Indian police arrested an alleged leader of the Indian Mujahideen, the nation’s second success in less than a week against a militant group blamed for deadly bombings and plotting attacks before coming elections.
Tehseen Akhtar, 23, was caught on the Nepal border and is chief of the group’s operations in India, S.N. Srivastava, a special commissioner of Delhi police, said at a briefing in the national capital yesterday. Four Indian Mujahideen members were apprehended three days ago and are suspected of planning an attack ahead of next month’s polls, according to the police.
“Most of the senior people within the Indian Mujahideen based here have been found and neutralized,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. “It would be unrealistic, though, to think there can’t be another incident or that a new leadership won’t emerge.”
The Indian Mujahideen is blamed for orchestrating a bombing that killed 16 people in Hyderabad last year and a 2011 blast at New Delhi’s high court that left 15 people dead. India has suffered at least eleven major terrorist attacks since an intelligence overhaul in 2008, when 166 people were killed during a three-day siege in Mumbai, the financial capital.
Akhtar was involved in bombings in cities including Varanasi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, Srivastava said.
His capture follows the detention of four members of the Indian Mujahideen three days ago, according to Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat. Those men were found with explosives and are being interrogated to discover more details of their planned pre-election attack, he said.
The general election in the majority-Hindu nation of 1.2 billion people begins April 7, with results due on May 16. Five people were killed in October by bombs at a campaign rally of opposition prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Patna, the capital of Bihar state.
The Indian Mujahideen emerged in 2008 as a loose network of homegrown Islamic militants and was responsible for attacks that killed at least 150 people in 2008 alone, according to the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.
The network has links with Pakistan, including guerrilla groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the U.S. State Department. India alleges Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out the November 2008 attack targeting a railway station and luxury hotels in Mumbai.
A parliamentary committee report last year faulted the National Investigation Agency, the country’s leading counter-terrorist organization, for insufficient manpower and equipment. The report said a car shortage led some officers to take taxis to crime scenes.
In a breakthrough, India arrested one of Indian Mujahideen’s co-founders on the border with Nepal in August. The same month, Indian police arrested Abdul Karim, who allegedly was a Lashkar-e-Taiba bomb maker and the mastermind of a series of blasts in the 1990s.
Sahni said the Indian Mujahideen will continue to pose a threat to India because its co-founders, Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, are living in Pakistan.
“They may have got hold of the top rungs of the current leadership in India but the base is very, very large,” he said. “There is also always a problem when a movement is managed from outside the country. People can be abruptly taken out and trained, then sent back in.”