Shia clerics, Islamic education bodies and their establishments in the state were among the top targets of an alleged ISIS-linked terror module busted by the Uttar Pradesh anti-terrorism squad (ATS).
According to investigators, the self-radicalised group wanted to eliminate three Muslim clerics from Lucknow who had openly criticised ISIS ideology. Both Sufi and Shia clergy from the city had protested against pro-ISIS beliefs.
The officials claim that the terrorists had done a recce of the daily routines of all three Muslim leaders and were following their routes to carry out an attack. A diary and documents seized from their rented house in Haji colony revealed their targets.
Saifullah, who was gunned down by cops in an encounter this month was staying in Lucknow with Atif, Danish Akhtar alias Jaffar and Syed Mir Hussain alias Humza.
Police had claimed that they were trying to set up an ISIS-inspired terror module of Khorasan, the branch of Islamic State based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
NO EVIDENCE YET OF COMMUNAL ANGLE
"They wanted to eliminate three Muslim clerics associated with a prestigious organisation, as they had raised their voices against ISIS ideology. We have provided them safety and are ensuring that they are safe," said a senior police officer.
However, investigating agency is yet to establish if the group's motive was also to spread communal violence in the state by attacking their targets.
The officer said that documents recovered from the terrorists show that they were also prepared to fight with commandos in case of a hostage-like situation. Their computers had training videos and literature related to past terror attacks.
The case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) this week.
ISIS-BACKED CHANNEL PRAISED SAIFULLAH
A pro-Islamic channel called Al-Hindi on Telegram, an encrypted chat platform, had also praised Mohammad Saifullah, who was killed in a counter-terror operation. They termed him as a 'soldier of Khilafah from India' and incited Muslims to follow his example and launch lone-wolf attacks.
Al-Hindi channel made a series of posts on Saifullah as an example to launch attacks in India, a jihadi monitoring intelligence body SITE reported. Al-Hindi is not the only ISIS-backed channel.
TAJ MAHAL POSSIBLE TARGET
There are several other channels operated by jihadis, particularly by the ISIS and Al Qaeda for encrypted communication. Just a week after the UP ATS crackdown, a pro-Islamic State media group warned of attacks in India and published a graphic depicting the Taj Mahal in Agra as a possible target.
The graphic by the Ahwaal Ummat Media Center was posted on a channel of Telegram on March 14. The graphic features a fighter in combat fatigues and black headgear armed with an assault rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade facing the 17th century monument in Agra.
An inset in the graphic features another image of the Taj Mahal within crosshairs with the words 'new target' below it. There is another image of a van with the Arabic text Agra istishhadi (Agra martyrdom-seeker), implying a suicide attack.
Security around the historic building has been beefed up after the issue came to notice.