Two of the three men arrested from Madhya Pradesh within hours of an explosion on board the Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train on March 7 have told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that their original target was not this train but the Lucknow-Bhopal Pushpak Express on which they travelled the previous night.
Atif Muzaffar and Syed Mir Husain — they were arrested in Pipariya in Hoshangabad district along with Mohammed Danish while the fourth, Saifullah, was killed in a gunfight with Uttar Pradesh anti-terror squad personnel in a house on the outskirts of Lucknow — told the NIA that they travelled in the Pushpak Express on March 6 with an explosives-filled bag, but could not plant it because of the “heavy rush” and “alert passengers”.
Official sources said Atif bought three tickets for the Pushpak Express but throughout the journey, they could not find a suitable spot or the right time to plant the bomb. They got off at Bhopal railway station on March 7 morning where Atif and Danish made a last-minute decision to place the bomb on the passenger train that was waiting to leave for Ujjain.
“After their failure to plant the bomb on the Pushpak Express, they got desperate. They managed to get into the last coach of the Bhopal-Ujjain train that was about to leave the station, left the bag filled with explosives and got off”, sources said. The explosion left 10 persons injured.
From the question of the arrested men, the NIA has learnt that the four — Saifullah included — met each other in December 2015 and two months later, in February 2016, they decided to form a group in the name of jihad. “They rented a room in Lucknow where they gave themselves “code” names — Jiya Abu Ibrahim for Atif; Jafar Abu Ismail for Danish; Ali Abu Makaiel for Saifullah; and, Hamza Abu Waqas for Husain,” sources said.
Syed Mir Husain told his interrogators that they used the code names while interacting with each other, and also with the intention of hiding their original identities. “Saifullah had even made a fake ID card in the name of Ali,” sources said.
For one year, from February 2016 to February 2017, the four travelled across the country, hoping to cross over into Pakistan from Jammu, Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan; or into Bangladesh, but found it was not as simple as they had imagined.
They also went to Kozhikode in Kerala to explore ways of “migrating to the Caliphate”. While they did not meet with much success, they met several persons who they thought could help them establish contact with the Islamic State, sources said. In July 2016, during Ramzan, Atif became the Ameer of the group and the four took the oath of allegiance to the Islamic State.