An anti-terror court in Kolkata on Wednesday extended until Jan. 3 the judicial custody of an alleged operative of Islamic State (IS) whom authorities linked to a Bangladeshi militant group blamed for a deadly siege at a Dhaka café in July.
Mosihuddin (alias Abu Musa), a 25-year-old Indian citizen who has been in the custody of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) since July 4, has admitted to having links with IS and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants, said Shyamal Ghosh, the agency’s counsel.
Earlier in December, special agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) traveled to India to interrogate Mosihuddin about his alleged revelations that IS and JMB were plotting to attack American citizens on Indian soil, an NIA official told BenarNews.
The NIA said JMB is the Bangladeshi affiliate of Islamic State, which claimed the July 1 attack that left 20 hostages – mostly foreigners – dead at the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe. But Bangladesh’s home minister and other Bangladeshi officials have denied IS was behind the attack, saying the group has no presence in their country.
Officials have instead pinned the terrorist act on Neo-JMB, a faction of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, and have since killed most of the attack’s alleged perpetrators and planners.
“Musa was produced in a special NIA court in Kolkata today and was sent back to judicial custody until Jan. 3,” Ghosh told BenarNews on Wednesday, adding, “The NIA will submit its charge-sheet against him before the next date of hearing.”
Mosihuddin is to be charged under the Unlawful Activities (prevention) Act for waging war against India, the lawyer said. Repeated efforts to contact Mosihuddin’s attorney, Mohammad Zakir, failed.
Plot to kill Americans
Mosihuddin has told interrogators that Mohammed Suleiman (alias Abu Suleiman, who is also known as Sulaiman) tasked him with creating an IS cell in India with an aim to “specifically target American nationals and assets” in the country, a senior NIA official said on condition of anonymity.
Bangladeshi officials have described Suleiman as one of the people who plotted the overnight siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter.
Suleiman, who is absconding, planned the attack from a hideout in the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal, Mosihuddin told interrogators, according to the official.
“After several rounds of interrogation, we have come to conclude that Musa was most likely involved in the Dhaka attack,” the official told BenarNews.
Mosihuddin was also in touch with Syria-based Shafi Armar, believed to be IS’s chief recruiter for India, according to the NIA official. A native of south India’s Karnataka state, Armar had allegedly hatched the plan to target areas frequented by Western tourists.
“For this purpose, Musa made recreational trips to the Mother Teresa center in Kolkata and Dal Lake in Srinagar to plan stabbing attacks similar to the Dhaka cafe attack,” the official said.
FBI grills Musa
Mosihuddin’s alleged revelations that IS, along with JMB, was planning attacks on U.S. citizens in India prompted the FBI to send a team to Kolkata to interrogate him.
“A seven-member FBI team grilled Musa for over four hours on Dec. 8 regarding his links with IS,” the official said, adding that the FBI shared the interrogation details with the NIA. He, however, refused to divulge those details.
According to a Times of India report that quoted unnamed NIA sources, Mosihuddin told FBI interrogators that he hated white-skinned people and wanted to kill them.
In August, a three-member Bangladeshi police team also visited Kolkata to interrogate Mosihuddin, who was allegedly radicalized by JMB members in 2014.
“During interrogation, Musa said JMB leaders from Bangladesh radicalized him in India and ordered him to carry out operations,” Monirul Islam, the chief of Bangladesh’s counter-terrorism and transnational unit, had told BenarNews then.
Mosihuddin revealed the names of 12 Bangladesh-based JMB operatives, two of whom were subsequently arrested, Islam added.
Improvised gun recovered
Mosihuddin, who worked at a grocery store in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, came under the scrutiny of security agencies soon after the Dhaka cafe 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. An improvised gun, a 13-inch dagger and fake currency notes from Afghanistan and Syria were recovered from him, 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 currently in police custody for showing leanings toward the group.
Security analyst G.M. Srivastava told BenarNews that if the NIA could successfully prove Mosihuddin’s links with IS and JMB in court, it would be a “big boost for the security apparatus in India.”