THREE SUSPECTED members of an outfit called the Base Movement, which is linked to five blasts in courts in South India since April this year, were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Madurai on Monday.
“In the last 24 hours, in a joint operation with Tamil Nadu Police and Telangana Police, the NIA has apprehended four youths for their involvement in blasts at …court complexes in South India. During sustained examination, they have confessed their involvement in these blasts,” said a statement released by the NIA.
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The three who have been arrested have been identified as Abbas Ali (27), Suleiman Mohd Abdullah (23) and Samsun Karim Raja. The NIA said the fourth person, Mohammed Ayub Ali (25), was being questioned.
The three youths are suspected to be part of a group of five men led by a software engineer from Chennai. “Three have been arrested in Madurai. Two more are being tracked even as one suspect is being questioned,” said an officer familiar with the investigation.
According to the NIA, the group was led by Abdullah, who is from Madurai but lives in Chennai. Raja, a BCom graduate from Madurai, runs a broiler chicken shop, while Abbas Ali, also from Madurai, is a Class VIII dropout and a painter who also runs a library by the name of “Darul Ilm”.
The Base Movement was linked to the five court blasts — in Chittoor (Andhra Pradesh) on April 7, Kollam (Kerala) on June 15, Mysuru (Karnataka) on August 1, Nellore (Andhra Pradesh) on September 12 and Malappuram (Kerala) on November 2 — following messages from the group claiming credit.
The NIA is investigating the court blast in Mysuru.
Computer printouts of messages from the Base Movement were found at the blast sites in Malappuram and Nellore. Pen drives found at both sites contained messages with a picture of Osama bin Laden and a map of India. The messages claimed that the blasts were being carried out in retaliation for alleged injustices to members of the Muslim community.
The outfit also sent a mail to authorities claiming credit for the Chittoor court blast.
The term Base Movement is suspected to be a reference to the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) formed in August 2014, with the official name of “Jamaat Qaidat al-jihad fi’shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya’’ or “Organisation of the Base of Jihad in the Indian Sub-Continent’’.
“Investigations indicate that the Base Movement is inspired by Al Qaeda but probably has no links with it. In the pen drives that it left at some blast sites and the letters sent to authorities, there is mention of Al Qaeda and pictures of bin Laden, but no mention of the Islamic State or any other terror organisation,” said an intelligence officer.
“Almost all the bombs, from Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh to Malappuram in Kerala, have been found to be assembled by someone well-trained in bomb-making. Except for one bomb which was packed in a pressure cooker, all other bombs were relatively less lethal as they had no shrapnel. The organisation also deliberately left pen drives and leaflets at blast sites. It seems they were trying to make a statement. But things will be more clear now after interrogating the three arrested from Madurai,” said the officer.
Sources said it appears that the group is self-funded and self-motivated. “It doesn’t appear to be a Pakistan-supported group as such groups always aim for mass casualty,” the officer said.
Before the court blasts, a two-line letter announcing the launch of the Base Movement was sent by post to the office of an additional chief secretary to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in January last year. The sender’s address was given as Kovai (Coimbatore) in Tamil Nadu. Investigations later revealed that the letter was sent from Ukkadam in Coimbatore.
A similar letter with the same characteristics — a picture of bin Laden and map of India — made its appearance in January this year, ahead of a visit to India by French President Francois Hollande. The French consulate in Bengaluru received the letter, that seemed to warn against Hollande’s visit. The letter was tracked to a post office in Chennai.