New Delhi: In a major anti-terror swoop across the country ahead of Republic Day, 14 youths were arrested or detained by the NIA and other security agencies in the wee hours of today after they allegedly formed a module on the pattern of dreaded ISIS to carry out strikes at vital installations.
A possible attack may have been averted with the crackdown that came at a time when the country was in a state of heightened alert, as investigators questioned the arrested youths for possible links with the ISIS. Some of the youths are stated to be software engineers.
The raids were carried out simultaneously in five states of Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh where 14 people were “arrested or detained”. They were part of a group named ‘Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind’ (Army of Caliph of India), a terror group which has almost similar ideologies that of ISIS.
An official spokesman of the Union Home Ministry maintained that five people have been arrested “so far” and another nine have been detained while sources privy to the developments in Mumbai and Bangalore said eight people were detained besides the five arrests while one person has been let off. The sources said the eight detained people are likely to formally arrested tomorrow.
NIA gave the names of those arrested as Muttabir Mustaq Sheikh from Thane district near Mumbai, Mohammad Nafees Khan of Hyderabad, Mohammad Shareef Mounuddin Khan of Hyderabad, Najmul Huda of Mangalore and Mohammad Afzal of Bangalore.
Family members of some of the arrested people claimed they have nothing to do with any terror plot and that they were innocent.
The NIA along with state police forces and central security agencies swooped on pre-determined areas in the wee hours of today and picked up these people, the sources said, adding they were planning to execute a terror strike.
Sheikh had designated himself as ‘Ameer’ (Chief) of the group and Huda as ‘Ameer-e-Wyulat’ (finance) and they were in touch on Internet with some persons believed to be from ISIS based in Syria, the sources said.
They said the people had been under surveillance for quite sometime and the decision to arrest them was taken as the group received ‘instructions’ for carrying out ‘some sensational’ attacks in the country.
All the youths, ranging between the age group of 25 to 30, are educated with some of them having completed studies in software engineering, the sources said.
The group had started receiving money through ‘hawala’ route and according to Home Ministry spokesman “Sheikh also received funds to the tune of Rs 6 lakh.”
The raids were conducted in collaboration with police forces in all the states.
The NIA and central agency sleuths recovered laptops, explosive material, detonators, wires, batteries and hydrogen peroxide besides ‘Jehadi literature’, the sources said.
The sleuths also recovered 42 mobile phones including eight from Ameer of the newly formed terror group which had allegedly received hawala money from overseas, the sources said.
All the arrested accused were being brought to the national capital for detailed interrogation as preliminary enquiry indicated that there was a proper structure of the terror outfit.
The attempt of the group was to spread their activities to Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Assam, Bangalore, Uttrakhand and Karnataka, the sources said.
During last eight months, members of the group had visited some locations within the country and photographed some iconic installations, the sources said without identifying the places visited by them.
The Home Ministry spokesman said a total of 14 suspects were picked up in different states of which there were from Mumbai, four each from Hyderabad and Bengaluru and one each from Mangalore, Tumkur (Karnataka) and Lucknow.
The spokesman said of the detained, some may be arrested while some may be let off, “depending on the investigation and information collected on them.”
The Home Ministry spokesman said it was not immediately clear from where they received funds but added “all of them were somehow connected with one ‘Yusuf’, believed to be Safi Armar, a former member of Indian Mujahideen(IM).
The spokesman, while making attempts to downplay ISIS links, said online radicalisation is a worldwide phenomena. “We have been monitoring many people for their online activities.”
“This is a larger group who have direct or cross link with Yousuf. His links with ISIS is subject of investigation as his location was not known as yet,” he said, adding they were radicalised elements belonging to ISIS who could have joined some group.