Of the six men who were picked up for interrogation by the NIA and police in Karnataka on Friday, one is a 46-year-old US-educated software engineer who was deported from Turkey for attempting to enter Syria.
Two of them were arrested — Mohammed Afzal, 35, a software engineer with MNC IHS Global, and Najmal Huda alias Majnu, 24, a chemical engineer from Mangalore.
“They were allegedly planning and making efforts to establish a channel of procurement of explosives/weapons, identify locations to organise training camps including of firearms, motivate new recruits to target police officers, foreigners in India and carry out terrorist activities in various parts of India. Interrogation of suspects and verification of their backgrounds are in progress,” the NIA said in an official note.
The other four detainees were identified by sources as Abdul Ahad, 46, a software entrepreneur with a master’s degree from Kennedy-Western University in California, Syed Mujahid, 34, a shop owner from Tumkur, Mohammed Sohail, 31, a madrasa teacher from Bengaluru, and Asif Ali, 30, an IT worker also from Bengaluru.
“The NIA received information that certain individuals from various cities were organising themselves to commit terrorist acts,” the agency stated. Sources involved in the interrogation said the NIA was undecided on charges to bring against them.
The men are likely to be booked in a case involving an IS conspiracy to recruit Indian youths, which was registered by the NIA in Delhi in December last year and is currently under investigation, sources said.
Investigators got on the trail of the six men in Karnataka after investigations on one Abu Zarar in Hyderabad for alleged links to the IS, which indicated that Mohammed Afzal (one of those arrested) was actively involved in rallying support for the IS through online and physical forums, police sources said. The Hyderabad youth and Afzal were colleagues at IHS Global.
The detainees are suspected to have helped organise meetings and events for the IS. While some of the detainees expressed support for the IS during interrogation, a couple of them expressed regret, sources said.
The NIA is looking at digital evidence from laptops, computers and electronic devices for clues. “They were using secure online communication tools like a telegram service to escape surveillance,’’ a source said.
Among the detainees, Afzal is suspected to be a key influence on Indians, the sources said. He was a follower of Bengaluru Islamic preacher Syed Anzar Shah Qasmi, who was arrested by Delhi Police two weeks ago for alleged links with the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, they added.
Afzal lived in the same neighbourhood as Abdul Ahad, who was deported from Turkey in January 2015. Ahad was deported with his family and two former IHS Global employees, Ibrahim Noufal (24) and Javeed Shaikh (24) after being caught by Turkish authorities while attempting to enter Syria.
Following deportation, Ahad and the others were released by Indian authorities. Ahad, who spoke to The Indian Express after his deportation, had claimed that he was trying to go to Syria to be of humanitarian assistance, and not to join the IS.
Ahad met Noufal and Javed during prayers at mosques in north Bengaluru.
The youths have now disappeared from the radar of investigating agencies. Noufal’s parents, who live in Hassan in Karnataka, said their son had moved to Saudi Arabia for work, but could not supply the emigration records.
Meanwhile, the families of Afzal and Syed Mujahid protested the detentions.
Bushra Tabasum, Afzal’s wife, said, “He is a law abiding citizen.” Appearing before the media with her four-year-old daughter, Tabasum said, “I asked the officials who raided my house for the reason behind his detention. They did not say anything. The policemen entered my home and handcuffed my husband. They put a gun to his head, manhandled him and told him to bring out the weapons. They searched the house but did not find any weapons.”
Afzal was working with IHS for nine years after returning from Saudi Arabia, where he worked earlier. His father-in-law Abdul Khader Mullah said Afzal used to teach people about the Quran. “That is no offence,” he said.
Mujahid’s father Syed Hussain said his son was arrested by around 20 policemen at 3 am. “We raised him with good values. I am sure he is innocent,” Syed Hussain said.