NEW DELHI: Bangladesh’s Islamic State (IS) leader Muhammad Saifullah Ozaki alias Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif slipped through the Indian intelligence traps because of sloppy tricks of a fledgling spy that compromised a complex covert operation.
Top sources revealed Saifullah, a former teacher in a Japanese university, is the main recruiter of Rohingya youths in India. The Bangladesh based recruiter had planned raising several battle-hardened terror modules in India to brainwash the vulnerable refugee population. But, the months-long operation ended one sweltering September morning when most wanted IS leader was tipped off by his agent operating in Delhi about security agencies classified set-up.
Sources said Saifullah, who was not averse to coming here vanished in thin air, was warned by Samiun Rahman, an al-Qaeda operative later arrested by the Special Cell of Delhi Police on September 17.
“Samiun’s digital activities were under constant monitoring since he had landed in Delhi in July. He was in regular touch with Saifullah in Bangladesh, who was monitoring Rohingya’s recruitment drive. The plan was to net him if he lands here,” sources said.
The Intelligence reports about Saifullah in the past were fragmentary and often contradictory. Some reports had suggested that he was operating from Syria while a report in April this year indicated Saifullah had returned to Bangladesh in January 2017.
The elusive ISIS terrorist had picked up Samiun, an al-Qaeda member for his operational talents and the experience earned in the terror fields of Syria and Iraq. Samiun, sources said, has strange capability for changing identities and appearances. After Samiun reached Delhi disguised as Shumon in July, his messaging apps and phones were put under constant surveillance. The details gleaned from his coded conversations led the officers to Saifullah and few other terror modules operating in India.
According to Intelligence sources, Samiun had informed Saifullah that India could be used as a launch pad for Rohingya’s recruitment drive. The plan that emerged from the discussion within the intelligence and Delhi Police establishments was based on messages between Saifullah and Samiun to open another window of terror in the country. In the first week of September, Samiun booked an air ticket for a European country with a return date for Delhi in early October.
The Intelligence gathered from his email communications that was kept under monitoring suggested that al-Qaeda recruit had already made forays in Rohingya community settled in the outskirts of Delhi, West Bengal, Assam and Jammu with potent propaganda tool to radicalization vulnerable population. Samiun had recced some of these parts of the country inhabited by refugees for spotting talent.
“A conscious decision was taken not to pick him up. He was allowed to roam free though he was put under constant surveillance and shadowed everywhere by highly skilled intelligence operatives from Delhi Police Special Cell. But, somehow around September 10-11 he got a whiff of surveillance and there was evidence of shift in his routine. On the following day Samiun preponed the departure and sent some coded message to Saifullah advising him to hold his future India plans. We moved quickly and arrested him but lost the most prized catch,” sources further added.
Even more worrying for agencies, Intelligence operatives reported is the growing presence of IS recruiters linked to Saifullah in India. The assessment gathered from Samiun’s interrogation suggests the name of suspected Rohingya recruiters and a senior officer confirmed there would be more arrests soon.
Rohingya Muslims in India
According to various aid agencies, about 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in India since fleeing their homeland of Myanmar in the wake of violence. Terming them illegal immigrants, the Centre has categorically said it seeks to deport all the Rohingyas.