New Delhi, Aug 22 (PTI) A major terror strike has been averted with the arrest of an alleged ISIS operative, armed with two pressure cooker IEDS, from central Delhi's Ridge Road area following a brief exchange of fire, Delhi Police officials said on Saturday.
Mohammad Mustakim Khan, alias Abu Yusuf Khan, from Badhiyaa Bhaisaahi village in Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur district, planned to carry out a 'lone wolf' strike at a heavy footfall area in the national capital, said P S Kushwah, DCP (Special Cell).
Khan, 36, who had been under watch for over a year, was nabbed around 11 pm on Friday night after a brief exchange of fire on the section of the Ridge Road between Dhaula Kuan and Karol Bagh. He was on a motorcycle.
The two IEDS seized from him were 'fully ready' and just needed to be activated with a timer, police said.
A bomb disposal team of the National Security Guard (NSG) reached the spot along with a robot to help pick up a bomb and a TCV (total containment vessel) vehicle used to defuse a bomb in a controlled environment.
The controlled blast was carried out at the Gautam Buddha Garden in Dhaula Kuan.
Khan, who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, was remanded to eight days in police custody and taken to different places in Uttar Pradesh, including Balrampur, for further investigation, officials said.
Security was stepped up in the national capital and in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh following the arrest.
Police had received information from its sources that the ISIS was planning to carry out “sensational terror attacks” in Delhi and other parts of the country through its “radicalised members”, Kushwah said.
He added that they also had information that a member, going by the code name Yusuf Khan, had prepared many IEDs, including suicide vests and belts, and would be launching a lone-wolf attack in some heavy footfall area of Delhi, the DCP said.
Khan, he alleged, planned to strike in the national capital on August 15, but could not do so due to heavy security arrangements.
'Khan was to come to Delhi around August 15 to carry out terror strikes… Now, he felt the security could be lax so he could come here. But he was nabbed,' Kushwah told reporters.
'After planting IEDs, his plan was to wait for fresh instructions and then the next plan was to carry out a fidayeen (suicide) attack. But he was not told about when and where. A terror strike has been averted due to this operation,' Kushwah said, adding that he had been under the watch of security agencies for the last year.
'We had been conducting surveillance on him through sources. We also found he was in touch with ISIS and directly in touch with its commanders.' Giving details, he said Khan was first handled by Yusuf-al Hindi, ISIS chief of India operations, who was killed in Syria in 2017. After that he was handled by Abu Huzaifa Al Bakistani, a resident of Pakistan, who was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan in July 2019. Later, another handler instructed him to carry out strikes, the police official said.
'This foreign-based handler prepared him to initiate jihad in India,' Kushwah said.
'He had come to Delhi for the same purpose. Besides two pressure cookers IEDs, we also recovered a sophisticated pistol, four cartridges, and the motorcycle. We suspect the motorcycle could be stolen,' he added.
The suspected ISIS terrorist had tested a small IED near the burial ground in his village. After successful testing, he used the same method to make two pressure cooker IEDs, police said.
Khan has a wife and four children and runs a cosmetic shop to earn his livelihood.
Initially, he had plans to migrate to Khurasan, Afghanistan, with his family. He even got passports for the entire family but the plan was shelved after Huzaifa was killed, Kushwah said.
Huzaifa is the one who gave him step by step instructions on how to prepare IEDs with timer mechanisms as well as preparation of suicide vests and suicide belts, police said.
Khan was in Saudi Arabia for four years from 2006 to 2010 and is believed to have turned radical after that. He was part of ISIS' sleeper cell for the last five years.
Piecing together details, an Uttar Pradesh police official added that Khan had left his village for Lucknow two days ago on the pretext of getting a relative treated.
His village was cordoned off to restrict the entry of outsiders and his relatives and neighbours questioned.
Khan’s relatives in the village told police that they had no idea how he reached Delhi when he said he was headed to Lucknow.
“Nearly eight years ago, he had left the village to work in Mumbai but he came back after he got injured there in an accident,” the official said.
Following the arrest, Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police Hitesh Chandra Awasthi sounded an alert in the state.
The state’s Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said, 'The possibility of his other associates being active cannot be denied. Security agencies in the state are on alert.' He also said the DGP had issued directives to the police officials of all the districts in Uttar Pradesh to conduct intensive searches at public places, religious places, hotels, roadside eateries, judicial buildings, bus stations, railway stations and crowded places, and remain vigilant.
Security checks were also intensified along the Delhi border in Noida in Uttar Pradesh.
Vehicles and passengers moving to and from Delhi were checked at the border, while Gautam Buddh Nagar district was also on alert mode, Noida Deputy Commissioner of Police Rajesh S said. PTI NIT AMP KIS NES CORR NAV PR MIN MIN MIN