The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday nabbed 16 persons, including a group leader of a newly-traced Islamic State module "Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam" that was allegedly planning attacks in north India, especially Delhi, following raids conducted at 17 places here and in Uttar Pradesh, officials said.
The NIA arrested 10 of the detained persons, including one Mufti Suhail who was leading the group, while it is questioning the rest, Inspector General of Police (NIA) Alok Mittal said.
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A locally made rocket launcher, material for suicide vests and 100 alarm clocks to be used as timers were recovered from the searches across 17 locations in Delhi and Meerut, Amroha and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, said Mittal.
The searches and the arrests, including a 'mufti' from Amroha, come a month before Republic Day celebrations on January 26 when security is heightened across India, particularly in the national capital.
Following the searches, the probe agency rounded up 16 persons of the group 'Harkat ul Harb e Islam', which loosely translates into war for the cause of Islam, officials said.
Five were arrested from Amroha and five from Seelampur and Jafrabad localities in north east Delhi, he said.
The agency said the "highly-radicalised module" was completely self-funded and no criminal antecedent of its members had surfaced so far.
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"The members were in advanced stage of preparation. They were just waiting for the successful assembly of bombs and wanted to hit multiple locations using remote controlled IEDs, Fidayeen attacks using suicide vests and pipe bombs," Mittal told reporters.
Those arrested include the alleged mastermind, 29-year Mohammed Sohail, a 'mufti', or a Muslim legal expert empowered to give rulings on religious matters, from Amroha in western Uttar Pradesh, an engineering student in a private university in Noida and a third year graduation student in humanities as well as two welders, he said.
He added that the agency found a video where Sohail is demonstrating how to complete a bomb circuit.
During the searches, the agency recovered a huge cache of handmade weapons, including a yet to be tested rocket launcher, material for suicide vests, 12 locally made pistols, hundreds of live rounds of bullets, 100 mobiles and 135 SIM cards, he disclosed.
The agency also recovered Rs 7.5 lakh in cash, 100 alarm clocks to be used as timer devices for bombs and 25 kilograms of bomb making ingredients -- potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, sugar paste and sulphur.
Giving details of the initial investigation by the agency, Mittal said the suspects had done a reconnaissance of vital government installations and planned to target political personalities and other important persons.
"The level of preparation showed they were planning to carry out fidayeen attacks in near future," he said.
According to investigations, the module was founded about three, four months ago by Sohail who brought all its members together. They remained in touch through data-based messaging applications WhatsApp and Telegram.
Surveillance of suspected members of the group started after the agency got inputs about their plans.
Seeing their alarming pace of progress, the agency decided to bust the group with help from Delhi Police's Special Cell and Uttar Pradesh Police's Anti-Terrorist Squad.
The NIA believes the module has foreign-based handler(s) but their identity and location is still being probed.
"So far, no criminal record of any of the arrested members of the module has surfaced. It looks like they were self-trained and self-motivated through internet," Mittal said.
The officials refused to comment on media reports quoting other agencies involved in the operation that RSS headquarters and Delhi Police headquarters were also on the hit list.
"They (other agencies) can say whatever they feel like. But being the investigating agency of this case... we cannot make any such claim unless we have some corroborative material to support it," a senior NIA officer said requesting anonymity.
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(With inputs from agencies)