Having tracked, monitored, and intercepted voice and chat communications between members of a suspected terror module on their mobile phones and social media for months, the Counter-Intelligence Cell (CI Cell) of Telangana Police played a big role in helping the Anti-Terrorist Squads of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in busting the group in Indore and Lucknow on Tuesday.
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According to a source in the CI Cell, all module members, including its Lucknow-based leader Mohammed Saifullah, were under electronic surveillance but their recent communications did not reveal any plot to bomb the Bhopal-Ujjain Passenger train on Tuesday.
After the IED went off in the train, the Cell tipped off the DGPs of MP and UP about identities and whereabouts of the alleged terror module members, which led to raids and arrest of several members in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Their leader, Saifullah, was killed in an encounter in Lucknow.
According to the source, the CI Cell had established that these people were radicalised online, and had pledged allegiance to Islamic State’s (IS) Khorasan group. They were allegedly plotting to launch multiple terror attacks.
Telangana Police also said that Saifullah was in touch with a handler based either in Syria or Iraq, and was taking instructions from him. The same handler, they said, was also recruiting youths in Kerala.
Police and NIA sources, however, said it is yet to be ascertained whether the handler is actually in Syria, and whether he has been in touch with any other module busted in India in recent past. According to sources, this handler was directly in touch with Atif Muzaffar, arrested in Pipariya in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday, and had been chatting with him online for at least six months.
The alleged module members first came to notice of intelligence sleuths when they started browsing IS propaganda websites very frequently, and downloaded IS speeches and pamphlets on preparing Improvised Explosive Devices, sources said. Some youths arrested in Kerala, also based on information provided by Telangana Police, had reportedly spoken about this Khorasan module, apparently being put together in UP and MP, with many youths from these states.
In the last few months, the group had allegedly procured weapons and explosives. An official privy to investigation details said, “As of now it appears most of it had been procured with their own money. The explosives found in the Ujjain-bound train have turned out to be potassium chlorate. The accused say they extracted the explosives out of firecrackers.’
Sources in Telangana Police and central agencies said that this module has not yet been found to be connected to any other module with alleged terror links busted in recent past. Its handler also does not appear to be a common handler for other such groups, as was found in some other cases.
Unwilling to divulge details, Rajesh Kumar, DIG of CI Cell, Telangana State Police, said, “The Uttar Pradesh DGP will divulge all details to the media shortly.”
An NIA official said investigations would try to find out whether this group had any link with some UP men arrested for alleged IS activity in the past. Last year, the NIA had arrested one Khalid Rizwan, from Kushinagar, as part of its nationwide crackdown on alleged IS modules that resulted in the arrest of more than 20 people. “Three IS suspects from UP are in jail at present. One would have to see if there are any online links between the group and these people,” the official said.
Telangana Police had in the past assisted the NIA in uncovering alleged IS networks, and the central agency had busted many alleged sleeper cells and modules on information from.
Last October, the CI Cell decoded messages exchanged between six young men in Kerala who were recruited by an IS handler to plot terror attacks.
In June last year, Telangana Police’s inputs had helped NIA bust a terror module that had allegedly pledged allegiance to IS and was preparing to attack police stations and vital installations in Hyderabad. More than 30 people, who, according to security agencies, were trying to go to Syria or Iraq to join the IS, have also been arrested from various airports on Telangana Police’s tip-offs.