Why is SIMI making all the headlines? (Photo: The Quint)
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What’s SIMI and So What If the Bhopal Jailbreak Men Were Members?

The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is making the headlines after eight members of the group escaped from the Bhopal Central Jail early on 31 October. They were killed in an encounter with the Madhya Pradesh police. Four of these men were accused of bank robbery, murder, attempted murder and inciting communal violence. There is not yet enough information available about the charges faced by the other four. They also killed a security guard called Ramashankar Yadav as they made their escape from the jail. But while this entire sequence sounds like its straight out of a movie, why is SIMI making the headlines?

What Is SIMI and How Long Has It Been Around?

The SIMI or Students Islamic Movement of India was formed in Aligarh in 1977 as the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind (JIH) which worked as a socio-religious organisation for Muslims in India. It was established by Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi. Siddiqi is now a media studies professor at the Western Illinois University Macomb in the United States of America and claims that the SIMI of today has no relation to the organisation he founded.

What Does It Believe In?

Siddiqi, its founding president, says that he founded SIMI to educate and enlighten the Muslim community in India. He felt there was a bias against the community in the Indian media. But nearly from the start, SIMI has been a political movement. The goal of the fundamentalist student organisation was to create a Muslim society that lived by the principles of Islam and to keep the perceived negative Western influence at bay in India.

The 8 SIMI members who escaped from the prison. (Photo: The Quint/Anant Maheshwari)
The 8 SIMI members who escaped from the prison. (Photo: The Quint/Anant Maheshwari)

So Where Is the Group Currently?

The group has been banned three times. The first in 2001, second in 2003 and finally in 2006. In 1981, SIMI broke away from the Jamaat because of differences in the two organisations’ opinions towards Yasser Arafat’s visit to India. SIMI believed that the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader was a Western puppet and greeted him with black flags.

The group has since been blamed for inciting communal violence since 2002 and has been investigated for bombings in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, SIMI challenged its ban in court but it was upheld by higher courts. Most of the group’s leadership is behind bars or not active. This is one of the reasons why the group hasn’t made the news in a big way since the early 2000s.

How Is It Linked to Terror and Terror Groups?

It is widely believed that the homegrown terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) has direct links to SIMI. There is, however, little clarity about the degree to which the membership and operations of the groups overlap. Whether the two groups are only linked or if IM is the student group’s militant arm is unclear. IM operatives were often trained in Pakistan by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), thus establishing links between LeT and SIMI as well.

Four of the eight SIMI men who escaped – the same four about whom we have a certain amount of clarity – were suspected of funding terror activities as well.

SIMI and the IM continue to be the most prominent examples of homegrown terror in India.