Published On : Sat, Jan 23rd, 2016

NIA’s arrests of suspected Islamic State operatives show terror outfit’s growing India footprint

New Delhi/Nagpur: In a major anti-terror swoop across the country ahead of Republic Day, the NIA on Friday took into custody 14 people – suspected to be Islamic State sympathisers and believed to be plotting attacks in different parts of the country. Of the 14 suspects detained, 13 have been arrested, according to a Home Ministry spokesman.

The arrests were made following simultaneous searches and raids conducted at 12 locations in six cities – Bengaluru, Tumkur, Mangaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Lucknow with the support of local police forces. The Maharashtra ATS also conducted raids and searches at two other locations.

NIA named the arrested Muttabir Mustaq Sheikh (33) from Thane district near Mumbai, Mohammad Nafees Khan (24) of Hyderabad, Mohammad Shareef Moinuddin Khan (54) of Hyderabad, Najmul Huda (25) of Mangaluru and Mohammad Afzal (35) of Bengaluru.

These arrests by the NIA are the latest in the ongoing effort by Indian investigative agencies to identify people taken in by IS’s radicalisation – prompted by the rise of Indians joining the terror outfit. The IS doesn’t have a strong on-ground presence in the sub-continent as yet.

In November 2015, a report prepared by the intelligence agencies revealed that the 150 people, mostly from South India, are believed to be attracted to the IS and sympathetic to the group’s activities.

Over the past couple of years, the IS – despite having no presence in the Indian subcontinent – has acted as a strong luring factor for the youth.

So far, more than 20 Indians are believed to have gone to Islamic State hold areas in Iraq-Syria to fight for the terrorist group. Of them six were killed while one returned home in Mumbai. 30 other Indians, who were radicalised by IS elements, were also prevented from travelling to the conflict zone in the West Asia.

According to a report by Daily Mail, the manhunt for the recruits was launched after monitoring the cyber activities of 14 youth who were inspired by the Islamic State and were in contact with a former member of Indian Mujahideen (IM). The IM operative is also the brother of a slain Indian IS recruit.

Daily Mail also adds that the IM members who fled India after a crackdown, had ended up fighting on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border before joining the IS. These IM members were also said to be in touch with Indians inspired by the terror group, which could play a large part in the radicalisation of IS sympathisers.

Thus, the connection between IM, a terror group that has been responsible for several attacks in India, and the IS will be a cause for concern for Indian authorities.

In fact, among the six Indians, who fought alongside IS and got killed, three were IM terrorists, including Sultan Ajmer Shah and Bada Sajid, who had joined its ranks after being in Pakistan.

Changing face of Islamic terrorism had pointed out, radicalisation of Indian youth into the fold of terror groups has not only emerged as one of the most potential threats, but has also posed a serious challenge for the security agencies.

Among those who are currently fighting for IS are two youths from Kalyan (in the outskirts of Mumbai), an Australia-based Kashmiri, one youth from Telangana, one from Karnataka, one Oman-based Indian and another Singapore-based Indian.

In January 2015, Salman Mohiuddin of Hyderabad was arrested at Hyderabad airport when he was preparing to board a flight to Dubai on way to Syria via Turkey.

In May 2014, four youths from Kalyan township in neighbouring Thane district had gone to Syria to join the IS. One of them, Areeb Majeed, returned and is currently in NIA custody while the whereabouts of the other three were not yet known.

On 15 September 2015, the UAE deported four Indians suspected to have links with IS. The UAE had also sent back in September a 37-year-old woman, Afsha Jabeen alias Nicky Joseph, who was allegedly involving in recruiting youths for terror organisation.

In December, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Pune was reportedly radicalised by her IS contacts abroad and brain-washed to go to Syria. According to the ATS, who interrogated the minor girl, she attracted to the IS ideology after watching a documentary on television and subsequently started regularly monitoring news on Al-Jazeera channel. She then used the internet to get in touch with IS contacts and got in touch with about 200 young persons from different countries. Her interrogation also revealed that she was told to come to Syria for medical education and for further initiation. She is currently undergoing a de-radicalisation programme.

The three Mumbai youth who went missing in the latter half of December were also suspected to be part of IS sympathisers. The three youths were identified as Ayaz Sultan (23), Mohsin Sheikh (26) and Wajid Sheikh (25).