Three youths from the Uttar Pradesh group accused of exploding a bomb on a Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train on March 7 travelled to Kozhikode in Kerala in January this year to try and establish contact with people who could help them travel to Syria or Afghanistan to join the Islamic State, investigations have revealed.
Danish Akhtar (26), Atif Muzaffar (22), and Saifullah Khan (23) — Saifullah was killed in an encounter with UP anti-terror squad personnel on the night of March 8 in Lucknow — went to Kozhikode via Bengaluru, Mysuru between December 28 and January 13, sources said.
Danish and Atif, who were arrested from a bus in Pipariya in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh within hours of the blast, have told investigators that they went to a village in Kozhikode to help people from the Ahle Hadees sect who were facing a local threat.
The trip to Kozhikode was an effort by the group to find help to travel to Islamic State-linked territories in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan on Hijrah since a group of people from the region had travelled to Afghanistan in 2016, investigations have found.
“The three travelled to Bengaluru by train and arrived on January 8. They stayed there for a day and went by bus to Kozhikode via Mysuru. They later returned by train to Kanpur,’’ sources said.
Investigators are looking at possible links between members of the UP group and an engineer from Kozhikode, Shajeer Mangalaserri (35), reported to be in Afghanistan, who is alleged to have facilitated the travel of several people from Kerala to Afghanistan to join the Islamic State in the last two years.
Shajeer is among eight persons against whom the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a chargesheet on March 29 for their alleged involvement in what is known as the Omar Al Hindi ISIS module from Kerala. Six persons, including two from Kozhikode, were arrested by the NIA in October 2016.
Shajeer is alleged to have created the Omar Al Hindi IS module in Kerala in 2016 by using social media platforms like Telegram where he operated under the name of Abu Ayisha. The UP module has been found to have been linked on Telegram to a handler using the name Abu Hashim.
“It is not clear yet whether the Kerala man was handling the UP group or if it was someone involved with other IS cases. NIA will investigate it,’’ sources familiar with the UP case said.
In a note on its chargesheet in the Omar Al Hindi module case in Kerala, the NIA Wednesday said that “members of the module, within and outside India, used online platforms like Telegram to form secret groups for conspiring and planning terrorist attacks’’.
The Omar Al Hindi module was unearthed by the NIA after police from Kerala, Delhi and Telangana carried out surveillance of their activities, both online and offline.
On February 12, a key player in the Omar Al Hindi IS module, Mouinudheen Parakadavath (25), was deported from Abu Dhabi after investigations revealed that he was part of the terrorist plot on a Telegram group where he used the identities Abu Al-Indonesi and Ibn Abdullah.
Mouinudheen sent funds from Abu Dhabi to members of the module in Kerala last year, the NIA found.
Sources said the UP group’s leader Atif Muzaffar established contact with an IS handler using the name Abu Hashim on Telegram sometime in early 2016 after he was referred to the Telegram handle by a person he met in Kashmir during a trip taken with Faizal Khan (23) and Saifullah in February 2016.
The UP group were “very tech savvy’’ in comparison to others, sources said.
The Telangana police, whose online and offline tracking of the UP module led to the group’s speedy arrest soon after the March 7 train blast, got on the trail of the UP group sometime in late 2016 after the group had established contact with online handler Abu Hashim on Telegram, after the group had sworn allegiance to IS, procured guns, carried out a murder, and even tested a bomb at a farm house on Gangapur road near Kanpur in November 2016, sources said. “They were being tracked for the last three to four months,’’ sources said.