Updated at 4:48 p.m. ET on 2017-03-08
India’s top counter terror unit rushed investigators to Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Wednesday, hours after police shot dead a suspected terrorist and arrested six others following an explosion inside a passenger train that injured 10.
The blast appeared to have been carried out by people motivated by the Islamic State terror group, police officials and security experts said. But they did not agree on the extent to which the perpetrators had interacted with members of that group based in the Middle East.
A low-intensity blast on Tuesday inside a train at Madhya Pradesh’s Jabri Railway Station was the handiwork of the so-called Islamic State, according to the state’s government and police department.
Police in Uttar Pradesh, where a suspect allegedly linked to the blast was shot dead on Wednesday, said the suspects were part of a self-proclaimed IS cell.
“We have no such evidence yet that the suspect shot dead or those arrested have any link with IS, other than that that they belonged to a self-proclaimed IS cell,” Daljit Singh Chawdhary, Uttar Pradesh’s additional director general of police, told a press briefing in Lucknow.
He confirmed that Mohammad Saifullah, who was killed early Wednesday after a 12-hour gun battle with security forces in Lucknow’s Thakurganj locality, was part of the group that carried out the blast that injured 10. He also said an IS flag was found near the suspect’s body.
Police claimed to have recovered eight handguns, 600 bullets, bomb-making material, six mobile phones and three passports among documents from the slain suspect.
Following the blast, the Madhya Pradesh police arrested three suspects – identified as Danish Akhtar, Syed Meer Hussain and Atish Muzaffar – while the Uttar Pradesh police arrested three others – Mohammad Faisal Khan, Mohammad Imran and Fakre Alam. All are aged between 25 and 35, police said.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan supported claims by his state’s police that Tuesday’s blast was the first-ever IS attack on Indian soil.
“After planting a time bomb bag in the train, the terrorists clicked pictures and sent photo[s] to their handler in Syria through social media,” Chouhan told television news agency ANI.
But Uttar Pradesh Police’s Chawdhary refuted this statement.
“These people were self-radicalized and self-financed. They had no aid from outside. They are a self-proclaimed module. The laptops recovered from them show they were regularly involved in such activities,” he said, adding that the suspects previously attempted to carry out small-scale attacks but failed.
While government officials consistently deny that IS has made any significant inroads in India, about 70 people have been arrested and are facing trial for alleged links with the Middle East-based terror outfit.
Intelligence agencies claim that about 50 Indian Muslims have left for the Middle East to fight alongside IS. Among them, at least seven have died in battle.
Security experts, too, refrained from describing the attack as a direct IS strike.
“This is not quite an IS operation. It is highly unlikely these men were directly radicalized by IS. Although they could be part of groups that draw inspiration from IS,” retired Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim, a New Delhi-based counter-terrorism analyst, told BenarNews.
A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency, shared Karim’s views.
“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,” he told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, Saifullah’s family refused to accept the commerce graduate’s body, calling him a “traitor.”
“One who indulges in anti-national activities can’t be my son. Look, someone who’s a traitor cannot be our son. It’s that straightforward. We will absolutely not accept a traitor’s body,” Saifullah’s father, Sartaj, told Times of India.