The Delhi Police have arrested three men they say are suspected of having set up an Islamic State-inspired jihadist group plotting to carry out bomb strikes to avenge the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar, and anti-Muslim violence elsewhere in the country, police and intelligence sources have told The Indian Express. Ten other men have been detained for questioning.
Even though the Intelligence Bureau had been monitoring the cell for over a year, a senior police officer said, the arrests had to be moved forward on Tuesday night, after alleged cell member Muhammad Sajid suffered injuries in what investigators believe to have been a bomb-making experiment gone wrong.
Arvind Deep, the Special Commissioner of Police in charge of the Delhi Police’s counter-terrorism Special Cell, said an improvised explosive device had been recovered from the men.
Police sources identified the men as Sajid, a 21-year-old resident of Delhi’s Bhajanpura area who worked at a local tailor’s shop, his associate Sameer Ahmad, and Shakir Ansari, a former seminary student from the Uttar Pradesh town of Deoband.
Bhajanpura residents who spoke to The Indian Express described Sajid as religious, but said they were surprised by police claims that he was linked to terrorism. Sajid, one said, dropped out of Class III, and had started working soon afterwards.
The three men, sources in the investigation said, had met in 2014 at religious meetings held by Abdul Sami Qasmi — a preacher who has been in prison since January, 2015, when he was arrested by the NIA in connection with an investigation into a separate IS-affiliated cell.
In 2015, investigators allege, Sajid phoned a number for the Jaish-e-Muhammad in Pakistan which was posted online on its website, Rangonoor. He was then put in contact with a cyber-entity code-named ‘Talha’, with whom there were several Facebook and Telegram conversations on how the men could set up a jihadist cell in India.
Early last year, the police claim, Sajid even sent Talha a scanned copy of Ansari’s passport, but then dropped plans for him to travel to a Jaish training camp in Pakistan.
Following discussions between group members, and online conversations on jihadist fora, the group was then drawn to calls by both the IS and al-Qaeda to set up independent jihadist groups across the world, investigators allege. The men are claimed to have downloaded a bomb-making manual from the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire.
The arrests in Delhi are the latest in a series of arrests of alleged autonomous jihadist groups. The last series of arrests, involving several men from across the country, was carried out by the NIA earlier this year.
Intelligence Bureau officials estimate the IS’s Indian cell, led by one-time Indian Mujahideen operative Muhammad Shafi Armar, has engaged more than 700 people in conversation, and raised more than 20 identified volunteers.
Meanwhile, the Delhi sessions court Wednesday sent the three arrested men to 10-day police custody for interrogation.
The special cell, which had sought 15-day police custody for the three “suspected Jaish-e-Muhammad operatives”, told Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh that the agency has recovered an IED from Sajid who, the agency suspects, heads the module.
The cell told the court that the three men have been booked under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and criminal conspiracy under the IPC. The special cell also told the court that they have recovered “literature” from Shakir and Sameer.
However, the defence counsel for the three accused, advocate M S Khan, opposed the plea for 15-day custody on the ground that the IED had already been recovered, and that further custody of the accused was not required.
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