Authorities issued an alert in Delhi on Friday after the driver of a taxi allegedly hijacked near the scene of a recent terror attack on Punjab’s Pathankot airbase was found murdered, sparking security concerns amid a nationwide crackdown by the NIA on alleged Islamic State militants.
Delhi Police released photos of suspects and vehicle details through their Twitter handle saying the Maruti Alto was hired by three unidentified men on January 20. The driver, Vijay Kumar, was later found dead in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district, officials said.
The alert came amid heightened security across the nation ahead of Republic Day celebrations to be attended in Delhi by French President Francois Hollande as chief guest, months after his country was hit by a series of coordinated terror attacks claimed by the IS.
The National Investigation Agency arrested or detained over a dozen people, including the self-appointed India head of IS, during raids in Karnataka, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra that sources said blew the lid off a sweeping network of the terror group with plans to carry out blasts here.
The alleged chief, or Ameer, 34-year-old Munabeer Mushtaq from Mumbai, is a software engineer and was in touch with a person named Yusuf Al-Hindi, an Indian national suspected to be a former key member of the Indian Mujahideen group and now in the IS-held area along Iraq-Syria border.
“It is believed that Munabeer Mushtaq was meticulously planning to raise a pan-India network of operatives who were attracted to the IS ideology. He was planning to anoint Ameers and their deputies for all states in the country,” said a senior home ministry official. “They had formed a group by the name of ‘Janood-ul-Khalifa-e-Hind’ and acquired explosive material like sulphur, hydrogen peroxide, detonators and wires. The group was trying to get weapons are well.”
NIA sleuths found Rs 20 lakh in Munabeer’s bank account and seized during searches around Rs 3 lakh that he received through hawala transactions. He was unemployed for the last three years.
Bomb-making instructions and other jehadi literature were also unearthed during the raids.
“Since the IS has become the biggest jehadi brand, all radicalised boys are now being lured in its name, even if they earlier belonged to (extremist groups) Students Islamic Movement of India, or IM, or Ansar-ul-Tawhid,” said a senior security official.
Authorities have tightened security across major cities following a flurry of intelligence reports warning that militants could target anything, from busy malls to millions of pilgrims visiting the Ardh Kumbh.
Extra paramilitary forces were deployed in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, where the French consulate on Thursday received a letter warning against its president’s presence at the Republic Day celebrations.
Investigators are probing the source of the letter which said Francoise Hollande should cancel his trip to India beginning Sunday.
Police in Himachal Pradesh, where the vehicle that went missing in Pathankot was registered, said the Alto was not enlisted with any travel agency.
What sent police into a tizzy was the fact that earlier this month terrorists had killed the driver of another vehicle they had hired before attacking the airbase.
“There is no need to panic but we urge people to stay alert. Citizens should inform the police control room if they see any suspicious activity around them,” said deputy commissioner of police Rajan Bhagat said.
Authorities also arrested four men in Uttarakhand this week on suspicion of planning an attack in Delhi. Security officials said the four had been under surveillance for several months after their online activities drew suspicion, including contacts with people in territories in Iraq and Syria controlled by Islamic State.
Police said the men had also been planning strikes in Haridwar, where thousands of devotees are now gathered for the Ardh Kumbh festival.
Goa Police have stepped up security and are investigating a postcard received by the state secretariat in Panaji with a warning to harm Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar.
In Mumbai, police are yet to trace six mysterious paragliders who were seen near the city’s coast on January 13. Authorities said they have taken the incident seriously because of a 2010 intelligence report that the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba had procured 50 paragliders from Europe and was conducting training in Pakistan to launch an aerial attack.
(With inputs from agencies)