Decoded messages of a terror suspect in custody with alleged links to Islamic State and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) indicate there could be more than 10,000 IS members in India, a senior counter-terrorism official told BenarNews.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating the involvement of Indian citizen Mohammad Mosihuddin (alias Abu Musa), 25, in connection with a terrorist siege that killed 20 hostages at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1 and 2, 2016. Mosihuddin, a native of West Bengal state, was arrested on July 4.
“On a regular basis, Musa used to send messages on an instant messaging application called Telegram to two of his handlers – Abu Suleiman, who is believed to have masterminded the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, and Shafi Armar, IS’s chief recruiter for India. In a couple of such messages, Musa informs Suleiman and Armar that the number of IS members in India would be more than10,000,” a top NIA official revealed on condition of anonymity.
The veracity of this claim was being verified, he added.
Mosihuddin’s alleged revelations that IS, along with JMB, was plotting attacks on U.S. citizens in India prompted the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to send a seven-member team to Kolkata to interrogate him in early December.
The NIA has also sought help from the FBI to decode messages from 34 mobile phones recovered from Mosihuddin, the official said. He has been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for waging war against India.
Mosihuddin had made recreational trips to several locations frequented by foreign tourists to plan stabbing attacks similar to the Dhaka café assault, the NIA said.
BenarNews views charge sheet
Mosihuddin “discusses the plan of action and selects the [Mother Teresa] Missionaries of Charity as the target for a terrorist attack in Kolkata since foreigners are easily found there,” according to NIA’s charge-sheet.
The document, which has been seen by BenarNews, alleges that Mosihuddin was radicalized online by his Syria-based IS handler, identified as Armar.
“Musa got in touch with Armar through Facebook and subsequently, through Skype, who radicalized him by sending the links of jihadi sites like Jihadology.net, Al-Shabab media and Just-Paste-it links, etc., and by sending videos released by the Ansar Ut Tawid (AuT), consisting of footage of war between the cadres of IS and the Iraqi forces, and videos and speeches of ‘Anwar ul Awlaki’ about the ideology of Jihad,” the document states.
Mosihuddin, who worked at a grocery store in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, came under the scrutiny of Indian security agencies soon after the Dhaka attack when his calls and emails were traced to Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Syria.
Acting on a tip from the NIA and India’s Intelligence Bureau that Mosihuddin was heading to his birthplace in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, state officials picked him up from Burdwan railway station on July 4. He had an improvised gun, a 13-inch dagger and fake currency notes from Afghanistan and Syria, police said.
While government officials consistently deny that IS has made any significant inroads in India, intelligence agencies claim that about 50 Indian Muslims have left for the Middle East to fight alongside the terror outfit. Among them, at least seven have died in battle. Nearly 70 people are in police custody for showing leanings toward the group.
Security analysts question number
Security analysts, too, refused to believe that thousands of IS operatives could remain undetected in India.
“So many members of a terror outfit like IS cannot remain in hiding. Members of such outfits make these exaggerated claims to boost the morale of their sleeper cells and provide motivation to new recruits,” analyst G.M. Srivastava told BenarNews.
But there were others who advised caution as many Indians, including some in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state, wish to separate from India.
“Alienation exists in many regions of India in many forms. The tragic happenings in Jammu and Kashmir should be an eye-opener, where people are revolting against state coercion,” M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, wrote on his blog.
If the Indian government is able to address the issue of separatism and alienation, we have “no reason to get sleepless nights over IS modules and sleeper cells … and the authorities can firmly and transparently deal with its traces in India whenever or wherever they show up, if at all, as a freak phenomenon,” he wrote.