Transcripts of Internet chats between Indian Mujahideen members in Pakistan and India have revealed that a top operative, who allegedly heads a new terror outfit across the border now, faced a peculiar career choice over a year ago: join the jihadists in Syria, go to Afghanistan and fight for al-Qaeda, or move to Nepal and mastermind terror hits from there.
Abdul Khader Sultan Armar, 39, a native of Bhatkal in Karnataka, finally decided to stay on in Pakistan. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which unearthed these chats, has now identified him as Maulana Abdul Rehman al-Nadwi al-Hindi, a cleric and leader of Ansar ul-Tawhid ul-Hind based in Pakistan’s northwest region, who last week took an oath of allegiance online to Islamic State’s self-proclaimed ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The transcripts of chats between Sultan Armar, his brother Shafi Armar, key IM founder Riyaz Bhatkal, Yasin Bhatkal and Asadullah Akhtar between November 2012 and August 2013 also reveal evidence of a power tussle, and that Armar and others had begun to explore the possibility of breaking away from the Bhatkal brothers to forge new alliances.
The chats were recovered by the NIA with the assistance of cyber experts and chat service providers based in the US and UK.
The transcripts show that Sultan Armar, then an ordinary Pakistan-based member of the IM working under the leadership of Riyaz Bhatkal, communicated frequently with the Nepal-based Ahmed Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal, who was arrested on August 29, 2013.
Sultan used the chat id ‘email@example.com’ to converse with Yasin, who responded via ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, from July 22, 2013, to August 26, 2013. Sultan discussed interest in moving away from the IM to al-Qaeda.
Sultan also featured in chats between Yasin (email@example.com) and Afeef Jilani alias Afeef Mota (muthumama80yahoo.com), a Bhatkal man based in Pakistan and linked to the IM, and between Yasin (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) and Riyaz Bhatkal (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).
In a chat on May 11, 2013, Riyaz told Yasin that Sultan was keen to fight in Syria. Eleven days later, Afeef Mota informed Yasin that Sultan had asked Riyaz to send him to Afghanistan “to work with al-Qaeda”.
Afeef also mentioned in the May 22 chat with Yasin that a demand had been placed before Riyaz to declare Sultan the new leader of the outfit instead of Iqbal Bhatkal. Sultan intervened in the chat and tells Yasin that he had only asked for a meeting to pick a new leader.
Subsequently, on June 2, Afeef during a chat with Yasin stated that the Armar brothers Sultan and Shafi were keen to join Yasin in Nepal to help carry out operations in India, since their travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda was being delayed.
According to the transcripts, the IM’s Bhatkal group — headed by Sultan and Afeef Mota — and the Azamgarh group featuring Mirza Shadab Beg and others finally broke away from Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal to ally with al-Qaeda in July 2013.
On July 17, 2013, two members of the Azamgarh group Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi (firstname.lastname@example.org), then in Nepal, and Mirza Shadab Beg (email@example.com), then in Pakistan, revealed in a chat that the group had broken away from the Bhatkal brothers to ally with al-Qaeda. Beg told Haddi his group had a new ‘zmndr’ (leader) from ‘bng’ (West Bengal).
The next day, Beg told Haddi they had members of five groups with them and all were in direct contact with “upar’’ (al-Qaeda) for orders.
“Yahan par hum log 5 alag alag state se hain jo ek saath ikhattay hue hain… sab se pahla yeh ki hum log drct (direct) upar se jud gaye,” Beg stated in the chat with Haddi.
The IM break-up appeared to have happened despite Riyaz telling Yasin in a chat on May 11, 2013, that the outfit would at some point operate under al-Qaeda. In a chat with Yasin on June 29, 2013, he said that he would need 8-12 months to merge the IM with al-Qaeda.
IM members like Beg, however, expressed doubts over Riyaz’s intentions in the chats.
The Bhatkal group in the IM in Pakistan is now believed to be split in two, with Sultan and associates swearing allegiance to the Islamic State. The Azamgarh group is linked to al-Qaeda.
The chat transcripts of the IM members, running upto 30.8 MB, were obtained by the NIA following the arrests of Yasin and Asadullah Akhtar on August 29, 2013, on the Indo-Nepal border. “New chat addresses were exchanged through encrypted files or by statements in secret coded language, understandable only by the operatives,’’ the NIA stated in a chargesheet filed this year in connection with the IM’s activities in India.