India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday arrested three suspected al-Qaeda operatives who were allegedly plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 21 other top Indian officials, police said.
The three men – identified as N. Abbas Ali, T. Ayub Khan and Abdul Kareem – were picked up during raids at several locations in Madurai, a city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, on Sunday night and placed under arrest after questioning on Monday, police sources there told BenarNews.
The NIA, the country’s top counter-terror unit, also took in a fourth suspect, Mohammad Ayub Ali, for questioning but he had yet to be formally arrested, sources said late Monday, adding that the agency was hunting for two more suspects, who had been identified as Hakeem and Dawood Sulaiman.
Monday’s arrests were the first involving suspected al-Qaeda members in India since December 2015, when local authorities took three suspected members of the group’s regional wing, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), into custody. Those arrests were the first since al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari announced the affiliate’s formation in 2014. But police had yet to say whether the men arrested on Monday belonged to AQIS.
“The entire operation was carried out by the NIA. Our role was limited to providing assistance and logistics,” Sailesh Yadav, Madurai’s Commissioner of Police, told BenarNews.
“The suspects are currently being interrogated by the NIA,” he said.
None of the NIA officials contacted by BenarNews agreed to comment on the arrests, but police sources said that a “cache of arms and bomb-making material were recovered” from the suspects.
“A pen drive, which contained a list of names of 22 top Indian leaders, including Modi, was also recovered. It seems there was a ploy to assassinate these political figures,” a police official, who assisted in the raids, told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Involved in explosions
Police said the trio was involved in several explosions that took place in court premises in the country but declined to elaborate.
“They had also made threatening calls to several embassies operating in India,” the official said.
Commissioner Yadav, however, confirmed that the three suspects had no police record in Madurai.
“We have checked records of their past involvement in terror-related activities but haven’t found anything in Madurai city. But they may be involved in such activities elsewhere,” Yadav said.
India ranks seventh in the world among countries most affected by terrorism, according to the latest Global Terrorism Index, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace.
“In 2015, India had the highest number of terrorist attacks since 2000, whilst paradoxically, it had the second lowest number of deaths for a single year since 2000,” said the report, which was published earlier this month.
There were 797 terror attacks in India last year, resulting in 289 deaths, compared to 764 attacks with 418 deaths in 2014, the report said.