THE UTTAR Pradesh Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) said Thursday that it has arrested four persons for allegedly planning “anti-national activities”, following a joint operation involving police in six states. Three of those arrested are from UP, said officials. At least eight others — five from Bijnor and one from Shamli in UP, and two from Mumbra in Mumbai — have been detained for questioning, said officials.
The joint operation comprised police from Maharashtra, Bihar, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, apart from Maharashtra ATS and Delhi Police’s Special Cell.
Officials said the arrests were made on information provided by Delhi’s Special Cell that a group formed recently was arranging arms, ammunition and money to create communal tension in the country.
UP DGP Javeed Ahmad told The Indian Express that the evidence against the four suggested that they were planning “anti-national activities”. “Details of their planning will become clear after interrogation,” he said.
Those arrested were identified as Umar alias Nazim Shamsad Ahmed, the alleged leader; Zeeshan alias Ghazi Baba alias Muzammil; Faizan alias Mufti; and, Ahtesham alias SK alias Pintoo.
According to officials, Nazim from Bijnor, who was allegedly involved in assembling the group and arranging for funds, was arrested from Mumbai, where he was working as a mechanic for a private firm.
Zeeshan, a tailor from Unnao, was also allegedly involved in assembling the group and inciting religious sentiments, and was arrested from Jalandhar in Punjab, they said.
Faiza, a cleric, was allegedly involved in arranging for arms and inciting communal sentiments, and was arrested in Bijnor where he hails from, said officials. Ahtesham, who was allegedly arranging money for the group, was arrested from Narkatia in Bihar, they said.
The UP ATS has filed an FIR against the four at the squad’s police station in Lucknow on a number of charges, including for waging or attempting to wage war against the Indian government.
“Those arrested had planned a terror attack and even identified a target. But the attack could not be executed because the explosives and weapon, which they had already paid for, could not be delivered,” said an UP ATS officer.
“The money was paid to a local resident in Bijnor, who is presently on the run. A sum of Rs 62,000 was paid in two installments to the youth. Ahtesham paid him Rs 40,000 and Umar Rs 22,000,” said the officer.
According to ATS official, the group was formed around six months ago and were in touch with around a dozen people through a social networking site.
“Those detained are being questioned in Noida. We will also start a deradicalisation programme for those who were not involved in any crime and were in touch with arrested persons,” said a police officer.
“The accused will be brought to Lucknow on transit remand. They will be produced at a Lucknow court and the ATS will seek their police custody,” said UP ATS IG, Asim Kumar Arun.
In Mumbai, police sources said that while Nazim was arrested by the UP ATS, two of his roommates were detained by Maharashtra ATS for questioning.
Sources said the module was on the radar of intelligence agencies and could be linked to the Khorasan module of the Islamic State, whose suspected member Mohammed Saifullah was killed in an encounter recently by the UP ATS.
According to sources, Nazim was staying in a rented apartment in Mumbra. “We have taken his roommates into custody to probe if they have any role to play and if they were aware of Ahmed’s activities,” said an officer from the Maharashtra ATS.
Investigators have recovered a few thousand rupees and a some electronic gadgets, including cellphones and SIM cards, from the rented apartment, said sources.
According to sources, Nazim, the self-proclaimed Aamir (chief), was in touch with his handler through an app-based messenger service and was assigned the task of scouting for potential recruits to carry out terror attacks.
“The module consisted of around 10-12 people from Bihar, Jalandhar, UP and Mumbai with Nazim as their head. This self-radicalised module had sworn an oath of allegiance to the outfit that radicalised them. Ahmed was assigned the task of tapping recruits from across various states and planning terror attacks,” said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Nazim used Umar as his alias to operate his social networking handle through which he was in touch with a foreign handler, said the official.
Jalandhar Police Commissioner Praveen Sinha said that Zeeshan, in his early 20s, was the son of a flower-pot maker settled in Kapurthala’s Bholath. Zeeshan was living in the Sant Nagar area of Jalandhar, he said.
“He had come to Punjab a couple of years ago. He had been active on social media and operating a Facebook account by the name of Gazi Baba where he shared radical posts,” he said.
Sinha claimed that local police questioned Zeeshan briefly before he was taken away by UP ATS. “He told us that he had studied in a madrassa in UP and did not have any formal academic qualification,” he said.
(With inputs from ENS, Mumbai & Chandigarh)