Indian police raid ISIS cell with links to Sri Lanka bombing mastermind

A view of St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo after a series of bomb blasts targeted churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka on April 29, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - Indian police raided seven locations in the southern city of Coimbatore on Wednesday (June 12) in pursuit of a suspected Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cell with links to the suicide bombers who killed over 250 people in Sri Lanka in April, officials said.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) said it was questioning seven men from Coimbatore, aged between 26 and 38, on suspicion of propagating ISIS ideology to recruit people for carrying out attacks in southern India.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings in neighbouring Sri Lanka and has been looking to bolster its presence in the sub-continent after being driven out of its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Last month, ISIS claimed the establishment of a"province" in India after a clash between Islamists and security forces in the contested, northern Kashmir region.

"We had recently registered a fresh case against a new ISIS module in Coimbatore," an NIA official told Reuters, explaining Wednesday's raids during which a number of electronic devices were also seized.

The main accused in the case, Mohammed Azarudeen, had been Facebook friends with Zaharan Hashim, the suspected mastermind of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bombings, the NIA said in a statement.

Hashim, a radical preacher, led the National Thowheeth Jama'ath, one of the two local Islamist groups that were involved in the synchronised blasts in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, and two other towns.

The NIA, India's federal agency responsible for fighting militant groups, has conducted multiple searches in southern India this year in connection with a case concerning 15 people, who apparently left the country to join ISIS in 2016.

In late April, the NIA arrested a 29-year-old man from the southern state of Kerala for suspected involvement in a planned suicide attack.

The agency has also made more than a dozen arrests in a case involving an ISIS-inspired group that was conspiring to carry out attacks around New Delhi.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.