23/01/2016 5:10 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

NIA Arrests 20 Terror Suspects, Hints That Indian Mujahideen Is Regrouping As IS

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA via Getty Images
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Investigation Agency’s crackdown on terror suspects in the run-up to this year's Republic Day has revealed that a faction of the banned terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) is rebranding itself in India as the Islamic State (IS).

According to various reports, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday picked up around 20 IS 'sympathisers' in raids conducted across 12 locations in the country, days ahead of the French president Francois Hollande visit to India for Republic Day.

NIA sleuths told Economic Times that those arrested were radicalised online by 29-year-old Mohammad Shafi Armar alias Yousuf, a native of Bhatkal, Karnataka. In 2013, Yousuf had allegedly played a major role in recruiting three engineering students, Mohd Mahruf, Mohd Waqar Azhar and Shaquib Ansari from Rajasthan.

Yousuf reportedly runs Ansar-ul-Tawhid (AuT) which was formed in 2012 by IM militants who fled from India in 2008. His elder brother Moulana Abdul Khader Sultan was killed last year at the Syria-Turkey border fighting for the IS.

Yousuf used a codename Atta Bhatkal. Investigators have identified 18 youths so far who have been recruited by Yousuf using various online platforms. Mudabbir Mushtaq Shaikh, a resident of Mumbra in Kalyan who was described as 'emir' or leader of the group, was among them.

Help from CIA

With a series of arrests made on Friday, the NIA seems to have been trying hard to avert a major security breach, but the credit for the success of this operation should go to the coordinated efforts of Indian and US intelligence agencies.

The NIA was able to zero in on terror modules after it received a tip off from the CIA which keeps a close watch on ISIS in West Asia, the Times of India reported, quoting highly placed sources. CIA monitors hundreds of IP addresses of computers and smartphones used by suspected ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq.

There were several addresses which ISIS operatives were using to access Facebook, the report said. The agencies were able to intercept calls and Whatsapp and Facebook messages being exchanged by the arrested operatives. The suspects were kept under surveillance and the NIA grew suspicious as they changed their locations, indicating that they maybe conducting some sort of a recce. When other suspected terror modules - which were also under survellience - started acting suspiciously, NIA sleuths swung into action.

NIA sped up the process by roping in police and anti-terror squads in Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. A control room was set-up in the national capital to coordinate the field officers and policemen who were keeping a close watch on the terror modules.

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