The National Investigation Agency (NIA) detained 14 suspected Islamic State (IS) sympathisers on Friday including six in Karnataka as part of a multi-location crackdown amid heightened security measures ahead of Republic Day celebrations.
The action comes in the wake of a threat letter to the French consulate in Bengaluru, warning against President Francois Hollande’s presence at the celebrations on January 26 in New Delhi where he will be the chief guest.
“The NIA has detained some people at several locations,” a senior government official said, confirming that more than a dozen people were being interrogated by the NIA and intelligence agencies. “We cannot say anything more at this stage.”
Sources said the crackdown covered Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana. There were unconfirmed reports that two suspects had also been picked up in Uttar Pradesh.
Some of the 14 suspects are reported to be among 150-odd people identified as IS sympathisers who have been on the radar of the security establishment for weeks and months.
The NIA picked them up for questioning after intelligence indicated they were trying to secure arms and ammunition. Five of the 14 were arrested which also led to explosive material being recovered.
Investigators are analysing laptops and phones of the nine others to establish their involvement. All of the suspects are expected to be brought to Delhi.
Sources said the NIA told the home ministry that Muttabir Mushtaq Sheikh, who is among those arrested and believed to be the leader of the group, recently received funds worth Rs 6 lakh.
The suspects were reportedly in touch with the Indian Mujahideen’s Shafi Armar.
According to the intelligence establishment, 23 people may have already slipped out of the country to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria. Six of them have reportedly died.
The crackdown also followed Islamic State’s claim that militants in Kashmir have pledged allegiance to the group which has provided it a “big opportunity” to expand its so-called “caliphate” to the area.
The home ministry, which is coordinating the operations against IS, has had two meetings of 12 states to discuss threat from the outfit in the last six months.
The first meeting was in August 2015 and the second was last Saturday when home minister Rajnath Singh had noted that the group had got extremely limited traction in India and counted traditions and family values as the factors that would help “triumph over this evil”.
Singh had, however, cautioned against the security establishment letting its guard down and asked officers to keep up vigil.