In a nationwide crackdown just days ahead of Republic Day, at least six “recruits” were arrested and a dozen placed under watch on Friday for being Islamic State (IS) sympathisers.
The network, and four youngsters arrested by the Delhi police on Wednesday, were allegedly recruited by a former Indian Mujahideen (IM) member, Mohammad Shafi Armar (29), who is suspected to be based in Syria, senior government officials said.
Armar is one of the key members of terrorist outfit Ansar-ul-Tawhid (AuT), formed by former IM members who owe allegiance to the IS.
Senior government officials said there was no impending terror attack that the group had planned. However, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and local police recovered low intensity explosives, detonators, wires, batteries and hydrogen peroxide and other material that can be assembled into IEDs.
The raiding parties recovered 42 mobile phones, as well as jihadi literature, officials said. The men received online training to prepare pipe bombs, a signature weapon that the IM has used in the past to carry out multiple bomb blasts in various Indian cities.
The raids were carried out simultaneously in Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh by the NIA and local police. A senior official said over a dozen people in these locations had come together online to form ‘Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind’, inspired by Armar, who belongs to Bhatkal in Karnataka
They were radicalised online: MHA
The Union Home Ministry did not say that the young men arrested in a nationwide crackdown on terror on Friday belonged to the Islamic State. A spokesperson said, “They were radicalised online. It is too early to say whether they belonged to any particular outfit. Some IED materials have been recovered from Mumbai and Hyderabad.”
The arrests come ahead of French President Francois Hollande’s three-day visit to India from Sunday. The security establishment of both sides have heightened sensibilities about a possible threat from the IS. The French sensitivities regarding the IS, which has repeatedly carried out attacks in Paris, was one of the reasons the Ministry tried to play down the crackdown, sources said.
The NIA registered a case in Delhi and all the accused are being brought to the capital for further interrogation. Various sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act pertaining to conspiracy, recruitment for a terrorist outfit and being members of a banned organisation have been invoked.
Mumbai resident Mudabbir Sheikh (33), who was among those arrested, had designated himself as the Ameer of the IS in India, sources said.
Late on Friday, the NIA arrested another accused, Khan Mohammad Hussain (36), from Mumbai.
The NIA officials picked up Sheikh from his Mumbra residence in the early hours of Friday. Sheikh is a former Web developer who holds a diploma in Software Engineering. The money received by Sheikh could have been used to procure weapons, the Ministry spokesperson said.
Officials said he had been under the surveillance of intelligence agencies for six months, but was in touch with a former Indian Mujahideen (IM) member, Mohammad Shafi Armar, for the past two-and-a-half years. He was in touch with several other IS members in Syria as well, officials said.
Sheikh’s wife Huzma (28) said a team of NIA officials reached their residence at 3 a.m. on Friday. “My husband was questioned in the kitchen for an hour, with the door closed, after which they came out and said that they were taking him with them for further questioning,” she said.
Sheikh was produced in a special NIA court and the NIA was granted transit remand for three days. In its remand application, the NIA said Sheikh had been charged with serious offences and charges related to waging war against India and countries friendly to it. Investigators have recovered Rs. 6 lakh from Sheikh which he allegedly got through the hawala route.
(With inputs from the Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh bureaus)