Five terror suspects, including a woman, with links to the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) were arrested on Wednesday from a rented house in Odisha’s Rourkela city area.
The suspects were arrested after an exchange of fire that lasted three hours between 1 am and 4 am in a thickly populated locality of the steel city, police said. A search of the house yielded three pistols, five guns and 11 rounds of live bullets. The operation was conducted by Odisha police in collaboration with Telangana police and the Intelligence Bureau.
The five arrested people were identified as Zaakir Khan, 32; Amjad Khan, 27; Md Salik, 32; Mehboob Khan, 27; and Mehboob’s mother Nazma Bibi, 55; all from Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh.
The four men, who had allegedly fled from Khandwa jail in 2013, were on the National Investigation Agency’s most wanted list and had a reward of `10 lakh each on their heads.
The terror suspects rented the house claiming to be flower traders, and unsuspecting neighbours said they rarely saw the residents because the house seemed locked all the time. “After we heard sounds of firing, we came to know that some dreaded criminals were in our midst,” said a neighbour.
Odisha director general of police KB Singh said the alleged SIMI operatives were involved in terror activities in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. “They had taken shelter in Rourkela under fictitious names — with bank accounts, PAN cards and other papers under fake names. They were involved in at least 17 criminal cases including terror attacks, murder of policemen and bank robberies across the country,” Singh said.
The police linked the alleged SIMI members with several bank robberies, including one in Sundargarh district of Odisha in September last year, and were investigating their role in several train robberies.
According to reports, the arrested group looted `48 lakh from a State Bank of India branch in Karimnagar district of Telangana last year and killed two policemen while trying to escape. They also killed a policeman in Khandwa.
Salik was involved in a bomb blast in Badaun in Uttar Pradesh last year, according to the police, while several blasts in Chennai, Pune and Roorkee between 2014 and 2015 were also linked to the four arrested people.
The house in Rourkela was one of the many shelters across the country used by the group. “They hardly stayed together and were always on the move. Only Mehboob’s mother was staying constantly in the house. Her role in their terror plans is being investigated,” said a police officer.
Police arrests over the last one year have shed light on Odisha’s growing vulnerability to terrorism.
In January last year, a contractual photographer of the Integrated Test Range of the Defence Research Development Organisation in Balasore district was arrested on charges of spying for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Later, in November last year, Odisha police arrested Subash Ramchandran, a Tamil Nadu resident, for allegedly setting five train compartments on fire at the Puri railway station, and al-Qaeda operative Abdur Rehman was arrested from Cuttack district the next month.