The four suspected Indian Mujahideen operatives, who were arrested from Rajasthan in March 2014, had allegedly told interrogators that they regularly heard speeches of televangelist Zakir Naik, who is facing flak for allegedly inspiring two of the four terrorists involved in the attack on the Holey Artisan Café in Dhaka.
The IM suspects had also named another ideologue – Anwar al-Awlaki – during their interrogation, sources in the state anti-terrorist squad (ATS) said on Monday.
The special cell of Delhi police arrested these men identified as as Waqas alias Zia-ur-Rehman, Waqar Azhar, Mohammad Mahroof and Saquib Ansari. Waqas was arrested from the Ajmer railway station while coming from Mumbai. He disclosed the hideout of his other associates whom ATS arrested from Jaipur and Jodhpur. Two of them were engineering students and the third was a computer expert.
“During their interrogation (in 2014), one of them was found to have videos of Zakir Naik and others said they heard his speeches regularly,” said a top ATS officer.
Zakir Naik has been under the scanner of Indian law enforcement authorities ever since Bangladesh asked for an investigation into his speeches and his writing, following a claim that a terrorist involved in the recent terror attack in Dhaka was his follower who was inspired by his speeches.
On July 10, the Bangladesh government banned the broadcasting of controversial preacher Zakir Naik’s Peace TV channel, run by his Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation. India too had banned the channel.
Britain and Canada have banned Naik from visiting their countries several years ago while Malaysia banned his lectures fearing that they could instigate inter-racial tensions.
According to a top ATS officer the IM operatives had also named Anwar al-Awlaki, an American who was a Yemeni imam and an Islamic lecturer. The US government officials allege that he was a senior recruiter and motivator and was involved in planning terrorist operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda. Anwar became the first United States citizen to be targeted and killed in a United States drone strike.
“Mahroof had videos of Awlaki’s speeches,” the officer said.
According to the ATS sleuths, the IM operatives had planned to carry out attacks in India during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Some reports suggested that they had plans to target political leaders.
During interrogation, Waqas told police that the purpose of his visit to Ajmer was to coordinate and oversee the preparations of the three terrorists of the Rajasthan module for carrying out a spectacular terror strike.
Police said they had seized a huge quantity of explosives, including detonators and boxes of nails, from the men. The four arrests led to more arrests in Delhi and Rajasthan.