Two suspected operatives of Al Qaeda have been arrested in New Delhi and Odisha and Delhi Police on Wednesday claimed to have busted a module of the terror group's Indian sub-continent wing operating out of the country.
While Mohammed Asif (41), believed to be one of the founding members and the Indian head (amir) of Al Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent's motivation, recruitment and training wing, was held from Seelampur in northeast Delhi, another operative Abdul Rahman (37) was arrested on Wednesday from Jagatpur area of Cuttack in Odisha, police said.
Rahman was arrested after a raid by a joint team of Delhi Police and Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Commissionerate Police at his house in Paschimakachha village in Jagatpur area in the wee hours, Commissioner of Police R P Sharma told reporters in Bhubaneswar.
The duo has been booked under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, said Special Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Arvind Deep in Delhi.
Police recovered three mobile phones, a laptop and other "incriminating articles", including documents of indoctrination and jihadi literature (authored by Maulana Umar) from Asif's possession.
Rahman is suspected to have international links in countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Dubai. Rahman, who is married and has three children, ran a madrasa at Tangi area near Cuttack.
His brother Tahir Ali was arrested in 2001 in connection with the terrorist attack on American Centre in Kolkata, police said.
"In June 2013, Asif left Delhi, along with two other youths, for Tehran in Iran, where they met Qasim, who arranged them tickets for Zahedan, capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province of Iran, from where they further headed towards the Iran-Pakistan border and crossed it over foot," Deep said.
"After reaching Pakistan, they continued their journey and crossed south Waziristan to reach Sumali in north Waziristan, where Asif met his long-emigrated Indian friend, Usman (code name Assad). It was Usman who introduced Asif to Maulana Asim Umar -- a terrorist of Indian origin who was declared the amir of AQIS by none other than al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri," he said.
"In Waziristan, Asif underwent intense training, keeping in view that he was to act as the principal ideologue of AQIS in India upon his return.
"During that period, US forces were conducting successive drone strikes at several places in close vicinity of the safe-house, where Asif had been lodged and in one such strike quite close by, the then chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan Hakimullah Mehsood was killed," the Special Cell chief added.
AQIS was floated by al-Zawahari himself in September 2014, following a meeting at the Af-Pak region which reportedly had in its quorum the entire Grand council (Arabian Shura) of Al Qaeda, including al-Zawahiri's son in law, said a senior official.
Thereupon it was decided that Asim Umar would head AQIS. Maulana Umar emigrated from Sambhal in 1995 allegedly as an operative of the Harkat-Ul-Mujahidin (HuM) and served as a long-standing fighter first for HuM and then climbing ranks through Tehrik-e-Taliban and Al Qaeda, to finally become the AQIS chief, said the official.
"As the AQIS head, Umar pledged to take the frontiers of Islamic jihad towards the entire South Asian continent including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan with India being the centrepiece of action," said Joint Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Vivek Gogia.
After Umar was anointed the chief, it is believed that he was visited by some "unexpected visitors" which includes Indian Mujahideen chief Riyaz Bhatkal, who is still at large, and other senior IM commanders like Baba Sajid, who was recently reported to have been killed at Syria, said Gogia.
Asif was Umar's chosen candidate and with the help of his deputy Qasim, Umar had contacted Asif through a social networking site, a year before he left for Tehran with a 'ziyarat' Visa (exclusively meant for visit to a holy shrine in Tehran). Qasim also ensured that the trip shall be financed by someone in his own locality, Gogia said.
Umar, Qasim, Usman, Asif and one of the youths who accompanied Asif in his journey, are all natives of Deepa Sarai mohalla in Sambhal district of Uttar Pradesh, said a senior official.
While the two youths -- one from northeast Delhi's Welcome area and the other from Sambhal -- who accompanied Asif, were left at a military training camp, which keeps changing locations in the Af-Pak region, Asif returned to Delhi in September 2014, allegedly scouting for more recruits, the official said.
On his way to Delhi, Asif took the same Tehran route, where he was detained by Iranian security agency at the Mehriyaz border. However, the contacts of al Qaeda ensured that he was transited to Turkey, following which Asif found himself in the company of Uighur al Qaeda operatives, said DCP (Special Cell) P K Kushwaha.
Later, on the expiry of his Visa, he approached the embassy there and was sent to Delhi.
On Tuesday, the police received a tip-off from an intelligence agency, based on which they laid a trap and Asif was arrested from near northeast Delhi's Seelampur flyover.