The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday detained a Facebook friend of Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, along with five others in Coimbatore.
NIA alleged that the prime suspect Mohammed Azharudheen, 32, and his associates were “propagating the ideology of proscribed terrorist organization Islamic State on social media with the intention of recruiting vulnerable youth for carrying out terrorist attacks in South India especially in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.”
NIA claimed Azharudheen was highly radicalised and was running a Facebook page called “Khilafah GFX.”
“We do not know if Azharudheen’s acquaintance with Hashim was only limited to interactions on Facebook or went beyond it. We are questioning him but have named him and five others in the FIR. His online activities were under watch for few months now,” said an NIA official. The residence and offices of the suspects were searched on Wednesday.
The other suspected members of the module have been identified as Akram Sindhaa, 26, Y. Shiek Hidayathullah, 38, Abubacker M., 29, Sadham Hussain, 26, and Ibrahim Shah, 28, all residents of Coimbatore.
The NIA conducted searches at seven places in Coimbatore, including the houses of the accused. Fourteen mobile phones, 29 SIM cards, 10 pen drives, three laptops, six memory cards, four hard disk drives, one internet dongle and 13 CDs/DVDs were seized during the raids. Apart from these, one dagger, one electric baton, 300 air-gun pellets, a “large number of incriminating documents” and some pamphlets were also seized from the houses and work places of the accused, the agency said.
Agency sleuths also interrogated the accused during the raids that lasted for several hours.
“The agency has to interrogate the accused in detail besides examining the data from their devices and social media to ascertain facts regarding their activities,” said an official. The accused will be summoned and interrogated further in the coming days.
NIA said Ibrahim Shah has been a close associate of another accused, Riyas Abubacker, who was arrested in 2016 and was part of a module that had planned to conduct terrorist attacks in Kerala, on behalf of the IS.
An official said Azharudheen designed Islamic State inspired logos that were quite popular on social media platforms. His Facebook page, however, said, “Khilafah Graphics — a page for Islamic posters” with the typical black and white IS flag in the background.
NIA said the accused had shared “radical contents attributed to Zahran Hashim, over the social media,” adding that all of them used to follow Hashim’s videos. The module often conducted secret meetings and allegedly attempted to increase its strength by adding new recruits, sources said.
The case was registered on May 30 when an NIA team was in Colombo to probe two IS related cases registered by the agency in 2015 and 2018, with links to the April 21 Easter terror attack that killed more than 250 people.
As reported earlier, India has alerted Sri Lankan authorities of a probable attack based on the examination of an IS sympathiser arrested in Tamil Nadu in October 2018.
(with inputs from Wilsom Thomas and R. Akileish)