The interrogation of Mudabbir Sheikh (33), arrested by the NIA from Mumbra on Friday, has exposed the extent of brainwashing IS handlers indulge in to make recruits like him toe their line. Sheikh, who was allegedly in touch with his Syria-based handler ‘Yusuf’ over social media, was given the example of India’s freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, claimed investigators. In the many conversations that transpired between the two, Sheikh was made to believe that his actions would be seen along the lines of Bhagat Singh, “who used bombs and also murdered the British” in his efforts to throw them out of the country.
Sheikh is believed to be the “IS recruiter in India” and the most important catch, after the NIA swooped on a pan-India crackdown ahead of Republic Day, detaining 14 men allegedly “radicalised online” under an Indian outfit named ‘Junud ul Khalifa e Hind’, or ‘Soldiers of the Indian Caliphate’.
Narrating his ideology, Sheikh is learnt to have told his interrogators that “even today countries like America and (the) British are ruling India. They are creating poverty within our borders by controlling money in their Swiss accounts”. While it is still early to say which specific episode led Sheikh to participate in procuring material to create an indigenous bomb, his statement has confused even his interrogators. They say Sheikh was made to believe that he was waging a war against Western powers for India.
A marathon interrogation, during which Sheikh has been questioned by officers of several ranks, revealed the levels of indoctrination, with Yusuf apparently having convinced Sheikh that the Western nations have also held India’s money with them, leading the country to beg, imposed with high interest rates, a taboo under Islamic law.
While no specific targets were identified, at least yet, Sheikh has said Yusuf asked him to recruit young boys and also procure raw material for the bomb to attack “British and America in India”. The ATS, said an official, was still to figure out if the targets were individuals or locations frequented by the British and American nationals in the country.
“He tells us that India got freedom as Bhagat Singh orchestrated bomb blasts against them. He believes in it,” said an officer. In most cases, ISIS recruits who have travelled the borders from India have participated in the war of the caliphate, with Sheikh’s efforts showing a different line of indoctrination, where he is made to believe an attack in the Indian soil for a larger cause of the nation. Sheikh lived in Mumbra, a satellite town of Mumbai, and was among the six arrested across the country in simultaneous operations last week, averting a possible multiple strike planned by the alleged Islamic State sympathisers. The rest are still under detention.
Sheikh 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.
The preliminary probe also reveals that Sheikh was in touch with Yusuf as early as in 2003 but met him for the first time only three months ago. Sheikh had been coordinating with Yusuf who had entered Syria from Afghanistan in June 2014. Yusuf used to update Sheikh on Indians caught while coming to Syria and those who were successful in crossing the borders.
In one of the communications between the two, Yusuf is believed to have told Sheikh to form a team of five to six Indians to carry out attacks in India. About eight months ago, a meeting is believed to have taken place in Lucknow with the selected five members of the new IS module that Sheikh is reported to have put together. The meeting was arranged to assign tasks to each person. Less than two months ago, two from the alleged module were paid Rs 50,000 each by Sheikh. He had allegedly received amounts close to Rs 5.8 lakh from two shops in Mumbai via hawala.
Investigators said one of the alleged IS recruits from West Bengal was deputed to prepare indigenous bombs for which he was going to receive raw materials from Karnataka. This alleged member was also to find ‘practice locations’ for the group, officers said. The police have found eight mobile phones from Sheikh’s Mumbra residence that were allegedly used for preparation of bombs. The agencies claim that he had succeeded in making a circuit, timed with the speaker rings of a mobile phone. In order to execute the exercise, Sheikh had one multimeter, one soldering wire and two boxes of phosphorus match heads, which were seized from his house.
Meanwhile, another ISIS sympathiser Rizwan Ahmed Ali Nawazuddin from Uttar Pradesh was produced in court on Sunday. He was arrested in connection with the four Malwani youths who went missing in December with allegations of having affiliations to IS operatives.
While three of them have returned, one Ayaz Sultan is believed to have made his way to Kabul. The police had submitted a three-page remand copy to the court showing a connection between Nawazuddin and the Malwani youths. The holiday court in South Mumbai remanded Nawazuddin in police custody until January 30. When magistrate Amit Launkar asked if he had had any complaints, Nawazuddin reportedly said, “Saab galti ho gayi, maaf kar do (I have made a mistake, please forgive me).”