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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Analysis: South India's most wanted
Police inspect the bodies of five Muslim militants
Police say Imam Ali's death is a setback for religious fundamentalism

The leader of a group of five Muslim militants killed by police in southern India on Sunday had been the subject of a massive hunt by the authorities in four southern states.

Imam Ali, a 32-year-old convert to Islam, had been arrested in 1997 but escaped from custody in March this year while being taken to a court in his native city of Madurai.

He was suspected of bombing the Madras headquarters of a Hindu extremist organisation, the RSS, in March 1993 - an incident which killed 14 people.


Sunday's shootout was a landmark in a part of India not generally marked by religious or intercommunal strife

The chief of police in Bangalore, where Imam Ali and four associates were shot dead, said there was evidence Ali also planned to assassinate some VIPs.

These included India's Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, along with an Indian cabinet minister and the president of the World Hindu Council.

Uneasy calm

Ali himself once said his violent campaign was motivated by his religious beliefs.

Sunday's shootout was a landmark in a part of India not generally marked by religious or intercommunal strife.

Ten years ago, after Hindu extremists demolished a mosque on a disputed site in the northern town of Ayodhya, riots swept much of the country, but the far south remained generally calm.

But a small number of militant Islamic groups did begin to emerge, particularly in the areas of Tamil Nadu state nearest to Kerala, where Hindu extremism was also on the rise.

The militants were able to profit from a bomb-making culture within Tamil Nadu, fostered by the then presence in the state of Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Acts of violence

Incidents such as the 1993 bombing in Madras followed.

Veerappan
Police are still searching for forest bandit Veerappan
Uncertainty still surrounds a handful of other violent incidents in subsequent years - including three train bombings in 1997.

A series of blasts in the industrial city of Coimbatore the following year are believed to have been the work of a militant Muslim group, al-Umma.

Imam Ali is known to have belonged to the group at one time, but it's not clear whether he was involved in the Coimbatore bombings.

Along with the forest bandit, Veerappan, who is still at large, Imam Ali was one of the most wanted men in the south.

A senior police officer in Tamil Nadu said that, because he had been viewed as a rallying point for extremists, his death marked a setback for religious fundamentalism in India.

See also:

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