Counter-terrorism: Network of Islamic State ‘recruits’ busted

5 held, phones and explosive material seized in nationwide raids; arrests come ahead of French President’s three-day visit.

In a nationwide crackdown just days ahead of Republic Day, at least five “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 jehadi 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
Mumbai resident Mudabbir Sheikh (33), who was among those arrested, had designated himself the ‘Emir’ of the organisation, sources said.
NIA officials picked up Sheikh from his Mumbra residence in the early hours of Friday. They said the accused, who were asked to target police officers and foreigners, were trying to establish a channel for procurement of explosives and weapons. The accused were also identifying locations to organise arms training camps.
They were radicalised online: MHA
Sheikh is a former web developer who holds a diploma in software engineering.
Officials said he had been under the surveillance of intelligence agencies for six months but was in touch with 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 claimed.
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, NIA said Sheikh had been charged with serious offences and charges related to waging war against India and countries friendly to it. Investigators have also recovered Rs. 6 lakh from Sheikh, which he allegedly got through hawala route.
Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) did not say that the young men belonged to IS. A MHA spokesperson merely said, “They were radicalised online. It is too early to mention whether they belonged to any particular outfit. Some IED materials have been recovered from Mumbai and Hyderabad. The money received by Sheikh could have been used to procure weapons.”
Meanwhile, officials said the network busted on Friday was handled by Armar, who had also motivated the four youths, arrested on Wednesday.
The arrests came ahead of French President Francois Hollande’s three-day visit to India. Mr. Hollande arrives on Sunday and 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 why the MHA tried to play down the crackdown, sources said.
The NIA has registered a case in Delhi and all the accused are being brought to Delhi for further interrogation. Various sections of the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) pertaining to conspiracy, recruitment for a terrorist outfit and being members of banned organisation have been invoked.


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