Suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives had met two people in Muzaffarnagar, Delhi Police said on Tuesday, but denied the residents were victims of the recent communal violence in the region.
The cops are, however, still looking for LeT operatives who tried to recruit new cadres in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district in the wake of the riots, Delhi Police's special commissioner (special cell) SN Srivastava added.
He told the media the suspected operatives, Mohd Shahid and Mohd Rashid, who were recently arrested from Mewat region of Haryana, had met Liyakat and Zameer, residents of Muzaffarnagar, in connection with mobilising funds for construction of a mosque.
The special cell had last month claimed to have busted a terror module of Lashkar-e-Taiba which was in an "advanced stage" of planning a militant strike in Delhi with the arrest of these two suspected LeT operatives.
Rahul Gandhi had courted a controversy during election campaign in October last year when he had claimed intelligence officials had told him that Pakistan’s ISI was trying to recruit disgruntled youth from among the victims of Muzaffarnagar riots.
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Srivastava said the police had arrested Mohd Shahid and Mohd Rashid after tracking those they were in contact with.
"We came to know that they were in contact with some people living in Muzaffarnagar region. When we asked them about this, they told us that Rashid along with another man, whom I cannot name right now, had gone to Deoband.
"On their way back, they telephoned one Liyakat who was already known to them and told him that they will stay at his house in the night and take a train to Palwal, Mewat in the morning," he said.
Liaqat took the two to Thana Bahawan railway station in Muzzafarnagar district, where he arranged a meeting with Zameer, another resident of Muzzafarnagar, and left the place.
Liaqat and Zameer belong to Muzzafarnagar, but they were not riot victims, police said. The September violence in Muzaffarnagar had claimed over 60 lives.
Later, the duo interacted with Zameer, saying that they want to kidnap people to collect money for the construction of a mosque in the area. Zameer, however, backed off.
After that, Rashid and the other person went back to Mewat through Palwal.
Police later caught Liaqat and Zameer and their statements were recorded.
The search is now on for LeT operatives Abdul Subhan, Aftab Ansari, Aamir Raza Khan, and Jawed Baluchi, police said.
Congress, BJP spar
The Congress party said the Express report proves Rahul Gandhi's assertions that Pakistan's ISI was working to lure the riot-hit right while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asked the government to explain facts of the "LeT operation".
"If this information is correct that some people from LeT had gone to relief camps to lure refugees, then it proves right what Gandhi had said," Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh told reporters.
During a rally in October last year, the Congress vice-president had claimed an intelligence officer had told him that Pakistan's spy agency Inter Services Intelligence was trying to recruit disgruntled youths.
His claim was criticised by the BJP, some Muslim groups and victims living in the relief camps who accused him of trying to politicise the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Read: Youth in Muzaffarnagar contacted by ISI, but officials deny Rahul's claims
More than 40,000 were forced to leave their villages and live in relief camps.
Targeting the BJP, Union minister Manish Tewari said, "Those who believe in the politics of polarisation, who believe in the politics of communalism should become cognizant of the damage which they do to the idea of India".
However, BJP demanded that the home minister explain the "facts", terming the present situation as "unacceptable",
"This shows how well-entrenched the network of LeT and other such outfits supported and funded by Pakistan are in UP...What action they have taken on their own. It is a national issue. Nobody is nabbed, nobody is traced. This is unacceptable," party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
Now the UP government and the Centre must answer, he demanded, adding the BJP had sought to know from the Centre as to what action it had taken on its own after Gandhi had spoken about it.
Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said such attempts by terror outfits was not a new thing.
"Pakistan's ISI and India's bhajpayees (BJP) rejoice whenever there is communal trouble in India. ISI wants money from Muslims countries in the name of helping Muslims of India. So they earn money. Whenever there is communal disturbance, BJP gets vote," said Ahmed.
Both ISI and BJP are on the same page as far as creating communal trouble in this country is concerned, he alleged.
Though Rahul's remark on Muzaffarnagar riot victims was criticised, it was a true statement, he said.
BJP president Rajnath Singh said the whole issue should be thoroughly probed with all the seriousness the matter deserves.
Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal said that Muzaffarnagar had become a "political pawn" for many parties but added that he was not aware of the facts of the case.
Delhi Police should do what it should but let there be no politics over it, he said.
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According to the Express report, two imams from Haryana had allegedly visited the relief camps where the victims of Muzaffarnagar communal riots are living and offered money to lure cadres.
Some of the men, who were allegedly approached by the terror group's operatives, refused their offer and informed the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.
The riot victims, who have turned witnesses against the two imams from Mewat, have recorded their statements on Monday before a magistrate, according to the report.
They are believed to have told investigators that the two clerics allegedly made numerous visits along with a senior LeT operative, who is currently on the run.
"They allegedly tried to radicalise the victims by encouraging them to be loyal to their religion and join hands with the Lashkar operatives for a good cause. They were apparently promised a good lifestyle and money for their families, but the victims refused and chose to approach the police," said the report.
The report said that the victims had claimed the LeT men also approached other displaced people living near the camps. But they have refused to come forward and give a statement in court.
The Special Cell arrested the two imams from their houses in Choti Mewli in Mewat and were accused of being Lashkar members plotting a terror attack on the capital.