For some time, he was also a practising homeopath. “He was a vagabond by nature” Malik says.

When he returned to his village in 1971, he had money. He built his family (he had had five children) a three bedroom-house with a courtyard in Pilkhuwa’s Ashok Nagar. When he left home in the late 1970s — only to return in the mid-1980s — he was accompanied by his second wife, Mumtaz, and a three-year-old son, Gufran, says Malik.

The family believes that Karim met Mumtaz in Ahmedabad. Always fond of food, he was apparently wooed by his wife’s culinary skills. “Mumtaz used to cook delicious biryani and kheer. Karim loved them,” Tahira says.

The two wives stayed together but often fought, Malik says. “Zarina used to curse Karim a lot,” he recalls. When Karim lost an arm in 1985, he called up Malik and said, “Zarina will be happy that her curses have worked.”

The police claim he lost his left arm while trying to make a bomb. The police believe he began manufacturing bombs after the 1984 anti-Muslim Bhiwandi riots in Maharashtra. “But Karim said the arm was cut while he was working on a sugarcane thresher,” Malik says.

Police sources said that at some point of time, Karim moved to Pakistan. Top LeT militant Abdul Masood had said he changed his name to Abdul Qudus and became a cloth and perfume merchant there.

Sometime in 1993, his two wives and six children disappeared from the village, says Tahira, who now stays in the house that he built for his family. According to police, he has a third wife called Asma.

The two brothers met for the last time in 1991. In the late Nineties, Malik read in the newspapers about his brother’s alleged acts of terrorism. The police often visited the village to gather information about him, but there was little that Pilkhuwa could tell them.

Now, Malik’s grandchildren watch television and ask him about the bearded man in the news. “They want to know why I never told them about him,” Malik says. “How do I tell them that my brother is a terrorist?”


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  • ranginee09: It is clear, justice eludes many but to imprison a man for his humanitarian deeds in a civilised society leaves an permanent blotch in our criminal ju
  • ranginee09: The article points-out a very pertinent social ill. Social ostracisation in childhood may have unwanted results later in life. A child victim is not a
  • Seeker and her search: Thanks for reading, Anne. Yes, I know what you are saying.
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