The alleged Islamic State module busted with the arrest of four students in Uttarakhand on Tuesday appears to be a smokescreen set up by Pakistan’s ISI to send Indian intelligence agencies on a wild goose chase, police sources said on Thursday.
Investigators found the four men — Akhlaq-ur-Rehman, Mohammad Azim Ushan, Mohammad Osama alias Adil and Mohammad Mehraj — had more information on a module based in Pakistan than any in Syria or Iraq. Their alleged IS handler Shafi Armar was found to have been an Indian Mujahideen man all his life who recently shifted loyalties to the Iraqi and Syrian outfit.
Intelligence officials are trying to determine if various alleged IS modules being discovered in India have origins in Syria and Iraq or are being floated by the ISI in the name of the West Asian group to mislead Indian agencies.
Meanwhile, Delhi Police special cell officials are looking for two suspected militants, belonging to the IM earlier but now associated with the IS, who allegedly radicalised the four students.
The two suspects were local handlers of the arrested students, police confirmed. One belongs to south India, most probably Bhatkal in Karnataka. A special cell officer said a police team had already been sent to Bhatkal to apprehend the man who could be part of the IM’s south India module that could not be fully neutralised in operations after a series of terror strikes between 2005 and 2009.
It is suspected the handler was acting on the instructions of former IM operatives who fled to Pakistan after the 2008 Batla House encounter and later crossed over to Syria after creating their own tanzeem (branch), Ansar-ut-Tawhid-fi-Bilad-al-Hind. The key figures in that group included Sultan Armar, his brother Shafi Armar, Bada Sajid, Mirza Shadab Beig, Shahnawaz Ahmad and Afif Hassan Siddibapa. Some of them, including the Armar brothers, belonged to Bhatkal.
The other local handler is said be from Muzaffarnagar in UP though senior special cell officers refused to comment on identities and exact locations, saying that could hamper the probe.
Police teams are combing locations in Uttarakhand, Delhi and Muzaffarnagar and some places in UP to arrest militants suspected to be planning blasts at shopping malls and vital installations in the NCR, the Har ki Pauri ghat in Haridwar and trains plying between Haridwar and Roorkee.
Akhlaq’s interrogation revealed that on his south Indian handler’s instructions, he visited Delhi in October 2015 and met the second handler in the walled city area. Terror strikes were allegedly planned during the meeting and the handler asked Akhlaq to meet an aide in Muzaffarnagar.
Akhlaq and Mehraj met the Muzaffarnagar contact who gave them Rs 50,000 to execute attacks. They were told to collect flammable material from matchsticks to be used in preparing bombs.