The National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counter terror wing, hopes to crack the ISIS network in the country by interrogating 11 moles taken into custody in Hyderabad on Wednesday. Of the 11, five have been sent to judicial custody till 13 July and their grilling began Saturday as the courts granted permission. The five would be taken to Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Delhi for corroborating evidence.
For the first time, the NIA stumbled on evidence to show that the ISIS had planned a series of big actions in the country, including a Brussels type of open attack on the IT corridors of Hyderabad and Bangalore and also trigger communal violence by planting bombs at places of worship in the old city of Hyderabad from Ramadan in the July first week to Independence Day.
The NIA took these 11 moles into custody in a predawn swoop on Wednesday, but arrested only five of them — Mohammad Ilyas Yazdani (24), who runs an e-governance hub, Mee Seva, at Toli Chowki, his brother Mohammad Ibrahim Ilyas (30), a BTech graduate and a former Amazon employee, Habib Mohammad (32), who runs an Internet hub, Mohammad Irfan, a graduate (mechanical) and Abdulla bin Ahmed, (31), a graduate. With this, the total number of arrests made in the country on charges of plotting ISIS-sponsored violence has risen to 50. Of them, 34, including five from Hyderabad currently, were made by NIA, while the rest were made by the police of states from Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The other six taken into custody in Hyderabad and who are still in NIA’s custody but have not been arrested are: Syed Najmatulla (40), Muzaffer Hussain (29), Mohammed Antulla Rehman (30), Abdul Jilani (32), Ahmed Azahar (29) and Mohammad Arfaz Ahmed (21). These six are suppliers of material like chemicals and other logistics sought by the first five, sources in the NIA told The Sunday Guardian on Thursday. These terror suspects, most of whom are techies and involved with Internet-related businesses, had developed direct contact with dreaded terrorist Shafi Armer, alias Yousfu al Hind, 26, who looks after ISIS’s India operations for the past few months. Shafi is now hiding in Syria and is also in touch with other terror groups working out of Pakistan.
The NIA cracked down on them only after a two-week long surveillance on their activities, both online and offline. The NIA, which kept Telangana police informed of the possible arrest of these youths, had managed to ward off any major protest from Muslim parties like MIM and MBT (Majlis Bachao Tehrik), who normally resist such arrests.
The NIA also assured the arrested youths’ family members who visited the agency’s office in Begumpet on Thursday and explained to them about the role played by the accused to create communal disturbances and terror acts in the country. The NIA is still to decide on arresting the remaining six, but has told their relatives that none would be harmed. The recovery of two 9 mm pistols, gun shooting practices material including target boards, explosives making material like hydrogen peroxide, ammonium nitrate, sulphuric acid, six laptops and dozens of pen-drives and a cash of Rs 15 lakh have led the sleuths to conclude that they planned isolated attacks at some places soon.
The two-week long watch on them revealed that they planned an attack on the Bhagya Lakshmi temple, built inside the premises of the historic Charminar, besides desecrating some places of worship of both Hindus and Muslims to trigger communal riots. The temple inside Charminar is a potential trouble spot as representatives of both religions have fought over the place.
Surveillance on Facebook and other social media accounts of Mohammad Ilyas has revealed that he was taking instructions from Shafi and coordinating activities with others in the city. The amount of chemicals the accused procured was sufficient to make 40-50 bombs capable of killing dozens, sources in the NIA said.
The NIA had arrested 16 ISIS moles in January and February this year and four of them were from Hyderabad. Till now, the focus was to lure Indian youth into the ISIS network to fight in Syria and Iraq, but now it seems to have shifted to fomenting communal violence and weakening economic hubs like IT corridors and big shopping malls, sources in the NIA said.