Maulana Syed Anzar Shah, the 51-year-old cleric arrested by the Delhi Police special cell from Bengaluru, allegedly radicalised over 10 suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives who were among those accused of plotting the assassinations of several right-wing leaders in 2012, police sources said.
Shah was operating a website www.ittagullah.com for motivating youths towards jihad and frequently visited the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, among others to deliver provocative speeches.
He himself was inspired by al Qaeda founder chief Osama bin Laden, they said.
Previously associated with LeT, Shah was connected with al Qaeda’s Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) module that was busted in December 2015 by the special cell with the arrest of three AQIS militants, including the module’s India head Mohammad Asif , said police.
This is the fourth arrest in the ongoing operation against AQIS. Those indoctrinated by Shah included Dr Zafar Iqbal Sholapur, Dr Nayeem Siddique, Abdul Hasan who were prime conspirators in the 2012 assassinations plot.
Eleven LeT militants were arrested in August 2012 in connection with the conspiracy and the case was later transferred to National Investigation Agency (NIA) which submitted a chargesheet against 12 of 25 accused for criminal conspiracy and other charges in February 2013, said a special cell officer.
“Interrogation of the arrested LeT operatives had revealed that they were motivated by the provocative speeches delivered by Maulana Syed Anzar Shah, the then imam of Masjid-eNoorani in Bangalore. Shah was not named in the case as investigators did not have sufficient evidence against him. Being the imam, he used to deliver hate speeches during the Jummah Sermons and Bayaans (Friday sermons) intended to motivate young Muslim boys towards Jihad,” said a senior special cell officer.
After the arrest of suspected LeT militants, the officer said, Shah went underground for a few months as his name surfaced as prime motivator and instigator and he feared that NIA officials will arrest him as well in connection with the conspiracy.
During that time Shah even planned to flee to any Gulf country. Shah, the officer said, used his contacts in Gulf countries to obtain Azad (free) Visa.
He had even visited Pakistan a few years ago. Two passports have been recovered from his possession.
About his latest involvements, the officer said, “Shah was acting a motivator and instigator on behest of suspected AQIS militants Mohammad Asif and Abdur Rehman, who was arrested from Cuttack soon after Asif ’s arrest in Delhi last month.
Shah was introduced to Asif by Rehman whom he had met at a religious congregation in Bangalore in 2014-15.”
Shah’s interrogation has revealed that he had played a key role in radicalising Umer Hyderabadi, a resident of Hyderabad, and sending him to al Qaeda’s training camps at Waziristan along the Afghanistan-Pakistan borders with the help of Asif and Rehman. Asif had asked him to act as a provider of logistics support whenever the need arose.
The special cell officials claim they have evidence of communication between Shah, Rehman and another arrested AQIS member Zafar Masood, too, mostly carried out through voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services. The investigators have also traced a money trail connecting Shah and Asif, the official said.