Recent arrests of alleged Islamic State (IS) sympathisers by security agencies have reportedly thrown up evidence that several “online supporters” of the outfit in India were organising themselves in the physical world too.
Investigations into activities of the 14 alleged IS sympathisers arrested from Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Lucknow on January 22 and 23 this year reportedly show some had assumed leadership roles and travelled between cities to meet others to “organise an IS-affiliated India group called Junood Khilafa-e-Hind”.
While there is no evidence of any specific act of terror being planned by the 14, there may have been interaction with youths aspiring to travel to Syria, including “guidance” on how to go about it.
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The Junood Khilafa-e-Hind’s alleged aims were spreading IS ideology, enabling interested youths to travel to Syria, and “preparing the ground for the arrival of ISIS in India”.
“In our assessment, the main intention was to enable people to flee to Syria,” a Karnataka security official involved with the initial investigations of the six men arrested in Karnataka said.
Authorities suspect that two Telangana youths, Arshad Ali and Kabir, linked to some of the men arrested in January by the NIA, may have already travelled to Syria via Singapore, while two others, Faizan and Arfan, are suspected to have gone after travelling with visas to Japan.
The motivators of the Junood Khilafa-e-Hind are alleged to be Mumbai youth Muttabir Sheikh, Hyderabad’s Nafees Khan and Mangalore youth Najmal Huda, who allegedly established online contacts with Indians like Shafi Armar said to be based in Syria and claiming to be IS leaders.
Officials said Khalid alias Rizwan Ahmed Ali Nawazuddin, who was among the 14 held, was involved in sending a few Maharashtra youths abroad and had travelled to Bangalore to meet Asif Ali, 23, an uneducated youth working as a stone crusher, after Ali had expressed interest in travelling to join the ISIS. Khalid was arrested from Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad and Ali from Bengaluru by the NIA during the January 22 sweep.
Khalid is alleged to have come to Bangalore to meet Ali and returned the same day to Mumbai. After his lawyer claimed Khalid was a juvenile, he was sent to a children’s remand home in Mumbai.
Mohammed Nafees Khan alias Abu Zarrar, 24, from Hyderabad, who has been identified in investigations as a “logistics expert” for the Junood Khilafa-e-Hind, is also alleged to have travelled to Bengaluru to meet local ISIS sympathisers. Khan allegedly was part of a meeting of a small group of “sympathisers” in Tumkur region, some 60 km from Bengaluru. According to sources, the group also roped in the support of 46-year-old Bengaluru-based software engineer Mohammed Abdul Ahad, who was deported from Turkey in January 2014 while trying to travel to Syria with his family. Ahad, named ‘Bada Ameer’ by the group, was to help them with his knowledge of Syrian region and IS ideology, say investigators.
While Ahad has denied lending any support to the arrested group, sources said investigations against the 14 had thrown up technical evidence to suggest Ahad was in the Tumkur region when four other arrested men reportedly held a meeting there.
Announcing the arrests of the 14, the NIA had said the men “were planning and making efforts to establish a channel of procurement of explosive/weapons, identify locations to organise training camps including training of fire arms, motivate new recruits to target police officers, foreigners in India, and to carry out terrorist activities in various parts of India”.
Authorities also claim that the January arrests, the deportation of alleged Indian online ISIS propagandists like Adnan Damudi, the deradicalisation of a 16-year-old Pune girl, the disappearance of an online IS propagandist from the Philippines, Karen Aisha Hamidon, who reportedly had influence on sympathisers in India, had resulted in a significant dip in pro-ISIS related online activities from India.