India police arrests another leader of home-grown militant group

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian police arrested on Tuesday the alleged head of militant group the Indian Mujahideen, blamed for a string of deadly attacks including one at a rally in October by election frontrunner Narendra Modi, reports said.

New Delhi police arrested Tehseen Akhtar, 23, alias Monu, one of India's most wanted men, just days after the home-grown militant group's Pakistani bomb maker was also taken into custody.

The top officer of Delhi's anti-terror cell, S. N. Shrivastava, confirmed the arrest to the Press Trust of India news agency, without giving further details. Police have called a press conference for later Tuesday.

With the country on high security alert for national elections starting next month, local media said the arrest was a major breakthrough.

The banned Indian Mujahideen came to public attention in November 2007 following serial blasts in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is accused of a number of attacks since including in Mumbai, Bangalore, New Delhi and Pune that have killed hundreds.

The group was also blamed for a series of small bomb blasts that killed six people at a rally by Hindu hardliner Mr Modi, the main opposition's prime ministerial candidate, in October last year.

Although a favourite of India's business community and leading in opinion polls, Mr Modi is despised by many Muslims.

He was chief minister of western Gujarat in 2002 when the state was engulfed by communal riots that left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

Akhtar has reportedly been in charge of the Indian Mujahideen since last August when its co-founder and the nation's most wanted man, Yasin Bhatkal, was arrested near the Nepal border. Akhtar's arrest comes after Delhi police seized on the weekend suspected key member Zia-ur-Rehman along with three of his aides in the western state of Rajasthan.

Police said then that the four arrests helped prevent a major militant strike on Indian soil ahead of the elections.

The outfit is thought to head a network of home-grown militant groups, with some analysts believing it has links with the powerful Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed militant organisations.

Recruits are drawn to the message of fighting for India's economically disadvantaged Muslims and avenging religious riots such as those in Gujarat in 2002, analysts say.