Indian counter-terror experts are engaged in confirming whether Islamic State fighter Abu Abdullah Al Hindi, who was apparently killed near the Syria-Turkey border earlier this month, was former top operative of the banned Indian Mujahideen (IM) Dr Shahnawaz Alam.
Azamgarh-born Alam is on the list of those accused in the 2008 Delhi serial blasts. Five blasts had rocked the Capital in deadly succession on September 13, 2008, leaving 30 dead. The police probe into the blasts led to the infamous Batla House encounter six days later.
Alam, a 37-year-old from Sanjarpur village in Azamgarh, was trained in the use of arms and explosives at a Lashkar-e-Taiba facility in 2003. He was involved in planting improvised explosive devices under the leadership of deceased Atif Ameen at Varanasi’s Dashaswamedh Ghat in February 2005, Mumbai local trains (July 2006) and different locations in Delhi in September 2008, resulting in scores of casualties. He crossed over to Pakistan in 2008 and was trained by the ISI in Karachi in December 2009, according to an Indian dossier presented to Pakistan in February 2010.
Under his leadership, the IM’s Azamgarh module broke away from the Bhatkal brothers, founders of IM, over lifestyle differences. The Azamgarh boys together formed Ansar ul Tauhid (AuT) in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in November 2013 and surfaced in 2014 on the sixth anniversary of the Batla House encounter.
The group swore allegiance to IS in October 2014, the audio recording of which has now become the centerpiece of the Indian effort to track Alam’s trail of terror.
Three Indian-origin terrorists — Abdul Rehman al Nadvi al Hindi alias Sultan Armar Bhatkal of AuT, Shaheem Tanki of Kalyan and Abu Abdullah al Hindi — were apparently killed in fighting with other IS jihadis in Syria’s Kobane region in late February and the first week of March. “We have information of eight other Indian-origin jihadis fighting in Syria. The deaths of the three have figured in tweets from pro-IS handles with the posted photograph of Sultan Armar, the cleric who has motivated Indian youth from Bhatkal to jihad since 2008,” said a counter-terror operative.
After pledging allegiance to IS, the members of AuT moved to Syria to join Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s jihadis. The AuT group comprises Alam, Khalid, Abu Rashid, Abu Rashid Sultan, Chota Sajjid, Afeef, Shafi Armar and Saleem Ishaki. IM founder Amir Raza Khan is also part of this group. Alam and Amir Raza Khan have married two sisters from the Rohingya region of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
IM co-founders Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal along with Mohsin Chaudhary and Abu Farhan from Pune have now moved to Lahore from Karachi and are said to be under the protection of Pakistani agencies.