An alleged follower of Sri Lankan bombing mastermind Zahran Hashim was set to appear before an Indian court on Tuesday (30) after admitting he wanted to carry out an attack in India, investigators said.
India has been concerned about Islamist extremists on its soil for some time and the April 21 Sri Lanka bombings that killed 253 people has left authorities alarmed that India might be at risk of a jihadist attack.
The Indian national, identified as Riyas A, alias Riyas Aboobacker, 29, was arrested on Monday by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), which handles counter-terrorism cases.
During interrogation, he “disclosed that he has been following speeches/videos of Zahran Hashim of Sri Lanka for more than a year”, an NIA statement said.
“He admitted that he wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala,” a southern Indian state, it added.
Hashim was a Sri Lankan Muslim preacher who led the coordinated Easter Sunday suicide attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, in one of the world’s deadliest terrorist attacks.
Military sources have said Hashim was not known to have visited Syria or Iraq, but travelled to India’s Tamil Nadu state, which borders Kerala, and had been in contact with Islamists there.
Hashim also appeared in a video released by the Islamic State group, showing him leading others in pledging allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
IS has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks.
India had warned Sri Lanka that suicide attacks were possible weeks before.
The NIA said that it arrested Riyas “for conspiring to commit a terrorist act” in connection with a 2016 case against an Indian man wanted, along with others, for leaving India to join IS abroad.
Riyas had allegedly been in online contact with that suspect, Abdul Rashid Abdulla, alias Abu Isa, and followed his online audio posts including one “instigating others to carry out terror attacks in India”, NIA said.
– IS in India? –
Aboobacker’s arrest comes at a time when New Delhi is already anxious about the footprint of IS in the Hindu-majority country.
Indian authorities have already arrested several people allegedly inspired by radical Islamist ideology in recent months.
In 2016 the NIA launched an investigation into the disappearance of 15 young Indians thought to have left to join IS in Afghanistan and Syria.
Pockets of southern India have since been on the radar of Indian investigators concerned over growing radicalism.
Kabir Taneja, associate fellow with New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said that the danger of attacks may have increased since the collapse of IS’s “caliphate” across swathes of Iraq and Syria.
“I think some level of nervousness is expected, and it’s good,” Taneja told AFP.
“Until now the attraction was to travel to the caliphate. What Sri Lanka might do is push for radicalised people to commit attacks at home,” he added.
The NIA recently announced that it had arrested an operative in an IS-inspired group that allegedly planned attacks in and around New Delhi.
The arrest was soon followed by raids in three different parts of Kerala as part of a separate, ongoing investigation into three people suspected of links with the people who left India to join IS.
The NIA said that its raids had recovered mobile phones, memory cards, diaries with handwritten notes and DVDs, and books of the banned Islamic preacher Zakir Naik.