Kerala-based ISIS suspect inspired by Sri Lanka bombing plotter caught: NIA

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday arrested a 29-year-old suspect linked to the Islamic State terror group, who allegedly wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala, the anti-terror agency said.

It added Zahran bin Hashim, the April 21 Easter Sunday’s suicide bombings mastermind in Sri Lanka and National Towheed Jama’at leader, had inspired Riyas A, the suspect, to carry out the attack. Riyas A is from Kerala’s Palakkad district.

An NIA statement said Riyas A’s revelation has “stunned” the intelligence agencies and they now believe that the Sri Lanka attacks were part of a larger conspiracy to create terror in the region. Raids were carried out in Kerala and Tamil Nadu to track down suspects linked to the IS after the Sri Lanka bombings left over 250 people dead.

“Riyas has disclosed that he has been following speeches/videos of Zahran Hashim of Sri Lanka for over a year and has also followed the speeches of [fugitive Indian preacher] Zakir Naik. He admitted that he wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala,” said NIA spokesman Alok Mittal.

Mittal said Riyas A disclosed he had been in touch with IS operative Abdul Rashid Abdulla and has been following his audio clips. He added the clips included the one instigating terror attacks in India. Abdulla is the leader of a group of 22 people, including women and kids, which had travelled to Afghanistan’s Nangarhar to fight for the IS from Kerala’s Kasargod in 2016. He is suspected to have been in touch with Hashim and had even sent members of the Kasargod’s IS module to Sri Lanka to get religious training.

A case was initially registered in July 2016 following the disappearance of 15 people from Kasargod. As many as 14 of them had left for Afghanistan and one for Syria. It later turned out later that 22 people had travelled to IS held territories. “He [Riyas A] revealed that he was also having online chat with Abdul Khayoom alias Abu Khalid [another IS-linked suspect] who is was believed to be in Syria.”

The NIA said it had earlier received inputs that a group of four had been in contact with some of the accused including Khayoom. It added NIA carried out raids at three places in Kerala’s Kasaragod and Palakkad on Sunday. Mittal said three people have been interrogated.

An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is a strong possibility that Riyas A had met Hashim during his trip to India and knew him well. They were questioning him over it. More people are likely to be arrested in coming days.

HT on Sunday reported Hashim and another Sri Lanka bomber, Mohammad Azaan, had travelled to India in 2017 and 2018 to discuss the plans of IS. HT first reported the India connection of Sri Lanka blasts. The NIA said it has arrested Riyas in connection with its probe related to the Kasargod IS module case.

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