Mamata Banerjee Hits Back At BJP's "Safe Haven For Terrorists" Barb

The men arrested this morning - Mussavir Hussain Shazeb and Abdul Matheen Taha - are believed to be key conspirators; Taha allegedly handled the logistics while Shazeb planted the bomb.

Mamata Banerjee, Bengal Chief Minister (File).


The arrest of two key accused in the Rameshwaram Cafe blast case - tracked from Bengaluru to Bengal's East Midnapore district - has triggered a predictable political slugfest between the state's ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the election.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, at an election rally in Dinhata in Bengal's Cooch Behar, hit back at barbs the state had become a "safe haven for terrorists" under her rule. Ms Banerjee, a fierce and vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP, pointed out, "The men (who were arrested) are not residents of Bengal... they were hiding out here. They were arrested in two hours."

"The BJP cannot stand it if there is peace in Bengal," the Trinamool boss raged, asking if BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Bihar were any safer.

Senior Trinamool leader Kunal Ghosh also shot back at the BJP's attacks, pointing out the arresting agency - the National Investigation Agency or NIA - "had to accept active cooperation of state police".

"Their press release mentions cooperation of state police in arrests they made," he asserted.

Mr Ghosh said police in Bengal remain "steadfast in suppressing anti-national forces" and are always ready to cooperate with other agencies. He referred to reports the NIA had questioned a BJP worker in connection with the March 1 blast at the popular Rameshwaram Cafe, in which 10 people were injured.

The men arrested this morning - Mussavir Hussain Shazeb and Abdul Matheen Taha - are believed to be key conspirators; Taha allegedly handled the logistics while Shazeb planted the bomb. They were traced to Kanthi, or Contai, a small city 180 km from Kolkata in the Purba Medinipur district.

READ | 2 Men Who Planted Bomb At Bengaluru Cafe Arrested From Bengal

Significantly, Kanthi is the stronghold of the BJP's Suvendu Adhikari, who was once a close aide of Ms Banerjee before he crossed over, just weeks before the 2021 Bengal Assembly election. Mr Adhikari went on to defeat Ms Banerjee in a high-profile clash from the prestigious Nandigram seat.

In comments seen as jibes at Mr Adhikari, Trinamool leaders have referred to a "prominent political family" in the region and alleged links between that family and the Rameshwaram Cafe bombers.

"Why were they found in Kanthi... what is the connection there? Our chairperson, Mamata Banerjee, also raised the question of how they found shelter in Kanthi?" the Trinamool's Dr Shashi Panja said.

"BJP is trying to avoid this and hence they are diverting people's attention," she claimed.

The angry retorts by the Trinamool leaders came after the BJP's Amit Malviya posted on X (formerly Twitter) about Shazeb and Taha's arrests, and said "both likely belong to ISIS cell in Karnataka".

Mr Malviya's post was swiftly fact-checked by Bengal Police.

The police said "contrary to Amit Malviya's claims" the two accused had been arrested after a joint operation involving themselves and central intelligence agencies. "The proactive role of West Bengal Police... has been officially acknowledged by the central agencies. West Bengal has NEVER been a safe haven for terrorists and the state police will continue to remain ever-vigilant..." the cops said.

The Rameshwaram Cafe, which suffered extensive damage after the blast, reopened eight days later, with enhanced security measures including metal detectors.

READ | Bengaluru's Rameshwaram Cafe Reopens 8 Days After Blast

"We have strengthened our security team and are also trying to set up a separate panel of ex-servicemen who will train security guards at all our branches," co-founder Raghavendra Rao said.

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