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Terror arrests 'point at Pakistan' after angry wife leads Indian police to group

Indian police are now hunting for eight more members of the cell, which has been linked to the Indian Mujahideen, an Islamist extremist organisation accused of several major attacks since 2005.

The six men have been linked to the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune last year, where 17 people died.
The six men have been linked to the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune last year, where 17 people died.

NEW DELHI // The capture of six alleged members of a terrorist cell this week has provided further evidence of Pakistani involvement in a series of recent bomb attacks across India.

Indian police are now hunting for eight more members of the cell, which has been linked to the Indian Mujahideen, an Islamist extremist organisation accused of several major attacks since 2005.

The alleged commander of the cell is Muhammad Zarar Siddibapa, also known by the aliases Yasin Bhatkal and Shahrukh, who narrowly escaped arrest when police raided a rented flat in the city of Chennai on Wednesday.

Siddibapa is thought to be a close associate of Iqbal and Riyaz Shahbandri, the two brothers who lead the Indian Mujahideen from their sanctuary in Karachi.

All three hail from the same town of Bhatkal, in the Indian state of Karnataka, and worked closely during the organisation's initial stages in the early 2000s.

Investigators say Siddibapa re-entered India after 2008 to rebuild the group's networks and recruit new members for terrorist attacks.

The six men whose arrest was announced this week - two each from Delhi, Madhubani in Bihar and Chennai in Tamil Nadu - have been linked to three attacks in 2010, including the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune in February which killed 17 people, many of them tourists.

Delhi Police got their initial tip because of a domestic dispute, according to Shishir Gupta, author of a book on the Indian Mujahideen.

"One of the accused, Mohammad Qateel Siddiqui, had a fight with his wife, and she ended up going to the police," said Mr Gupta. "It is significant that human intelligence proved more important than signals intelligence."

Investigators say the men have also been linked to the planting of several bombs outside Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium in April 2010, which injured 12 people, and a drive-by shooting outside the historic Jama Masjid in Delhi the following September, in which two tourists were hurt.

One of those captured, Muhammad Adil, 40, is from Karachi and told investigators he was trained by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based militant organisation.

He is the first Pakistani to be linked to the Indian Mujahideen, and undermines claims from Pakistan that the perpetrators are entirely "home-grown" Indians.

During its heyday between 2005 and 2008, the organisation carried out a terror campaign that left hundreds dead across 10 Indian cities, motivated by anger at the ethnic riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which hundreds of Muslims were killed.

The group was disrupted by a security crackdown in late 2008, when many of its leaders were killed or captured. The rest were thought to have escaped via Bangladesh and Dubai, and ended up in Karachi.

The Indian Mujahideen is also suspected of involvement in two major attacks this year - the triple bombing in Mumbai in July that killed 26 people and the bombing outside the Delhi High Court in September in which 13 died.

"Most of the attacks in 2010 used fairly crude devices," said Mr Gupta. "But the recent attacks have used more sophisticated materials, which signify the involvement of cross-border groups".

The Indian Mujahideen is allegedly part of the "Karachi Project", a programme sponsored by Pakistan's ISI military intelligence agency, which trains Indian militants to carry out attacks in India, according to Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley, who admitted scouting locations for the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

Pakistani militant groups, including the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami, were also involved in the Karachi Project. The relocation of the Indian Mujahideen's leadership to Pakistan marked a new stage in the group's strategy. The group no longer issues emails claiming responsibility - a tactic which is thought to have helped investigators track them down in 2008.

"The old strategy of close-knit cells planning and carrying out these attacks within India is no longer viable," said Ajai Sahni, of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. "The focus now is on survival. The militants are waiting to see what happens in Afghanistan - till then, they just need to stay alive to keep money and recruits coming in."

 

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