In an audacious counter-intelligence operation, unprecedented in its scale and scope, Indian security agencies infiltrated an Islamic State ring to thwart a bid by an IS Afghan suicide bomber to strike New Delhi.
The operation included the Indian “plant” supplying the IS operative with explosives — without triggers — and even arranging for his accommodation in the capital.
The arrest by Indian agencies happened in New Delhi around September 2017 but it’s only now that top diplomatic and intelligence sources have confirmed details to The Indian Express.
The IS operative, who lived in New Delhi in the guise of an engineering student, was flown to Afghanistan days after he was arrested and is, at present, understood to be in custody at a key US military base in Afghanistan.
In fact, so “high value” is this Afghan bomber that his confessions and interrogations are seen as one of the possible reasons behind the string of successes achieved recently by US forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan, sources said.
Sources have told The Indian Express that an 18-month-long surveillance operation in Afghanistan, Dubai and New Delhi yielded intelligence that a group of 12 IS operatives were being sent after training in Pakistan to carry out bomb attacks in the region.
One of them, an Afghan national in his mid-twenties and the “son of a wealthy businessman,” was given New Delhi as his target for a suicide attack.
Sources said that as part of his undercover “mission,” he got himself admitted to a private engineering college on the outskirts of the capital, along the Delhi-Faridabad highway. Initially, he lived in the college hostel but, sources said, he subsequently rented a ground-floor apartment in Lajpat Nagar,
As many as 80 Indian investigators and security personnel had to be deployed for “physical surveillance” during the peak one-month period of the operation to ensure that the target was never out of sight and did not slip away, sources said.
There is an indication, from his questioning, that the suicide bomb attack in the Manchester arena in UK on May 22, 2017, killing 23 people, could have been triggered by a member of the same IS group which included the Afghan picked up from New Delhi.
Sources said that the type of explosives he demanded in New Delhi were similar to the ones used in the Manchester blast.
There is information that the IS operation began with sleuths of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) tracking a suspicious transfer of $50,000 by individuals under their watch from Dubai to a location in Afghanistan and then linking the dots with intelligence shared by US about New Delhi being a possible target in the near future for an IS strike.
It was at this stage that a decision was taken to infiltrate the IS circuit. With a flow of telephone intercepts giving away details of the arrival of the bomber in New Delhi, a suitable candidate was picked for befriending the Afghan.
Sources said that the Indian operative was the one who located the Lajpat Nagar safehouse for the Afghan, though initially a third-floor place was arranged, this was later changed to a ground-floor apartment.
This Indian agent was finally tasked by the IS to arrange for explosives for the New Delhi strike at which stage, a multi-agency surveillance ring was thrown around the Lajpat Nagar house, sources said.
It is now known that the IS saboteur visited the Delhi Airport, Ansal Plaza mall, a Vasant Kunj mall as well as the South Extension market, may be among other places in New Delhi, as reconnaissance for the strike.
Constant feedback was being given by him to his handlers in Afghanistan.
Another twist to the dramatic early-morning swoop was the fact that the consignment of explosives and improvised devices was delivered to the Afghan by the Indian without any triggers as the ultimate subterfuge.
Those in the know of the ensuing interrogation of the IS bomber picked up from New Delhi say that besides Indian counter-intelligence experts, US agents also joined the interrogation. Sources said his confessions have helped US forces strike at many Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.