An inexperienced new group of IM extremists was plotting a series of brazen attacks when they were arrested in Delhi, police say.
By Udayan Namboodiri for Khabar South Asia in New Delhi
Potentially lethal attacks by the Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorist network have been thwarted with the arrests Thursday (October 12th) of three suspected operatives. The bust, carried out by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, is the second of its kind in as many months.
The ineptness of three arrested terror suspects saved Pune from serious casualties during an attack in August, but officials warn that new recruits are being trained and continue to pose a threat. [Punit Paranjpe/Reuters]
Asad Khan, Imran Khan and Syed Feroz, all hailing from Maharashtra state, were allegedly involved in bomb blasts targeting Pune last August, and were plotting a series of brazen attacks in the future – including one against a Buddhist place of pilgrimage.
“These three were IM operatives, all members of a new module. There are four others of this module who are still at large,” Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar told reporters at a news conference. “They have dangerous plans of carrying out more blasts in Delhi, Mumbai and Bodh Gaya.”
Bodh Gaya, believed to be the site where Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment, is one of four major destinations for Buddhist pilgrims, attracting thousands of visitors each year. A terror attack there would have come at a time of heightened religious tensions sparked by the Rohingya crisis in Burma as well as mob attacks against Buddhists in southern Bangladesh.
The Hindu festival month, which begins in the second half of October, had also been singled out for attacks by the group, Kumar indicated. The men were arrested in Delhi, where they had apparently gathered to finalise their plot.
According to police, intelligence provided by an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba “handler” was crucial to busting the cell.
“We were helped in the cracking of this module by Abu Jundal [also known as Abu Hamza], the conspirator of the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai who is now in Delhi Police’s custody after his extradition by Saudi Arabia,” Kumar said. “It was [Jundal] who indoctrinated the members of this module,” Kumar said.
According to Home Secretary R.K. Singh, the potential danger has not been extinguished and there is no room for complacency.
“The threat to the public during the festive season has not passed. What the Delhi Police have revealed (Thursday) is only the tip of the iceberg. This is a bigger conspiracy than we had imagined,” Singh told Khabar South Asia, praising the police for their efforts.
The backgrounds of the three suspects appear to confirm that IM is now recruiting middle class professionals, in contrast to the disgruntled and poorly educated young males who were drawn to the group in the past. Khan is a computer professional, Feroz is a prosperous shop owner and Imran Khan is a school graduate.
In the last week of August, Bangalore Police stumbled upon a big module that included journalists, IT professionals and scientists. To date, 18 men have been arrested from Bangalore, Hubli and Hyderabad. “This Pune module is threatening to be bigger,” Kumar said.
Amateurs with big plans
The blasts linked to the trio show them to be a newly emerging organisation that has not yet become adept at carrying out attacks, police said.
Four bombs went off within a couple of minutes on a busy road during the evening rush hour. But unlike the 2010 German Bakery bombing in Pune, which killed nine people, the August 1st attack caused only minor injuries to one person.
“It was obvious that the people who executed it were not well-experienced. Two of their bombs did not go off. They did not take the muggy monsoon weather into consideration. But we were forewarned that they will return with better training because their determination was very evident in the planning and execution,” Singh said.
IM is widely believed to have assisted Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in carrying out the 2010 attack, and it may be returning the favour by helping to build and train the new cell. According to Kumar, evidence has surfaced of a “definite IM- LeT linkage” through the Pune module.
“The name of Fayyaz Kagzi, a Pakistani LeT operative has come up during the investigation into this case,” Kumar told reporters. “Abu Salem has confirmed that he had a role in the development of this module. Now we are certain that LeT has penetrated IM.”