Uttar Pradesh police commandos shot dead early on Wednesday a lone gunman who they said was influenced by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.
The death ended a 13-hour standoff in a crowded locality on the outskirts of Lucknow, which left many questions unanswered and prompted the Centre to censure Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh police for “jumping to conclusions”.
“Officials in both states should have exercised restraint before airing premature comments. We may hand the probe into the Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train blast and subsequent arrests and the encounter to the National Investigation Agency (NIA),” a senior home ministry official said in New Delhi.
Police of both states had claimed to have found IS links to the 23-year-old slain man, Saifullah Khan, and about seven arrested suspects after a low-intensity train explosion in Madhya Pradesh that wounded 10 people on Tuesday morning. They said these men were from an IS module active in India.
Additional director general of police (law and order) Daljit Chawdhary told reporters on Wednesday evening that there was no evidence the suspects had any direct connection with IS, but could be self-radicalised sympathisers of the terrorist group.
“Their head is Atiq Muzaffar, who was arrested in MP. Two laptops recovered from them suggest they were deeply influenced by IS literature they read on the internet,” he said.
“There is no evidence of any outside funding or any external support. They were self-reliant.”
The operation by the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) began at 2pm on Tuesday and ended about 3am the next day. Locals said police had come knocking at the door of Saifullah’s rented room four hours before the ATS team arrived.
The wife of Saifullah’s neighbour, a driver, had earlier in the day dialled 100 to lodge a domestic violence complaint against her husband. In the course of investigating the abuse case, the police questioned Saifullah and took his identity card.
The card and information extracted from suspects arrested in MP for the train blast helped police put two and two together and raid the house to capture Saifullah, who they said refused to surrender and fired at the commandos.
The commandos inserted a micro-camera through a hole drilled on the roof to pinpoint Saifullah’s position. The camera picked up objects that made it appear there was more than one person inside.
ATS inspector general of police Asim Arun, who led the operation, said: “He fired at least 62 rounds whenever the police team tried to barge in. Our commandos shot in retaliation.”
After chilli bombs and teargas shells lobbed inside failed to draw him out, police drilled holes in an iron door of a storeroom behind which Saifullah has hiding. The man was shot through the holes.
The ATS team recovered explosives, materials used in preparing bombs, firearms, cartridges, knives, three passports, six mobile phones, IS flags and literature and a railway route map of India.
Officers said the seized material point to the suspects’ IS links.
Earlier in the day, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan too said in Bhopal that those behind the train bombing had IS links. “We have proof. The explosives discovered have IS markings.”
But the Centre asked police in both states not to draw conclusions until investigations were concluded.
India’s leaders say the IS group does not have influence in the country of more than 1.2 billion people, which has a large but traditionally moderate Muslim population. There have been some reports of Indians going to fight for the group in Iraq and Syria, but the numbers are low relative to the size of the population.
UP director general of police Javeed Ahmad and NIA sleuths visited the slain suspect’s house on Wednesday.
Saifullah’s father Sartaj Khan refused to accept his son’s body, branding him a “traitor”.
Police have made several arrests over the train explosion. Closed-circuit television footage from near the train explosion site helped police identify the suspects.
(With agency inputs)