New Delhi, Oct 27 (IANS) The dreaded Islamic State, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly killed in raids conducted by the United States on Sunday, had also tried to get a foothold in India in 2016-17, a report said.
It was May 2016 when a purported ISIS video threatening to unleash terror in Uttar Pradesh left security agencies in tizzy and the state police’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) launched a massive exercise to counter any terror activities in the state.
Investigators said it was the first attempt of the proscribed terror group when it “particularly” tried to establish its foothold in the state. Uttar Pradesh Police put its social media monitoring labs on alert and sensitised its intelligence network particularly in communally sensitive districts in the wake of the IS propaganda.
The 22-minute documentary, mostly in Arabic, showed jihadists supposedly from India threatening to “return” to “avenge killing of Muslims in India”. The jihadists had joined Islamic State ranks. This led the then Union Home Minister to intervene in the matter, announcing that the Centre was taking all steps to tackle the issue.
The cause of concern for the Uttar Pradesh Police stemmed from arrest of two UP youths – Shakir and Rizwan – who were in touch with the Islamic State through its social media network. Shakir was arrested by the Delhi Police on May 4, 2016 from Deoband in Saharanapur for his alleged links with banned terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) while Rizwan was held by the Mumbai Police from Kushinagar district in Uttar Pradesh on January 23, 2016.
With their arrests, a senior IPS official requesting anonymity told IANS, it was learnt that Islamic State and its subsidiaries tried desperately for a “foothold on India in general and Uttar Pradesh in particular”.
“This was a cause of serious concern, particularly when youth turning to world’s top terror outfits.” Then UP Director General of Police (DGP) Javeed Ahmed said the intelligence agencies were put on high alert and verified the video and its content for its authenticity. Two Indian Mujahideen operatives – Abu Rashid Ahmad and Mohammad ‘Bada’ Sajid from Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district were identified amongst those featured in a documentary released by the Islamic State regarding lives of South Asian jihadists, another officer said.
The video, he said, aimed at recruiting more foreign militants. Sajid was thought to have been killed in an encounter in Syrian Kobane in 2015, and is suspected to have orchestrated terror blasts in Ahmedabad and Jaipur while Abu Rashid is suspected to have conducted terror strikes for Indian Mujahideen between 2005 and 2008.
In the video, the two men were seen describing their journey from India to the Islamic State.
“The group initially made their first exile to Khorasan in Afghan-Pak border after they were persecuted by the ATS following the Batla house encounter. This was followed by a second exile to IS later.”
In March, 2017, investigators unearthed a suspected Islamic State terror module operating in India. Ghaus Mohammed Khan, an ex-Indian Air Force officer, was the leader of the group planning attacks in the country, the officer said, adding Khan is still absconding.
The Uttar Pradesh ATS on March 7, 2017 managed to kill a terrorist hiding inside a house in Thakurganj area of Lucknow after 10-hour-long gun battle following the inputs of the counter intelligence cell of the Telangana Police that tracked, monitored and intercepted calls and messages of the suspected terrorists for months. Officers, part of the operation, said all the module members, including the slain Saifullah, who was identified as their leader, were reported to have been under electronic surveillance for months.
Uttar Pradesh ATS Inspector General Aseem Arun revealed that the neutralised terrorist was a member of the Islamic State of Khorasan module. “We got the intelligence from a sister agency that a person named Saifullah affiliated to ISIS is hiding in a residential area in Lucknow.” Terror suspects Atif and Danish were arrested in Lucknow by the NIA in connection with the Lucknow terror operation.
In 2016, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had taken down Khalid Rizwan, as a part of a nationwide mission against the Islamic State, resulting in the arrest of more than 20 people. The same year in October, central intelligence agencies had decoded texts between six men in Kerala recruited by an Islamic State handler to plan terrorist attacks and the Telangana Police had provided the NIA with inputs in June 2016 to bust the Islamic State terror module preparing to attack various Police Stations in Hyderabad.
The NIA then registered a First Information Report (FIR) in the Islamic State inspired cases in the Madhya Pradesh and Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) terror operations. The agencies then focussed to digitally track the mastermind behind the modules, who were believed to be abroad, in a move to ensure that further radicalisation of Indian youth is stopped.
“After forces managed to identify Uttar Pradesh terror module linked to Islamic State, the Centre pinpointed five states where the terror outfit activists could surface. Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh was among them.”
The agencies in mid March also knew about a warning of attacks in India after the IS released a graphic depicting Taj Mahal as a possible target.
In a multi-state joint operation, the Police teams of Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, arrested four suspected terrorists belonging to the Islamic State Khorasan module and detained six others in April 2017.
The arrests were made during raids on April 20 morning in Mumbra (Maharashtra), Jalandhar (Punjab), Narkatiaganj (Bihar), and Bijnor and Muzaffarnagar (both in Uttar Pradesh).
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at [email protected])