Extremist groups may see an opportunity to lure vulnerable young women into their ranks, Indian officials warn.
When the police raided a den in Baguiati in Kolkata in April, they captured a fugitive allegedly linked to an outlawed Bangladeshi terror outfit.
Under questioning, alleged Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) operative Mufti Ibrahim gave police startling information.
As reported in The Statesman, a Kolkata daily, Ibrahim told his interrogators that HuJI is seeking to target girls aged 15-to-25 for recruitment. The girls are purportedly to be trained in Bangladesh and ultimately used for terrorist activities in India.
Speaking to Khabar South Asia, West Bengal Intelligence Bureau chief Om Prakash Gupta confirmed the story. "The terrorist group plans to transport the girls through the Indian Enclaves," he said.
Created during the partition in 1947, the enclaves are part of India but surrounded by Bangladesh.
"It is this anomaly that HuJI is trying to exploit. They plan to use the enclaves — Khagrabari, Dahala, Deuti, and Kajal Dighi — to provide training to their new women recruits," Gupta said.
Lalit Kumar, Commandant of the Border Security Force (BSF) at Barasat in West Bengal, said terrorists seek to exploit local poverty by promising financial rewards.
"HuJI intends to organise meetings among the members of the minority communities in the Muslim-majority enclaves aimed at recruiting the poor girls into its organisation with the lure of money."
"Religion may not be the only motivator. Actually, the girls in the region are so poor that money will be the safest bet," he added.
The allegations have been met with scepticism in Bangladesh. Speaking to Khabar, State Minister for Home Affairs Shamsul Haque Tuku said extremist cells in Bangladesh are in no shape to be carrying out recruitment drives.
"The terrorists here have been decimated," he said. "Most of their leaders have been hanged or are in jail. Those who are still outside are on the run because of the stepped up operation against them," Tuku told Khabar. Indian authorities, however, insist there is cause for concern. "In the past there have been several warnings of terrorist outfits recruiting women and, hence, these cannot be taken nonchalantly," National Investigation Agency (NIA) chief Sharad Chandra Sinha said.
The outlawed Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is known to have operated a women's "Shaheen Force" that worked to recruit youth members, he said.
According to K. Srinivasan, deputy inspector general of the BSF, the strategy has obvious appeal to extremist groups.
"When the male cadres travel across the borders, they are conscious that there is too much heat on them, but when it comes to checking a woman cadre, it is significantly less," he said.
Shahriar Sharif in Dhaka contributed to this report.