Indian police arrested four suspects who were allegedly plotting a major attack and were inspired by the Middle East-based terror outfit Islamic State (IS), during a cross-country operation involving security agencies from six states, officials said Thursday.
The raids took place Thursday morning in Maharashtra, Punjab, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP), said Aseem Arun, Inspector General of UP’s Anti-Terrorism Squad. They were part of a joint operation conducted by counter-terrorist police teams from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar, he added.
“The accused are connected with an IS-inspired cell operating in India. They were planning to launch a major terror attack in the country,” Arun said in a statement, adding that documents related to IS were recovered from the four suspects.
The suspects were identified as Nazim Ahmed, a native of Uttar Pradesh who was nabbed in Maharashtra’s Thane district, Mufti Faizan and Tanveer, arrested from Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district, and Muzammil, who was arrested from Punjab’s Jalandhar district.
Wasim and Naeem Ramodiya, two brothers arrested by the Gujarat police in February, were also part of the same IS-inspired cell whose members were arrested on Thursday, according to the police.
“All those arrested are in the age group of 18 to 25 years and were living in different places like Mumbai, Jalandhar and Uttar Pradesh. We have also found that they were definitely influenced by the material available on the internet,” Daljit Chawdhary, the additional director general of police in UP, told reporters.
No incriminating evidence has been found yet to link the suspects directly to IS, but they were influenced by the terror outfit’s ideology, Chawdhary said. “But it can be called a possible criminal conspiracy,” he added.
Six more suspects are being held for questioning but have not been placed under arrest, another police official in Uttar Pradesh told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Initial investigations indicate that the arrested suspects were looking to recruit youth in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, the official said.
Uttar Pradesh’s Anti-Terrorism Squad had recovered some important documents after Mohammad Saifullah, a suspected operative of the same terror cell, was killed in a 12-hour encounter with police on March 8, he said.
“The seized documents prompted the police to expand its investigation to other states,” he said.
Saifullah was shot dead and six alleged members of the group were arrested hours after a low-intensity bomb exploded inside a passenger train in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state, injuring 10 people. The blast was dubbed the “first IS attack” on Indian soil, but security agencies did not directly link the Middle East-based outfit to the attack.
While government officials consistently deny that IS has made any significant inroads in India, about 75 people have been arrested and are facing trial for alleged links with the outfit.
According to intelligence agencies, about 50 Indian Muslims have left for the Middle East and Afghanistan to fight alongside IS. Among them, at least eight are believed to have died in battle.
The emergence of this IS-inspired module is a major cause of concern for Indian security agencies, a security expert said.
“They [the suspects] may not be direct IS recruits. But the active movement of sleeper cells inspired by the group is enough to ring alarm bells. All this while, there is a school of thought that India is immune to an IS threat. These arrests, followed by the encounter and arrests in March, should prove this theory wrong,” G.M. Srivastava, a Guwahati-based security analyst, told BenarNews.
But A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, disagreed.
“India has no direct threat from IS. Surely, there may be some youngsters who could have been influenced by the group’s ideology, but this doesn’t mean IS is directly involved,” Dulat had told BenarNews following the arrests last month.
Jhumur Deb in Guwahati, India contributed to this report.