BHUBANESWAR/ROURKELA:In a swift mid-night swoop, four operatives of terror group Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), absconding since the 2013 Khandwa jailbreak in Madhya Pradesh, were arrested by a joint squad of Odisha and Telangana police and the Intelligence Bureau in Rourkela on Tuesday.
A 60-year-old woman, mother of one of the four terror suspects, was also held following a four hour-long operation in a Muslim locality of the Steel City. Three pistols, 11 round ammunition, four daggers and seven to eight mobile phones were seized from them. The exercise, which started around Tuesday mid-night, led to exchange of fire as the terror operatives first offered resistance. However, the team, pooled from Special Tactical Unit (STU) of Special Operation Group (SOG), Rourkela Police, Telangana Police and IB managed to draw them out.
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The four were identified as Sk Mehboob, Amzad Khan, Zakir Hussain and Md Saleq, all of whom in the age group of 28 to 35 years. Sixty-year-old Nazma Biwi is the mother of Mehboob, police said. All of them are natives of Khandwa and were .
Director-General of Police K B Singh said the four were wanted in a series of terror acts, murder and bank robbery across Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, UP and Maharashtra. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the premier anti-terror probe body, wanted them in three cases. The four, last of the Khandwa module of SIMI, carried a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh each on their heads.
“It was a purely intelligence-based operation and combined effort of multiple agencies. The STU, urban counter-terrorism squad of State Police, was pressed into operation for the first time. This is one of the major successes of Odisha Police,” the DGP told mediapersons in Bhubaneswar. Preliminary investigation revealed that the five had taken a house on rent at Qureshy Mohalla in Nala Road area under Plant Site Police Station where they have been staying for last three to four months.
Special Director (Intelligence) of Odisha Police Arun Kumar Sarangi said they were trying to acquire a fake identity. One of them had secured a fake PAN card in the name of Gopal Singh and a bank account was also created. A local insurance agent Naveen Sahu, who had allegedly helped them get the identity, has also been detained and is being questioned.
“We have been keeping a watch on their movements for the last few months and trying to ascertain if they wanted to carry out any operation. Since the entire unit was together for the last three to four days, we suspected that they may move out of Rourkela and intervened,” Sarangi said.
The four were part of the seven SIMI activists who had escaped from Khandwa jail in the intervening night of September 30-October 1 in 2013. A day later, Abid Mirza, one of the seven, was nabbed. Fifteen days later, Abul Fazal, also known as Doctor and the group leader, was arrested.
The rest three were later joined by Saleq, Md Aslam and Mf Aijazuddin. Between 2014 and 2015, the six have allegedly been involved in about 17 cases of terror blasts, murder of policemen and bank heist in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and UP. They are also suspected to be involved in one bank robbery in Sundargarh.
On April 1, 2015, the group had killed a policeman and a home guard at Suryapet in Nalgonda district of Telangana after they were intercepted by the cops. Later, in a police encounter, Md Aslam and Md Aijazuddin, were killed on April 2.
The rest four have been moving across the country ever since. The DGP said they had travelled in 14 States and had as many as 18 hideouts which were later identified by IB. After the escape from the prison, they had stayed at Sambalpur for a while in 2014. Madhya Pradesh Police had visited Sambalpur after tracking their movement.
They used Rourkela as one of their shelter grounds too. However, no connection of the terror suspects with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s February 21 visit to Bargarh has been found. The security agencies are also investigating if they had any plans in the State.
Inspector General, Western Range, R K Sharma said the arrested operatives are the last of the Khandwa module of SIMI. He said they were frequently changing their locations and used both Hindu and Muslim identities. After their arrest, the activists showed no remorse over their fanatic idealism.
Sharma said efforts are underway to establish if they had any local contact and their house owner would also be interrogated. The SIMI operatives are believed to have run out of cash and planning a bank heist in Chhattisgarh before the security agencies caught up with the four.