India’s anti-terrorism agencies are worried because terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) has split into two — one group headed by Riyaz Bhatkal and the other with Mirza Shahnawaz Baig at the helm. Baig’s unit has the backing of the al Qaeda and Taliban and will specialise only in fidayeen attacks on prominent people in India.
The details of the split came to light during the interrogation of IM terror suspect Asadulla Akhtar alias Haddi who, along with IM co-founder Yasin Bhatkal, was arrested by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) in August. Haddi said that during an online chat in July, Baig told him that 15 people from five Indian states were called to Pakistan earlier this year to discuss the IM’s future operations in India.
A Bengali person (Haddi did not know his name) is in-charge of the India operations of Baig’s unit. According to Haddi, one more person — allegedly involved in Gujarat leader Hiren Pandya’s murder — was also present. Those who attended the meeting were fresh faces, but trusted aides of Baig. Their names have never been associated with the IM in India before.
Backed and funded by the Taliban and al Qaeda, the unit has been instructed to only carry out fidayeen attacks in India, targeting prominent personalities. Sources said 15 people underwent intense training in Afghanistan to carry out such attacks. Some of the names on the hit-list are Shahid Babar Madani, Kalwe Sadiq and a Nadwa leader — all believed to have a pro-Indian government attitude.
Another person who figures on the hit-list is Maharashtra ATS chief Rakesh Maria. Haddi told the interrogators that as Mumbai crime branch chief, Maria was instrumental in busting the Pune-based media cell of IM which resulted in the arrest of 22 its members.
Maria also cracked the German Bakery blast case which resulted in a court awarding death to IM operative Himayat Baig.
Info gathered says there are two reasons IM split. One is that under Riyaz Bhatkal, it failed to create impact in India for last two years. The other is rising tension between Pakistan’s ISI and Taliban. Riyaz is backed by ISI due to which Taliban decided to back Baig.
As per intelligence reports, Taliban split the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar module of IM and made Baig in-charge, while Riyaz continues to lead the Karnataka and South India module. At a meeting in Karachi this year, differences between the sides resulted in fistfights and violence, said a police officer.
Yasin and Haddi told interrogators Raza and Baig have begun shifting their outfit’s base to Afghanistan. Haddi’s interrogation revealed that Sajid was injured in a gunbattle with US troops in Afghanistan last year.
The IM unit headed by Riyaz now only has his brother Iqbal, Mohsin Choudhary and Jabrodh. All others, including Amir Reza Khan, Bada Sajid, Abu Rashid and Abu Khalid, have joined Baig’s unit.
Another reason there is unhappiness in IM is that ISI gave Riyaz Rs27 crore over past five years.
But money passed on to the cadres in India is very less.
Iqbal is seen to be leading a lavish lifestyle while Riyaz moves around like a gangster with two firearms in Karachi. Indian security agencies fear more attacks in the near future. “Our agencies will have to keep a watch on two units. Also, to establish themselves, the two units will recruit more people and target more people and places,” said a central intelligence official.