India busts ISIS-inspired militant group

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's anti-terror agency on Wednesday (Dec 26) said it had busted a local militant cell inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group that was planning to carry out bombings and target prominent political figures.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) said 10 members of an obscure militant group "Harkat ul Harb-e-Islam" were arrested in multi-city raids and a further six suspects were being questioned over their alleged links with the outfit.

NIA spokesman Alok Mittal said arms and ammunition were recovered from the raids over 17 locations, including in the capital New Delhi, as the group prepped for striking several targets ahead of the high-profile Republic Day national event on Jan 26.

"They were at an advanced stage of carrying out a series of blasts," Mr Mittal told reporters at a press conference in New Delhi.

"They wanted to explode remote-controlled bombs and even conduct fidayeen (suicide) attacks."

Mr Mittal said the group had attempted to make suicide vests and developed a homemade rocket launcher, adding that the unknown mastermind of the module was based abroad.

One of the accused is an engineer, he said.

The authorities have previously claimed to have foiled similar ISIS-inspired cells but there is no evidence of the militant group's presence in the country.

Indian Muslims have largely remained insulated from ISIS influence, with only a handful of young men from the country's nearly 175 million minority community joining the militant group that gained worldwide prominence after capturing large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

But India's security agencies have voiced concern over the radicalisation of men over the Internet.

In 2014, a group of four Mumbai engineering students travelled to Iraq to join the group. One of them later returned to India.

But some activists have accused security agencies of falsely charging Muslim men for terrorism, due to discrimination against the community in the Hindu-majority country of 1.25 billion people.