NIA team in Sri Lanka to probe Indian link to Easter blasts

A two-member team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), led by inspector general Alok Mittal, reached Colombo on Tuesday to discuss with Sri Lankan authorities the Indian links of radical Muslims who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks in the island nation, according to an official familiar with the trip.

The purpose of the visit is not to probe the coordinated bombings on April 21 that left 258 people dead, but to exchange information on suspects and about people based in Tamil Nadu and Kerala who likely have links with the National Towheed Jamaath (NTJ), which is suspected to have masterminded the attacks,the NIA official said on condition of anonymity. The discussions will be about people whose names, phone numbers, social media accounts or other details may have cropped up during the interrogation of suspects captured by law enforcement agencies in the island nation. Indian agencies are trying to make sure that the Sri Lankan-style attacks do not take place in India.

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The team will also seek from the Sri Lankan investigators details of blasts’ mastermind, Maulvi Zahran bin Hashim’s travels to India. The visit was approved by the ministry of home affairs after Sri Lanka gave the go-ahead for the trip.

“It’s Sri Lanka’s investigation. We have sent a team there to assess the influence of ISIS, NTJ’s links to India and details of travel of mastermind Maulvi Zahran bin Hashim. It has come to our notice that Hashim had visited India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala) a couple of times to motivate Indians to take part in establishing Islamic rule in the region,” said a second NIA officer, also requesting anonymity.

“Our investigations have revealed many Indian youngsters saw Zahran’s videos and got self-radicalised. Whether they are in touch with people in Sri Lanka as well is a matter of investigation,” said the officer.

HT had first reported on April 28 about Hashim’s visit to India and the fact that Sri Lanka was alerted about the attacks in advance following an NIA probe into the Coimbatore module of the Islamic State in 2018.

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In the Coimbatore module, NIA had identified six suspects – Mohammed Ashiq A, Ismail S, Samsudeen, Mohammed Salauddin S, Jafar Shadik Ali and Shahul Hameed — who were either in touch with Hashim or got radicalized listening to his speeches.

The NIA will seek details from Sri Lanka about their possible visits to the island. The agency had, meanwhile, also found that one of the members of Kasargod module, from which Riyaz Aboobacker was arrested on April 29, was friends with Hashim on Facebook. Aboobacker had managed to convince several Indians from Kerala and Tamil Nadu to follow the speeches of Hashim and join the violent jihad. At least six Indian ISIS suspects had travelled to Sri Lanka. They all were investigated by NIA.

First Published:
May 29, 2019 07:28 IST

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