In the first-ever strike in India by the so-called Islamic State, a module radicalised by the deadly terrorist organisation triggered a low-intensity blast in a train in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday, injuring 10 passengers.
The morning blast on the Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train at Jabri railway station, the first instance of a terror strike by an IS module in India, spurred the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh police to launch coordinated operations in the two states. Eight members of the group were arrested, while UP's anti-terror squad+ was engaged in an operation in Lucknow to capture its leader Saifulllah.
Holed in a house in the Thakurganj area of Lucknow, Saifullah fired at the ATS personnel who tried to arrest him, and an encounter was on at the time of going to press.
Sources in central intelligence agencies as well as MP and UP police confirmed that that the module owes allegiance to IS, but were not clear whether the directive to carry out the attack came from an "online handler" of the international terrorist network currently engaged in a grim battle of survival in Iraq and Syria. IS is known for its federated way of functioning where it encourages jihadis loyal to it to select their targets and hit them.
So far, intelligence agencies had been able to nip terror plots by IS-inspired jihadis before they could be executed.
Sources said all the accused have UP links, and on Tuesday morning, one arrest led to another, before the UP ATS caught up with the gang leader Saifullah.
Sources said three of the accused — Danish, Mir Hussain and Atish Muzaffar — were arrested from Pipariya in MP. Two more, Mohammad Faisal and Mohammad Irfan, who are siblings, were nabbed from Jajmau near Kanpur, while another, Alam, was picked up from Etawah in UP.
Another member, suspected to be the courier of the explosive which went off in the train, was injured in the explosion and was arrested from the spot.
Police want to take Saifullah alive, which led to the hours-long gunbattle. Equipped with night-vision devices, police were preparing for a night-long stand-off, and to foil any escape bid by the two heavily armed terrorists.
The operation was expected to carry through the night as Saifullah, accompanied by another armed member of the module kept firing at the police personnel.
A top intelligence official told TOI that the blast in the passenger train was a "trial run" by the module, which was planning major attacks and had made enough preparations for the same. Intelligence agencies who had been trying to locate module members who radicalised themselves by accessing online IS's jihadi propaganda.
In Lucknow, the encounter began after ATS commandos broke into the room where Saifullah had locked himself up. The police action came after specific inputs from the MP ATS.
Police first lobbed chilli grenades and tear gas shells into the premises to smoke out the occupants. However, Saifullah locked himself inside a room and reportedly opened fire at the commandos.
Police sources said the house where Saifullah was holed up belonged to a resident of Malihabad who was currently in the Gulf.
UP ADG (law and order) Daljeet Chaudhary said police were exercising maximum restraint in order to nab the suspect alive. "The commandos were in the process of entering the room by creating a hole in the concrete roof of the room where the suspect is holed up," he told TOI.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh inquired from UP DGP Javeed Ahmed about the operation.
This is for the first time that an attack has been carried out by IS in India, using the recruits radicalized from within the country. Previously, IS had tried to carry out many attacks in Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, through various modules but all such attempts were foiled.
In last one year, NIA and police of various states have arrested about 60 Indian-origin IS recruits before they could carry out attacks. These men were part of at least 6-7 modules, which couldn't carry attacks.
The NIA, government sources said, will be brought into the Ujjain investigation.