Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is working towards strengthening the presence of the terrorist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) in India, the interrogation of 14 ISIS suspects who were arrested earlier this week in a nationwide swoop, has revealed.
According to officials in the security establishment, the ISI is channelling its help to the ISIS through the Ansar-ul-Tawhid fi Bilad al-Hind (AuT), headed by Shafi Armar. AuT, an India-specific jihadi outfit, was started in Pakistan by Shafi’s brother Sultan Armar. The Armar brothers originally belonged to Bhatkal in Karnataka. AuT pledged its allegiance to the ISIS in September 2014 and has been recruiting Indians for the ISIS ever since.
According to intelligence sources, AuT is responsible for India specific ISIS propaganda, and has been posting ISIS messages on social media platforms in Bengali, with subtitles in Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Gujarat and English to reach out to an increasing number of Indians. In its messages, it has asked India’s “oppressed” Muslim youths to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in the country.
Shafi is the brother of Sultan Armar, who had broken away from the Indian Mujahideen (IM) to launch the AuT. The 39-year-old Sultan Armar was the first Indian to be killed in the battlefields of Syria, while fighting for the ISIS on 6 March last year.
Officials said that Shafi was working from Pakistan until April last year, after which he went to Syria, with the support of the ISI. The intention was to recruit people for ISIS in India.
One of Shafi’s recruits was the 23-year-old computer engineer from Chennai, Mohammad Nasir, who was trying to enter Syria to join the ISIS, and who is now in police custody in India, after he was arrested by the security agencies in December last year after being deported from Sudan.
“Nasir had moved to Dubai in June 2015 and was working with a firm there. It was in Dubai that he came in contact with Shafi, who helped him plan his travel to Syria to join the ISIS fighters there. It was Shafi who advised Nasir not to attempt to enter Syria via Turkey, but to go through Libya, after which Nasir bought an air ticket to go to Sudan,” an official source said.
The official said that the interrogation of the 14 suspects have revealed that before being arrested by the authorities in December, Nasir was in touch with them and was also relaying Shafi’s messages to them. “They have also told us that Shafi was helped by the ISI in reaching Syria and it was during their interactions with Shafi that he told them how ISI had helped him in getting in touch with the ISIS commanders,” an official said.
According to the officials, the ISIS suspects wanted to set up a training camp in Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, where they planned to give weapons training to youths. “Eight such meetings to discuss the modalities of these training camps were held in Lucknow, Saharanpur, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Tonk and Pune in the past two-three months,” an official said.
Intelligence agencies first got wind of Shafi’s existence when the IM terrorist, Yasin Bhatkal, who was arrested in 2013, told the agencies that Shafi Armar and six others, Anwar Bhatkal, Abdul Khader, Sultan Armar, Hussain Farhan Mohammed, Salim Ishaqi and Afeef Mota were being trained in terrorist activities in the Waziristan region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Since then, Shafi has emerged as the most prolific recruiter of Indians for ISIS and his name has cropped up in all ISIS related cases being probed by the agencies. “We believe that right now he is holed up in Syria and it is very unlikely that he will ever return to India. An Interpol notice was also issued, when his name first came up. He has used different names in the past three years, including Mohammad Atta, Sameer Khan and Yousuf. He is not just recruiting gullible youths, but he is also looking after the logistics for Indians who want to go to Iraq and Syria, like money needed for their travel and visa requirements,” an official said.