The arrest of five young men from Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh has delivered a body blow to the Indian Mujahideen (IM), the shadowy outfit said to be behind 17 bombings and 632 deaths across the country since 2005 and which had Mumbai in its crosshairs next, the police said on Wednesday.
“All five are part of IM’s thinktank and assisted or participated in all incidents where blasts happened or unexploded bombs were found in the country since 2005,” said Mumbai Crime Branch chief, Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria.
The most recent incidents were the September 13 serial blasts in Delhi that claimed 30 lives. IM is also suspected to be behind the October 29, 2005, serial blasts in Delhi which killed 62, the March 7, 2006, blasts in Varanasi that killed 22 and the May 25, 2007, Hyderabad blasts.
The men — Sadiq Sheikh, Afzal Usmani, Arif Sheikh, Mohammed Zakir Sheikh and Mohammed Ansar Sheikh — are in their twenties or thirties, and come from professions as varied as hotelier to electrician. One was the co-founder of IM, another controlled its finances.
The Crime Branch also learnt that they are those very operatives who had introduced themselves as Pakistanis to perpetrators of the July 11, 2006, serial train blasts and supervised the bombings.
After the train blasts, the police had claimed that a group of local Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists with support from five Pakistanis had planted bombs in seven trains.
“They are the same as the ones shown as one local and one Pakistani planter in the chargesheet. They not only supervised the making of the bombs, but also helped in planting them,” said Maria.
“They are all trained in a hostile country,” he added.
Maria said the Crime Branch has definite proof of finances, training and planning that terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Harkat ul Jehad Islami provided to IM. “We recovered several e-mails that were sent regularly to their handlers in Pakistan,” he said.
They are all from Azamgarh district in UP and had been staying in safe houses at Cheetah Camp in Mumbai’s eastern localities of Chembur, Kurla and Nehru Nagar and Bhiwandi in neighbouring Thane district.
Based on preliminary investigations, police said it was Sadiq, Atiq — who was killed in an encounter with the Delhi police — and one yet to be arrested person who were controlling the activities of IM. “Sadiq was the one who would plan and decide the place, while Atiq would take instructions from Sadiq,” said Maria.
Their net of terror was spread wide. One of the group’s members, Afzal, was also involved in planting the car bomb outside the civil hospital in Ahmedabad on July 26 this year, which killed 32 persons.
Arif is the group’s expert bomb maker involved in the Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi and last year’s Hyderabad blasts. He also provided the know-how to the 13 persons involved in the Mumbai train bombings.
Claiming to have neutralised IM’s “core group”, Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Ghafoor said the city was the group’s next target. “We have no doubt, Mumbai was the next target. We still do not know when but they were fully prepared,” he said.