Questions raised over NIA operation

NIA last week busted an alleged ISIS module in the country.

In perhaps the first-ever major anti-terror operation, which was largely based on massive cross-country online and ground surveillance, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) last week busted an alleged ISIS module in the country and arrested 14 men from six cities — Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mangaluru, Tumkuru, Lucknow and Aurangabad. The suspects were reportedly radicalised and recruited online by their handler in Al Raqqa in Syria, India-born Mohammed Shafi Armar, alias Yousuf, a terror fugitive from Bhatkal in coastal Karnataka, and became the “Junud ul Khalifa e Hind (Soldiers of the Indian caliphate)”. Their mission was to do something “spectacular” — replacing the Indian Constitution with Sharia.

“The suspects were under the radar for six to nine months for being in touch with Armar on Skype and his multiple Twitter handles and Facebook accounts through which he lured them to join Daesh for its India operations,” a NIA officer said. “The online surveillance was mounted early last year when the suspects came under the radar of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies in India and in the US. Initial leads came from the US because the servers are located there and the Indian agencies started analysing the data that was flowing through covert intelligence channels on the Net, along with inputs from local informers and beat constables.”

Last week’s operation was the result of “immense cooperation” between faceless sleuths and law enforcement officers from multiple agencies who spent endless days sieving and analysing the information on the Internet and collating it with ground intelligence reports. The inputs were shared on a regular basis in the Multiple Agency Centre meetings, which are held periodically among the intelligence, defence, paramilitary and law enforcement agencies, the officer said.

With the suspects in custody, though, the NIA now has a tough task before it — presenting a water-tight case before the courts to prove the involvement of the suspects in the ISIS terror conspiracy. “The agency will have to write to the US Internet giants through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to access the sensitive data in the online interactions/chats of the suspects with their handler and others from their servers,” said another officer.

Sceptics have, meanwhile, raised questions on the NIA operation. “Was it timed around French President Francois Hollande’s visit to India on Republic Day? To prove that the suspects were radicalised online for a terror operation is not going to be an easy task. What was the material seized from them and how is it linked to a terror conspiracy?” a senior police officer said. “Just listening to or reading fundamentalist literature online is no crime under the Indian Penal Code or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Neither is being a sympathiser of a jihadi organisation. The agency will have to present clinching evidence linking the suspects to the conspiracy,” he pointed out.

While the case largely rests on investigations into the suspects’ online activities and communications, a lot of hard work has also gone into keeping a physical tab on their activities and movements over many months, even years in some cases, another officer said.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
Next Story