A lone gunman suspected to have been inspired by Islamic State terror outfit was shot dead in Lucknow after a 13-hour-long overnight gun-battle in Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh anti-terrorism squad said on Wednesday.
A huge cache of arms and ammunition, besides an IS flag and literature related to the outfit, were recovered from the room where Saifullah alias Saiful, 23, was gunned down in Lucknow’s Kakori area late on Tuesday night.
Though several Indians, mostly from the southern state of Kerala, are suspected to have joined the Islamic State in Syria, it is the first time security forces are linking a home-grown militant to the outfit, which has overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in its quest to establish a caliphate under strict Islamic laws.
In 2015, the IS announced setting up of its unit in the Khorasan province, a region that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and parts of northwestern and western India.
Police said Saifullah was also allegedly the mastermind behind a bomb blast in a train Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday which injured eight people, two of them seriously.
UP police sounded a statewide alert following the twin incidents and the arrest of three suspected accomplices, all from the Uttar Pradesh.
Preliminary investigations suggested that IS had built a network in the state and was being controlled from the house where Saifullah was killed, police said.
UP director general of police Javeed Ahmad ordered raids at guest houses, hotels, railway stations, bus stations, airport and dhabas located on highways. Police have also been asked to detain all suspects for interrogation.
An ATS team arrived at the house in Kakori’s Haji colony following a tip off regarding the of a militant’s presence.
The ATS team surrounded the house when the militant opened firing on them following which a team of commandos trained for such operations was called in to the house adjoining a mosque.
ATS inspector general of police (IGP) Asim Arun, who led the operation, said security forces had asked the suspect to surrender.
“He fired at least 40 rounds of bullet on the team from inside whenever they tried to barge in into the room. The commandos also retaliated,” he said.
Arun said the ATS team lobbed chilli bombs to force out the militant but he continued resisting till the end. He said the ATS’s priority was to catch the militant alive for extracting information on more sleeper modules and activities of the group across the country.
A micro-camera drilled through the roof gave the impression of presence of two people, adding to the confusion. But the commandos then drilled two bigger holes on a wall to get a clear picture, officials said.
Arun said the items seized from the house include at least 650 live cartridges, eight automatic pistols, explosives and two walkie-talkie sets besides the ISIS flag.
He said a team was analysing the recovered items and scanning calls details of the mobile phones found on Saifullah.
Meanwhile, Saifullah’s family has refused to accept his family.
Questions about the encounter
Rihai Manch, an advocacy group that takes up cases of minority members wrongfully arrested in terror cases, has, however, cast doubts on the Lucknow encounter and has described it as a tactic by the central government to polarise the last phase of election in UP in the BJP’s favour.
It claimed that it had predicted such a scenario ahead of polls to help the BJP.
Rihai Manch’s general secretary Rajeev Yadav said in a statement that the entire story leading to this action was riddled with loopholes, making it a case of political gain.