In a breakthrough against the Pune ISIS module, the Delhi Police arrested three Islamic State terrorists on Monday. One of them is Mohammad Shahnawaz, also known as Shafi Uzzama, who had a reward of `3 lakh on his head. Shahnawaz was on the most wanted list of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
According to the Delhi Police, the trio had been planning to carry out terror incidents in north India, taking instructions from handlers based abroad.
Addressing a Press briefing, Special Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) HS Dhaliwal, said, “Last month NIA declared award on three persons allegedly involved in blast cases. Among them, Mohammad Shahnawaz, the main accused, has been arrested with his two associates — Mohammad Rizwan Ashraf and Mohammad Arshad Warsi.”
Shahnawaz was arrested from Southeast Delhi’s Jaitpur area on Sunday night. Ashraf and Arshad were nabbed from Lucknow and Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, respectively. All the three suspected terrorists, who are engineers and have expertise in assembling bombs, were produced in a court earlier in the morning and have been sent to seven days of police custody.
While responding to media queries, Dhaliwal said, “Shahnawaz is a mining engineer from Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology, and he had knowledge of blast mechanisms. He hails from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. His wife, Basanti Patel, is converted to Islam and is now known as Mariam. She is currently on the run.”
Dhaliwal added that bomb making literature sent from Pakistan-based handlers and other incriminating materials were recovered from Shahnawaz’s hideouts.
He said initial interrogation revealed that these people conducted elaborate reconnaissance in Western Ghats, southern India, including Hubbali, Dharwad, and Ahmedabad in Gujarat to establish their hideouts.
They wanted to make their base in Western Ghats, the police said. During the investigation, it was revealed that they had been instructed to procure all items they needed locally so that external role in their work is not exposed.
Shahnawaz had managed to escape from the custody of the Pune Police. Last month, the NIA had released pictures of Shahnawaz, who was wanted in the Pune ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) module case.
“The arrests were made following a tipoff from an arrested accused of another ISIS module in Delhi. Elementary plastic tubes, iron pipes, different types of chemicals, timing devices, etc, which could have been used in making explosive devices, were seized from Shahnawaz, along with a pistol and cartridges,” the police alleged.
Dhaliwal said the ongoing crackdown has exposed the pan-India reach of the ISIS module. “Their aim was to target well-known people and inflict maximum casualties,” he said, adding that they have also uncovered the funding trail behind such activities.
Warsi, police said, is also from Jharkhand. He had completed a BTech in Mechanical Engineering from Aligarh University and was pursuing a doctorate from Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. Ashraf holds a BTech in computer science. Originally from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, he had also trained as a cleric.
Earlier this month, the NIA had announced `3 lakh each for information about Shahnawaz and three other terror suspects: Rizwan Abdul Haji Ali, Abdulla Faiyaz Shaikh alias Diaperwala and Talha Liyakat Khan.
Shahnawaz, Abdulla and Rizwan were radicalised into joining the ISIS mission over Telegram app, it is learnt. It is alleged that they were linked to an ISIS module at Pune in Maharashtra.
Initially dismissed as petty thieves, further questioning revealed their association with ISIS as part of a sleeper cell.
Shahnawaz, along with two accomplices named Mohammad Imran Mohammad Yunus Khan and Mohammad Yunus Mohammad Yakub Saki, faced arrest by the Kothrud police in Pune on July 18 after attempting to steal a two-wheeler. While the police were en route to their residence in Kondhwa, Pune, for a search operation,
Shahnawaz made a daring escape by leaping out of the police vehicle. Police uncovered that Khan and Saki, who originally hailed from Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, were purportedly implicated in a different terrorism case registered in Rajasthan.
In this case, explosives were found inside a car back in March 2022. Both Khan and Saki carried a reward of `5 lakh each for information leading to their capture. On July 22, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad assumed control of the investigation. As part of their probe, the ATS detained more individuals, including an IT engineer named Qadir Dastagir Pathan and SN Kazi in Kondhwa.
The agency applied sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Khan, Saki, and the other individuals implicated in the case.
The course of the investigation took a significant twist when Khan and Saki disclosed that Shahnawaz had stored acid in the vicinity of Bopatghat near Kondhwa.
To secure the acid and various chemicals employed in the creation of explosives, the NIA enlisted the help of the Bomb Disposal and Detection Squad. In addition, the ATS seized various other materials and discovered 500 gigabytes (GB) of data on the laptops and mobile phones of the suspects.
According to sources, Abdulla ran a diaper store at Pune that was used to assemble explosive devices. Rizwan Ali is from Delhi. He and his younger brother were arrested in 2018 for alleged ISIS links, but security agencies could not find evidence against them.
He was released after a de-radicalisation programme. He went to Pune again after two years and told his family that he is running a computer business. He married and lived there with his wife. The couple returned to Delhi after Rizwan’s father started keeping unwell. Two months back, he left his home.
The Delhi Police Special Cell is among several agencies working with the NIA to crack down on terror networks across several States.