The men, the NIA alleges, were members of an Islamic State cell that was operating under the command of Muhammad Shafi Armar, the head of a group of Indian jihadists based out of Raqqa in Syria.
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“Evidence from the premises we raided leaves no doubt attacks were imminent,” a senior officer said. “The intelligence services had been monitoring this cell for some time, so we were able to pre-empt what could have been fairly serious bloodshed.”
In addition to the five men so far arrested, the NIA has detained another six men for questioning. NIA sources said investigators were still uncertain what role, if any, these men had in the plot.The cell, NIA sources said, studied online manuals to refine crystals of triacetone triperoxide, a lethal explosive often used by al-Qaeda, by evaporating concentrated hydrogen peroxide, acetone and sulphuric acid. It also stockpiled ammonium nitrate which can be mixed with fuel oil to fabricate improvised explosive devices.
NIA sources said the group’s purchases of fertiliser, made two weeks ago, were key to the agency’s decision to push forward the arrests.
NIA teams, assisted by the Hyderabad Police, recovered two Chinese-made 9 mm pistols, thought to have been sourced from criminals in the city, from houses raided at 11 locations in the city. The NIA also seized Rs 15 lakh in cash, 23 mobiles, three laptops, seven pen drives, two gas stoves, a condenser, a heater timer, a pressure meter, 3 litres of paint, two clocks, masks and two gloves. Forged identity documents and literature on making explosives were also seized.
Mohammed Iliyas Yazdani, 24, a Commerce student who dropped out after his first year at a Hyderabad college and began an agency that provides services in procuring PAN cards and birth certificates, was described by NIA sources as their key suspect.
The other four men held are his brother, software engineer Mohammed Ibrahim Yazdani, 30; computer science graduate Habeeb Mohammed, 32; high-school graduate Mohammed Irfan alias Yaqais Irfan, 27, who finished his matriculation and did fabrication work; and management graduate Abdullah Bin Ahmed Al-Amoodi alias Fahad, 31.
Like other Islamic State cells arrested in recent months, NIA sources said, the Hyderabad group is alleged to have made online contact early this year with Karnataka-born Muhammad Shafi Armar, a fugitive Indian Mujahideen operative now leading a group of Indians fighting alongside the Islamic State.
Armar’s brother, Muhammad Sultan Armar, was killed in combat near the Syrian town of Kobane in March, 2015.
The Armar brothers have figured in multiple Islamic State-related investigations, with police alleging they were responsible for recruiting individuals arrested in Ratlam and Rajasthan in 2015.
Earlier this year, first reported on several of the first Islamic State propaganda videos featuring Indians fighting alongside Armar. The men featured in the video included Hyderabad resident Talmeez-ur-Rahman, who abandoned his studies at a university in Texas to join the Islamic State. Talmeez-ur-Rahman visited Hyderabad for several weeks before leaving for Syria through Turkey, but did not inform his family of his presence.
The Yazdani brothers, police sources said, first met other members of the cell in 2014 when they attended meetings organised by the Islamist cleric Abdul Sami Qasmi — a preacher who has been in prison since January 2016, when he was arrested by the NIA in connection with an investigation into the arrests of 23 members of a nationwide Islamic State network.
NIA sources said they are also exploring if any of the 11 men had met the Islamic State’s Talmeez-ur-Rahman, who is also believed to have attended religious lectures organised by Abdul Sami Qasmi.