THE arrest of a man from Mumbra, a satellite town of Mumbai, among six arrested across the country in simultaneous operations, averted a possible multiple strike planned by the alleged Islamic State sympathisers, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said. Of the six men arrested and eight detained by NIA and four state counter-terrorism agencies, two are from Maharashtra.
Mudabbir Hussain Sheikh, 33, was arrested from his Mumbra apartment. The second man, Mumbai resident Khan Mohammed Hussein, 36, was arrested from his Tulsiwadi residence in Mazgaon.
Sheikh, resident of Muslim-dominated satellite township of Mumbai, was reportedly one of the ringleaders and also an alleged recruiter, who was in touch with Yusuf alias Shafi Armar, a former Indian Mujahideen man who has now pledged to fight under the IS flag, said officers.
Many erstwhile members of the IM have joined Ansar ul Tawhid (AuT), formed in August 2014 by former IM member Sultan Armar who hailed from Bhatkal in Karnataka. After his death in an airstrike in Syria, his brother Shafi alias Yusuf is suspected to have taken control of the outfit. In 2014, the outfit had promised to recruit Indians in its struggle.
“Sheikh was a self-proclaimed Amir (chief) of the arrested module and had given the module the name Janood-ul-Khalifa-Hind, a homegrown group with ideologies similar to that of the Islamic State,” a senior official said.
Meanwhile Hussein, a businessman, was acquainted to Sheikh. The two were reportedly in touch through social media. Hussein is suspected to have been roped in by Sheikh to scout for recruits to send abroad.
Meanwhile, investigators recovered over Rs 2 lakh in cash and ‘preparatory material’ including three watches suspected to be for use as ‘timer devices’ from Sheikh’s home.
A 20-member team including 12 officials from the Maharashtra State Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) and the NIA raided his residence in the wee hours of Friday. Sheikh reportedly did not offer any resistance while being placed under arrest. He was officially arrested at 4am. Later in the day, Sheikh was produced at the Special NIA court that granted the NIA a three-day transit remand.
“Sheikh has been arrested in connection with an old open FIR registered by NIA. He and four others were arrested as co-conspirators in the said case,” said an official.
Sources said that while Rs 2 lakh was recovered from his residence, his online chat details suggest that he was to be paid Rs 6 lakh. The funds, sources claim, were for setting up training camps.
Sheikh reportedly holds a diploma in engineering and used to work with an IT firm but quit recently and was jobless for the past four months. “When we quizzed him on the cash recovered from his home, he was not able to give a satisfactory response. When we went through his chats, we found that he was promised a sum of Rs 6 lakh. This money was promised to set up training camps,” said another official. “We are probing if he was paid for recruiting people for the outfit or if the money was meant to be distributed among the members. We suspect it to be the latter,” added the official.
According to sources, Sheikh and the others arrested were under the scanner of Intelligence agencies since 2014. Sheikh was put under close watch after NIA arrested a few of his associates last year.
“We were watching his activities and wanted to bust the module and therefore kept him under close surveillance. Once we learnt that they have managed to procure explosives and were planning to carry out an attack, a planned operation involving various state counter-terrorism units was activated and simultaneous raids were carried out,” the source added.
Sources in the Maharashtra ATS said they do not rule out a possible link between the module and the four youth from Malvani in Malad, a Mumbai suburb, who went missing between October and December last year. While two have ‘returned’, one is still missing.
Their ringleader Ayyaz Sultan is suspected to have fled to Kabul and is believed to have joined the AuT.
Meanwhile an ATS team will visit Delhi to question Sheikh. “Since Sheikh was a recruiter and in the past there have been cases of youth from the state trying to join IS, we would grill him on the previous cases,” the source added.