Lucknow encounter: Saifullah was shot dead after a near 12-hour-long stand off.
Saifullah, the young man who was shot dead on the outskirts of Lucknow in a lengthy operation by commandos yesterday, was a "self-radicalised ISIS operative," the Uttar Pradesh police said today. Along with eight other young men, he belonged to a "self-proclaimed ISIS cell" that had no external support or funding, said senior police officer Daljit Choudhary. The group allegedly plotted the bombing yesterday on a train in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh that left nine people injured.
Sources in the National Investigation Agency, which is handling the case, offered a different version from the UP police. They said the group had a handler, most likely based abroad, of as yet undetermined nationality. They said the group had been active for at least six months in planning attacks and that its ringleader, Atif Muzzaffar, is a dropout from Aligarh Muslim University.
He was arrested yesterday along with two other men in Madhya Pradesh. "Paraphernalia shows terrorists' links with ISIS, they sent a photo to handler via social media," said Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to news agency ANI.
An ISIS flag and a timetable for trains was found near Saifullah's body
Yesterday, as the Anti-Terror Squad executed a 12-hour effort to capture Saifullah alive in Lucknow from a safe house rented by his group, the UP police briefed reporters on the developments. Sources in the union Home Ministry say they are upset with "the running commentary."
When Saifullah, originally a resident of Kanpur, was shot, an ISIS flag was found near him. His father, Sartaj, has refused to accept his body today, saying he "cannot make his peace with a traitor."
Apart from Saifullah, six members have been arrested, including two of his cousins who lived in Kanpur. The others were caught in Madhya Pradesh, where the group is accused of planting a low-intensity bomb on a train yesterday that injured nine people.
Security camera footage helped identify three men who were caught within hours in Madhya Pradesh; information shared by them led to Saifullah and the other arrests in Uttar Pradesh. The group was planning to attack a shrine in Barabanki, just 29 km from Lucknow, as also the famous Imambara monument, a grand complex that houses a shrine in Lucknow, said sources handling the investigation.
The suspects seen on CCTV footage getting out of a bus
Sources also said that the group met the pattern of ISIS cells busted in cities like Hyderabad who were guided, mainly online, by a handler abroad, asked to organise weapons locally, and then select targets. Saifullah was heavily armed with a stockpile of ammunition and eight pistols. The group had assembled the bomb used on the train in the Lucknow home. He was left behind when they headed to Madhya Pradesh.