By all appearances, Umar Nazim was just another wholesaler of carbonated drinks, residing with a friend in a nondescript flat in Akram Manzil Building in Mumbra. Till the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and the Maharashtra Police knocked on his door at around 2 am yesterday, neighbours hadn't the slightest inkling that they were sharing space with the recruiter of a UP-based terror group.
Nazim alias Najeem Samsad Ahmed was one of the four suspected ISIS activists arrested in a joint operation conducted by the Uttar Pradesh ATS and counter-terrorism agencies of Maharashtra, Punjab, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and UP. According to a statement by the UP ATS issued in Lucknow, six others were taken into custody and were being questioned in Noida.
Nazim, a native of Bijnor (Uttar Pradesh), Gazi Baba alias Muzammil alias Zeeshan from Jalandhar (Punjab), Mufti alias Faizan from Bijnor and Zakwan alias SK alias Mintu from Narkatiaganj (Bihar) were arrested on charges of hatching terror conspiracies and planning to launch a major terror attack in the country. The UP ATS is seeking a transit remand to take them to Lucknow.
He resided at Akram Manzil building in Mumbra
Nazim, according to sources in anti-terrorism agencies, was the biggest catch; he was allegedly the main recruiter of a radicalised Islamic group that has its origins from in Bijnor and is suspected have close links with the ISIS' Khorasan module.
A suspected terrorist, who was killed in Lucknow's Thakurganj on March 7 after 12 hours of an anti-terror operation, belonged to the Khorasan module, an eastern zone offshoot of the ISIS.
A senior IPS officer said Nazim had recruited "a dozen people" from across the country in the last six months and the group had begun its operations in Bijnor. "The group first befriended and influenced potential victims on social networking sites, and then radicalised them through regular chats on instant messenger apps."
The officer said the group exposed the Mumbai-based man to radical material, but failed to turn him to its side.
He said prima facie, it appears that Nazim was "self-radicalised".
Sources said his terror group had raised funds for a terror attack in India and was in the process of procuring ammunition to execute its plans.
According to neighbours, Nazim moved in with a friend, Gulfam, in Akram Manzil building in Rashid compound, Mumbra, on April 5, and claimed to be a wholesaler of aerated drinks. Following last morning's raid, Gulfam and another roommate, Uzefa Abrar, were detained. They were released post questioning later at night.
"He admitted before the investigators that he had no plans to fly to Syria (ISIS' home base) and was preparing to strike in India. The UP ATS took him to Lucknow," said the IPS officer.
A neighbour echoed the other residents' shock. "We never suspected anything."
Asif Shaikh, the local electrician, said some unidentified persons had visited the building on two occasions, asking for a room on the third floor. "I asked who they were, but they didn't say much and went their way."
On radar for weeks
Based on seizure of incriminating documents after the Lucknow operation last month, the UP ATS expanded its probe to five states. Thereafter, it received intelligence input on the activities of a group planning to carry out terrorist acts and recruiting youths from across the country through social media platforms. The UP ATS kept some suspects under surveillance with the help of Delhi, Bihar, Punjab and Maharashtra Police. Those arrested yesterday has been on the agencies' radar for several weeks.
Investigators suspect that these terror suspects were in contact with dozens more people in the hopes of recruiting them. Cash in lakhs of rupees, mobile phones, SIM cards and important documents related to the ISIS were recovered from them.
The Mumbra connect
In January last year, the National Investigation Agency had arrested ISIS' India chief Muddabir Shaikh from Mumbra during a pan-India operation along with other counter-terrorism agencies. He was tasked by his foreign handler to recruit more youth in India and make them capable to carry out strikes. Mudabbir had been trained online to plan attacks and make bombs, said an ATS source.
10 No. of suspected terrorists nabbed yesterday in a pan-India operation