A new security plan has been put in place by the government of Yogi Adityanath to counter terrorist activities and thwart radicalization attempts in his state. At the center of this effort is the Uttar Pradesh Anti Terrorist Squad which trains on the model of the National Security Guards (NSG) and prepares for future challenges by bringing in female commandos. Prashant Kumar, UP Police’s Additional General Manager of Policing (Law and Order), told THE WEEK that the new SPOT female commando team will conduct counter-terrorism operations in a scenario where female terrorists attack public spaces.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Can you explain the new security plan for UP which is setting up new ATS units in several locations?
The ATS, headquartered in Lucknow, has units in 18 districts of the state. Although we already have a presence in some of these locations, we are improving our strength and capacity as well as setting up new units in Deoband, Azamgarh, Aligarh, Bahraich, Meerut and Kanpur. A new ATS commando training center is being set up at Rampur; two SPOT (Special Police Operations team) teams will be deployed in Kushinagar and Saharanpur and one high-tech Quick Reaction Team (QRT) at Jewar International Airport in Gautam Budh Nagar district in UP. The focus is on building an effective and comprehensive counter-terrorism architecture keeping in mind the terrorist threats emanating not only from the state, but if we look at the latest terrorist activities in neighboring states like Punjab and Rajasthan, we must build our defenses and stay alert. There are ongoing threats from international terrorist groups attempting to create sleeper cells by exploiting the local population for recruitment, and radicalization by targeting young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Q. What is the idea behind the creation of the first all-female commando team in the Counter Terrorism Squad (ATS)?
If a female component is present in a terrorist group or if there is a hostage situation in a house or public space like shopping malls or a movie theater where the hostages taken are mainly women, our female commandos will be more effective in action and negotiations against terrorism. We are setting up an all-female SPOT (Special Police Operations Team) squad under the umbrella of the National Security Guard (NSG)-style Counter-Terrorism Squad, which can take over if the state needs immediate counter-terrorism action, particularly in several places. since we are also the largest state. It will include 36 female commandos to start with and we will expand it further. They will only act in the event of a terrorist attack. They are also trained to guard vital facilities like Vidhan Sabha, Raj Bhawan, Cricket Stadium and Chief Minister’s Residence. Women are the best fighters in the world and we wanted to have a one-of-a-kind ATS team.
Q. What type of training do they follow?
We give them the necessary training to handle all kinds of equipment and weapons. A good start was made as they received training in Krav Maga, an Israeli unarmed fighting technique as well as training by Korean trainers. They train with NSG, BSF and ITBP. The focus is on equipping our counter-terrorism forces with new electronic gadgets, the latest weaponry and analytical tools for overseas training. The Chief Minister said the ATS should also train with the best in the world and we are making proposals for regular training modules with the US Corps, Scotland Yard and Israeli counter-terrorism units.
Q. Which terrorist groups are trying to target the state?
Currently, Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent is active. Although there have been no terrorist acts, there are cells active as sleepers motivated by ideological considerations or from disadvantaged backgrounds and low socio-economic status. Uneducated young people become the targets because they can be influenced easily. So these pockets where these young people have already been linked to terrorist activities are easy targets for terrorist groups like AQIS (Al-Qaeda in the subcontinent), who will examine these breeding grounds instead of going to new locations. We therefore focus on all areas where similar activities have been detected in the past.
Second, there is a growing threat from pro-Khalistan groups, as continued activity has been seen in neighboring Punjab. We can’t say they’re hyperactive until they perform the slightest operation, but a dangerous new trend is emerging where gangsters with muscle and financial power are hand in hand with terrorist organizations profiting from cross-border support. This trend was seen in the murder of Sidhu Moosewala and the attack on intelligence headquarters in Mohali. Recently, we joined the investigation into the Udaipur murder to determine if the culprits had links to the UP. This is an alarming scenario for the country and we are in contact with our counterparts in other states and central agencies.
Q. What was the status of the Gorakhnath temple attack case?
The investigation is complete and an indictment is expected to be filed shortly. When the local stage of the investigation is complete, the NIA can step in to probe cross-border ties and a larger conspiracy. We investigated under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) so the NIA could take over the investigation. The case is important because the arrest of Ahmed Murtaza by the ATS foiled a major terrorist attack. Murtaza was a brilliant student from IIT Mumbai who radicalized since 2013 and finally, he pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2020. He was linked to ISIS sympathizers including Mehdi Masroor Biswas in Bangalore who was arrested by the NIA. We have evidence of his financial aid to ISIS sympathizers in other countries. But it was by sheer luck that he was unable to make contact with the Islamic State fighters, even though he made a few attempts to get to Syria.
Q. Is the state government trying to deradicalize the youth?
The ATS is developing guidelines to start a real de-radicalization program where the confidentiality of those involved will be important but at the same time the district administration and the community will be involved to provide an alternative path for young people by creating jobs, the skills development programs to provide them with employment. We also use psychiatrists to help them get rid of extremist ideology and violence.