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9 of al-Qaida cell plotting hits held

NEW DELHI/KOLKATA/BAHARAMPUR/KOCHI: National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Saturday busted a “Pakistan-sponsored, al-Qaida module” operating out of West Bengal and Kerala, arresting nine persons for planning to carry out terrorist strikes in India “in the near future” with sophisticated weapons “arranged” by an al-Qaida handler, Hamza, based in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The module, led by Murshid Hasan alias Sofiq hailing from West Bengal but based in Kerala, was at an advanced stage of procuring arms, including automatic rifles and pistols, ammunition and explosives to attack vital installations and execute targeted killings in multiple places, including Delhi-NCR, said an NIA source.

Nine terrorists – Murshid Hasan, Iyakub Biswas & Mosaraf Hossen, all residents of Ernakulam, Kerala; and Najmus Sakib, Abu Sufiyan, Mainul Mondal, Leu Yean Ahmed, Al Mamun Kamal & Atitur Rehman, all residents from Murshidabad, West Bengal — were arrested early on Saturday from Ernakulam and Murshidabad in simultaneous raids conducted by the NIA. All are “highly radicalised” and were getting instructions from foreign handlers, including Pakistan-based al-Qaida operatives on cyberspace. They were actively raising funds and also contributing money for buying arms and ammunition for jihadi activities. Some members were also trying to purchase arms from across the border in Bangladesh, while some like Abu Sufiyan had acquired expertise in IED making.

The module was trying to establish a well-organised al-Qaida network in different parts of India, including the northeast and J&K on the instructions of Pakistan-based operatives of the terrorist group.

Sources told TOI that an important weapons consignment was to be sent by Pakistani handler Hamza via drones to his associate in ‘Thanda Ilaqa’ or Kashmir, where Murshid and few others would take its delivery. However, Covid-19 lockdown upset the plan and the place of delivery was shifted to Delhi. Murshid and his aides were to travel to New Delhi in the next few days for receiving the consignment from Hamza’s associate but the plan was foiled with Saturday’s arrests.

As per a preliminary investigation, the nine arrested accused were motivated by Pakistani-based al-Qaida operatives to undertake attacks at multiple places, including Delhi-NCR. They were about to finalise a deal with Hamza with the receipt of an arms consignment in Delhi, followed by immediate terrorist strikes.

Module head Murshid, as per sources, works as a casual labourer but is inspired by ideology of al-Qaida . He would post jihadi videos on social media to radicalise like-minded youths. Murshid also used encrypted platforms to communicate with handlers based in Pakistan and came in contact with Hamza who further indoctrinated him in Al Qaeda ideology.

Murshid had left for Kerala nearly one and a half years ago and had been working there. “He had last visited (West Bengal) a few months after shifting to Kerala. He regularly sent money. We thought he would come after the lockdown, but he did not,” said his wife Mafroja Bibi. Seven of the nine arrested do small-time jobs, though Atitur Rahman is in second year of graduation and Najmus Sakib is pursuing a degree in computer science.

Mosaraf, a close aide of Murshid, was planning purchase of a weapon from across the border in Bangladesh for Rs 1 lakh. He was also in discussion for purchase and pricing of bullets and 9 mm pistol. “Mosaraf Hossen is a father of two. His daughter studies in an English medium school in Perumbavoor and his son is hardly four years old. Why would anyone suspect that this family-man was a terrorist,” said Abu Bakkar, Mosaraf’s employer.

Mainul Mondal contributed Rs 10,000 during an exercise to raise funds for procurement of arms. He was involved in discussion on purchase of weapons from across the border in Bangladesh.

Leu Yean Ansari had already procured a country-made weapon, which has been recovered. A self-fabricated armour jacket was also recovered from him, “which shows his readiness to indulge in armed confrontation with security forces,” said an NIA officer. “The investigators knocked on our doors at the wee hours. They asked for my brother. Later, they seized our phones and my laptop,” said Ansari’s brother Rizwan. Abu Sufiyan was planning to establish a shed for explosives. During the search at his house, bomb-making materials like pipes, crackers, switches, nut-bolts, apart from literature on assembling home-made bombs, were recovered. Other “incriminating” recoveries during the raids on Saturday comprised digital devices, documents, jihadi literature and sharp weapons

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