Mohammed Azarudeen being produced before the NIA special court in Kochi on Thursday. Photo Credit: PTI
(Hindu) Zahran Hashim, the Sri Lankan mastermind of the 21 April Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, has emerged as a common link in at least three Islamic State (IS) related cases, including the latest IS module busted in Coimbatore, an National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe has revealed.
An NIA official said there were could be "more members" associated with the Coimbatore module, which had links with a similar module in Kerala. The agency had found that Ibrahim Shah, one of the five suspects detained on June 12, was close to Riyas Abubacker of the Kerala module, which had planned to conduct terror attacks there.
"Examinations and searches will continue till the agency identifies all members of the module," said the official.
The NIA said so far no explosives had been during searches at the house and office of Muhammed Azharudheen, the 'Facebook friend' of Zahran Hashim, who was arrested on June 12 in Coimbatore. Five other suspects from the city are still being questioned.
An official said Azharudheen, who ran a travel company, had been under surveillance for several months. He earlier ran a computer graphics shop.
He was produced before the NIA special court in Kochi on Thursday. The five other suspects - Akram Sindhaa, Y. Shiek Hidayathullah, Abubacker M., Sadham Hussain and Ibrahim Shah - were also taken to Kochi.
NIA said the accused were propagating the ideology of the Islamic State and were recruiting vulnerable youth to carry out terrorist attacks in South India, particularly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Hashim, leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath in Sri Lanka was one of the suicide bombers in the Easter attacks. The IS claimed responsibility for the attacks and subsequently released an image of eight suspected bombers, with Hashim seen standing at the centre with the IS flag in the background.
One of the three cases, where the name of Zahran Hashim first emerged, was registered in October 2018, pertaining to a "criminal conspiracy to kill some Hindu leaders of Coimbatore", the NIA said.
"This was the first time we came across Hashim's name. We extracted Hashim's speeches during forensic analysis of the phone of a suspect, Shamsuddin. He told us that he and another accused were deeply influenced by Hashim's videos and were closely following him," said the official.
The FIR registered by NIA then said, "A group of seven persons from different parts of Tamil Nadu formed a terrorist gang with allegiance to IS and had entered into a criminal conspiracy to kill some Hindu leaders of Coimbatore, thereby threatening the communal harmony besides the security and sovereignty of India."
The second case directly involving Hashim is that of Palakkad resident - Riyaz Abubacker, who was arrested 10 days after the Easter attacks for planning to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala. The official said Abubacker also followed Hashim's inflammatory speeches. Abubacker was in regular touch with Ibrahim Shah, one of the suspects in the Coimbatore module, said NIA.
NIA sleuths have collected details of persons who have travelled abroad through Azharudheen's travel agency. "Details of those travelled abroad through the agency and those returned have been collected during the raid at the office," said a source.
However, a person associated with the travel agency claimed that it was offering only Umrah packages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
History of religious extremism
NIA investigations found that Akram Sindhaa was attracted to extremist ideologies a few years ago and was involved in the murder of rationalist H. Farook, a functionary of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam, in 2017.
Farook was hacked to death by a six-member group including Sindhaa in March 2017 allegedly after he shared rationalistic posts in social media platforms. Farook had also posted a photo of his daughter holding a poster which said 'there is no god' following which he was hacked to death.
Sources privy to the investigations said that Sindhaa joined other members of the IS-inspired Coimbatore module after he was granted bail in Farook murder case.
Three booked under UAPA
Coimbatore City Police City police on 13 June registered a case against three persons for propagating IS ideologies in social media platforms and allegedly planning to conduct terror attacks in the city.
Mohammed Hussain from Ukkdam, A. Shajahan from Anbu Nagar and Sheik Safiullah from Karumbukkadai were booked under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, said a release issued by the police.
The release said that they were supporters of Zahran Hashim and praised the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.
The police searched the houses of the trio and seized mobile phones, SIM cards, hard disks, documents of bank accounts, pen drives, memory cards and other incriminating documents.
A senior officer of the city police said that the three suspects were being interrogated and their arrests were not recorded