The Indian Mujahideen wants to join hands with the al Qaeda for "joint operations" in India and has even held talks with a senior leader of the dreaded terror outfit, a move that has led to a falling out with the Pakistan's ISI, its patron and handler, HT has learnt.
These revelations come within days of al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri endorsing the right of militants to fight "Indians in Kashmir" in his first specific jihad guidelines.
The modalities of the 'joint venture' were in the final stages when IM leader Yasin Bhatkal and his right-hand man Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi were nabbed in Nepal and later arrested in Bihar on August 29, a counterterror official told HT, requesting anonymity.
"Two options were on the table - either the IM would turn an assisting outfit of Qaeda in India or merge with it to work directly under the command of Zawahiri," the official said.
Trained as a surgeon, 62-year-old Zawahiri, who co-founded the al Qaeda with Osama bin Laden, took over as its leader after bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011.
IM founders Iqbal Bhatkal and his younger brother Riyaz Bhatkal, both hiding in Pakistan, were getting restless with the ISI dictating their operations, Yasin, no relation of the brothers, is believed to have told his interrogators.
"Sometimes the ISI would tell us to immediately plan an operation and on other occasion, it would ask us to lie low," Yasin was quoted as saying by the official.
Some time after March this year, Riyaz with a senior IM member, Mirza Shadab Beg, decided to go to Afghanistan and offer Zawahiri their services, Yasin, who was in touch with Riyaz through various chatting sites, said.
It is believed that the Qaeda chief is hiding in Pakistan, possibly the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Scared of US drones, Zawahiri didn't come out of his hiding but sent a senior associate, who is yet to be identified. The IM men were asked by Zawahiri aide to attack foreigners in India and plan strikes to avenge atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Beg, however, told his ISI handlers about the meeting. "ISI officials were very angry and they picked up Riyaz and Iqbal, their laptops and phones were seized. They were let off with a stern warning," the counterterror official said.
But, it didn't deter IM leaders who were firm on a tie-up with al Qaeda, the official said.