India arrests Islamist radicals ahead of Republic Day

A National Investigation Agency (NIA) official with a sniffer dog arrives at a residence during a raid.
A National Investigation Agency (NIA) official with a sniffer dog arrives at a residence during a raid.PHOTO: EPA

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian counter-terror police arrested a group of suspected Islamist radicals and seized bomb-making material in a series of nationwide raids ahead of next week's Republic Day celebrations, officials said on Friday (Jan 22).

A home ministry official said the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a federal police unit that probes terror offences, formally arrested five suspects, while nine more men are being interrogated over their links to a local militant leader after the overnight raids in four different states.

"We have recovered material used to make IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from two locations but no explosives have been seized," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

"They were part of the online radicalised group who were in touch with a militant leader for some time and were planning to procure arms," the official said, identifying the leader as an Indian Mujahideen (IM) militant, a home-grown extremist group blamed for multiple bomb attacks.

The exact whereabouts of the IM leader, whose name was only given as Yusuf, are unknown to investigators, the official said in New Delhi.

He refuted media reports that the suspects were part of a cell operated by the Islamic State organisation but said some of the suspects were trying to organise arms training within India.

The suspects, who are from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh states, will be brought to the capital for further questioning.

"We have been told that six terror suspects... have been arrested after raids since Thursday night," G. Parameshwara, home minister in the Karnataka state government, told reporters in the southern city of Bangalore.

Security has been increased in large parts of India ahead of the Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday, when it marks the anniversary of its democratic constitution taking force in 1950.

Thousands of armed policemen have been deployed across the capital New Delhi where French President Francois Hollande will be the guest of honour at a military parade on Tuesday as part of a three-day visit.

France has said security will be high on the agenda after deadly Islamist attacks in Paris in November that evoked memories of the 2008 Mumbai attacks which left 166 people dead.