In a major breakthrough, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police has arrested Mohammad Shahnawaz Alam, also known as Shafi Uzzama, who was on the National Investigation Agency's (NIA) list of most-wanted terrorists, along with his two associates.
They were in the "advanced stages" of planning terror strikes in Delhi with support from a Pakistan ISI-sponsored module disguised as an IS module.
IS operative Shahnawaz (31) was arrested from Jaitpur in Delhi, while his associates, Mohammad Rizwan Ashraf (28) and Md. Arshad Warsi (29), were arrested from Lucknow and Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh.
Officials further stated that the timely intervention of the Special Cell had averted a major terror strike in Delhi.
Special Commissioner of Police (Special Cell), HGS Dhaliwal, revealed that credible information indicated that to carry out terror activities in India while trying to hide their role and avoid scrutiny by international agencies, the ISI created a facade of an India-focused IS.
"They did this by using Pakistan-based and protected terrorists who were fugitives from India, namely Farahtullah Gauri and his son-in-law Shahid Faisal, who were involved in the Akshardham Temple attack case and were currently hiding in Pakistan while working for the Pakistan ISI," said Dhaliwal.
"The Pakistan ISI focused on collecting funds through criminal activities (Maal-e-Ghanimat) for this network to project it as a "Home Grown" and "Self Radicalized Network", said Dhaliwal.
Following leads obtained from credible sources and technical means, one such module was identified by police with connections in UP, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra.
"While developing this information, two IS operatives, Imran Khan and Yunus Saaki, were arrested in Pune, Maharashtra, by the Pune Police," said Dhaliwal.
However, one of the arrested individuals, Shahnawaz, managed to escape from police custody. The case was later transferred to the NIA for further investigation, which later offered a reward of Rs 3 lakhs for the arrest of the absconding terrorist Shahnawaz and three other accused.
"Specific information indicated that Shahnawaz was moving along with Rizwan Ali from Delhi, and they, along with their associates, were planning to carry out terrorist activities in Delhi and its surrounding areas. They were in an advanced stage of preparation, having procured arms, ammunition, and explosives, and had established a base in Delhi," said Dhaliwal.
This information was obtained from sources, and manual and technical surveillance was carried out on the contacts and sympathisers of the absconded accused, Shahnawaz Alam, and Rizwan Ali.
"On October 1, based on credible information, coordinated multiple raids were carried out in three states (Delhi, UP, and Uttarakhand) with assistance from the Central Intelligence Agency and the respective state police," said Dhaliwal.
During the questioning, Md. Arshad Warsi, who was arrested in the present case from Delhi, disclosed that Shahnawaz Alam was known to him and was an accomplice in the conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities in Delhi and its surrounding areas along with Shahnawaz and others.
"He also revealed that Shahnawaz Alam had procured arms, ammunition, and explosives and rented a room in Delhi to further their criminal conspiracy," said Dhaliwal.
Mohammad Rizwan Ashraf was also arrested in the present case from Lucknow.
He disclosed that he is a member of ISIS and is in communication with a foreign-based handler and the remaining members of this module.
He further stated that Shahnawaz Alam and Rizwan took the pledge ('Baith') into IS through him.
Thereafter, last night, a raid was conducted in Delhi on the information provided by accused Md. Arshad Warsi, and accused Shahnawaz Alam was arrested from a rented accommodation after a brief scuffle with the police team.
The police have also recovered one .32 bore pistol with seven live cartridges, plastic canisters containing chemicals, glass bottles containing acid, small-sized steel balls, matchstick boxes, iron pipes, electronic weighing machine, thermometer, surgical gloves, various colored powders, electrical tapes, a remote key, two nine-volt batteries with connectors, a timer watch, and geographical maps of India.
Shahnawaz, who holds a B.Tech. degree in Mining from NIT Visvesvaraya, Nagpur in 2016 and is a native of Jharkhand, came to Delhi in November 2016 to prepare for SSC competitive examinations.
He started staying at Abul Fazal Enclave.
"He used to attend HuT lectures at Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi. During this time, Shahnawaz decided to leave HuT as he was influenced by the ideology of IS from his college days. He started following the concepts of IS, various Twitter accounts, and news channels that promoted IS ideology.
"Shahnawaz met Rizwan Ali at Shaheen Masjid, Shaheen Bagh, Delhi in 2016. Over time, they became good friends. Shahnawaz already followed many pro-ISIS telegram entities/channels and discussed those channels with Rizwan Ali, who was also inclined towards the ISIS ideology," said Dhaliwal.
Shahnawaz and Rizwan wanted to go for Hijrat and, to collect funds for their journey, they got involved in criminal activities. Shahnawaz was arrested in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand in multiple cases of dacoity and theft in 2019 and remained in jail for 8-9 months. He was bailed out from jail in December 2020.
“Later, he started communicating with a foreign-based IS handler. Meanwhile, Rizwan also established contact with the same handler. They visited various places in India to find suitable hideouts for their stay in Western Ghats and to set up a base there," said Dhaliwal.
As per police, Shahnawaz also conducted reconnaissance of potential areas like crowded places, Mazar/Dargah, routes of VIP political leaders in Mumbai, Surat, Vadodara, Gandhinagar, and Ahmedabad for planting IEDs and target killings.
He also analyzed the map of Rajasthan to find IED testing points.
In March 2021, Shahnawaz got married to Basanti Patel, also known as Khadeeja Maryam (converted), in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh.
Upon his return from Aligarh, they decided to manufacture some IEDs in Delhi until they found suitable contacts for their journey to Afghanistan.
After making the IEDs, they tested them at several places in Delhi, Rajasthan, and Haldwani, Uttarakhand.
In April 2022, they met with arrested accused Imran and Yunus Saaki in Pune.
On July 18, 2023, during police patrolling, Shahnawaz, Imran, and Yunus were apprehended by the Pune Police while committing theft of a motorcycle but Shahnawaz managed to escape.
Since December 2022, following instructions from their foreign-based handler, Shahnawaz, Rizwan, and their associates began accumulating materials in Delhi to prepare IEDs as part of their conspiracy to carry out a blast in Delhi.
Warsi, who holds a B.Tech. in Mechanical Engineering (2004-2016) and an MBA from Jamia Millia University (2016-18), is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Islamic Principles in Management at Jamia Millia University.
"He came into contact with Shahnawaz during Darsh programmes in Jamia Nagar and is a participant in the planning to carry out terrorist activities in Delhi and its surrounding areas along with Shahnawaz and others," said the official.
Warsi also revealed that Shahnawaz Alam had procured arms, ammunition, and explosives and rented a room in Delhi to further their criminal conspiracy.
Md. Rizwan Ashraf, who holds a B.Tech. in IT from a college in Ghaziabad/Noida in 2017, is a member of IS and is in communication with the same foreign-based handler as Shahnawaz Alam and Rizwan, along with the remaining members of this module