Indian police arrest alleged key member of homegrown Islamic militant group

NEW DELHI (AFP) - The Indian police said on Saturday they had arrested an alleged key member of a homegrown Islamic militant group over a series of attacks, days after security was tightened following claims by Al-Qaeda that it had launched an Indian wing.

The police identified the man as Ajaz Shaikh, 27, and said in a statement that he had worked as "the logistics man" for transferring funds to the banned Indian Mujahideen group.

The police accused Shaikh, arrested in northern Uttar Pradesh state, of being involved in several attacks including one outside India's biggest mosque in Delhi's old quarter in 2010 that wounded two Taiwanese and serial blasts the same year in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi that killed one person and injured dozens. The Indian Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The police said the suspect was from the western city of Pune and had claimed at one time to be a "techie" working for an information technology outsourcing company. The police accused the man of having sent out several "blood-curdling" e-mails to Indian media houses following the blasts.

No formal charges have yet been filed against Shaikh, who was being held in custody while police investigated the allegations against him.

Indian security agencies have put several cities on high alert after Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a video statement on Wednesday that Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir - Indian regions with large Muslim populations - along with Bangladesh and Myanmar would be the organisation's new targets to "wage jihad (holy war)".

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

As well as being banned by India, the group was labelled a "terrorist organisation" by the United States State Department in 2011, saying it had staged dozens of attacks and killed "hundreds of innocent civilians".

The group is believed to head a network of Indian Islamic militant groups with links to the powerful Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed organisations.