IS Threat Triggers Anti-Terror Raids in India

Akash Vashishtha
160122-IN-French-1000 A French military band rehearses in New Delhi ahead of its scheduled participation in India’s upcoming Republic Day parade, Jan. 22, 2016.

Acting on an intelligence report that warned of a possible Islamic State (IS) strike in India, security forces detained 14 suspects Friday in what a government official described as a “major crackdown on terror” ahead of the country’s Republic Day on Jan. 26.

Of the 14 men picked up for interrogation in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh states, five were formally arrested, while nine were being interrogated to establish if they are linked to IS, an official with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said.

The raids carried over into Saturday in several Indian states.

“There is no indication so far that they were planning a terror attack in Delhi during the Republic Day function,” the official, who did not wish to be named, told the press on Friday.

He did not confirm nor deny if police had found any evidence linking the 14 suspects to IS.

An official with the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which spearheaded the raids, told BenarNews that most of those taken into custody on Friday had been under surveillance for months.

Among those held, Najmul Huda and Syed Hussain from Karnataka, Nafeez from Andhra Pradesh, Shaikh Muddabir from Maharashtra and an unidentified youth from Uttar Pradesh were officially charged for “activities related to terrorism,” the official said.

All 14 suspects range in age from 23 to 30 years old.

The official said his agency recovered “implicating material” from Huda and Hussain, both software engineers, and it also found material used to make explosives at the homes of Nafeez and the unnamed suspect from U.P.

He added that Muddabir, also an IT engineer, was suspected of being the group’s ring leader, with connections that could be traced to Iraq and Syria, the strongholds of IS.

Muddabir’s wife, Ujma, rejected those allegations, saying her husband was a “simple man.”

“My husband works in IT. He has nothing to do with all this,” she told BenarNews.

“Some men came in this (Friday) morning and took him away. They were in plain clothes. They didn’t have a warrant. They said they were taking him away for questioning and that further investigations would reveal if he is guilty or not,” Ujma said.

Security fears around Republic Day

Friday’s anti-terror sweeps followed the arrests on Tuesday of four suspected IS operatives in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India.

According to the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, the four suspects, whose handlers were based in Iraq and Syria, were plotting to carry out attacks targeting the ongoing Ardh Kunbh religious conglomeration in Haridwar and some strategic locations in Delhi.

The attacks, police said, were planned to coincide with French President Francoise Hollande’s visit to New Delhi for the annual Republic Day parade, which will be marked on Tuesday. He is due to arrive in India on Sunday.

The NIA issued a national alert following those arrests, sounding a warning of a Paris and Jakarta-style attack in India.

Fear of the possibility of a similar strike came after the French Consulate in Bengaluru last week received an anonymous threat, warning France’s president against coming to Delhi.

“There was a threat to Hollande but I cannot say for sure that it’s a real threat,” Francois Richier, the French ambassador to India, told NDTV.

Dead taxi driver

The fear got further aggravated following the discovery of the dead body of a taxi driver, whose cab was allegedly carjacked from Pathankot, Punjab, by three as yet unidentified men, according to Delhi police.

Earlier this month, six suspected infiltrators from Pakistan attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station. In the three-day gun battle that ensued, seven Indian security personnel lost their lives before armed forces neutralized the attackers.

The body of taxi driver Vijay Kumar was discovered in the Kangada district of north India’s Himachal Pradesh state on Wednesday. The cause of death was still unclear late Friday.

The taxi, which carried a Himachal Pradesh number plate, was missing along with the three suspects.

The Delhi Police department issued an alert Friday, saying they were looking for the three men who hired Kumar’s taxi.

Meanwhile, retired Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim, a Delhi-based security expert, expressed skepticism about an IS threat in India, saying the raids and arrests ahead of the French President’s visit were probably driven by paranoia.

“They (those arrested or detained) might be reading through IS propaganda material, but that does not establish they are working with the IS,” Karim told BenarNews, adding, “This is just the preliminary stage of the probe. Let’s see what comes out of it.”


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