New Delhi: Indian intelligence agencies suspect that one of the gunmen who attacked a gurudwara in Kabul earlier this week was from Kasargod, Kerala.
Three gunmen Wednesday stormed the gurdwara where hundreds had gathered for prayers, killing 25 people. Among them was an Indian national as well. The attack was later claimed by the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghanistan outfit of the terror group Islamic State (IS, also abbreviated as ISIS). Amaq News Agency, which is affiliated to the IS, released a photo of one of the gunmen.
The photograph shows a man holding a Type 56 assault rifle and pointing his finger up in the Tawhid salute, a gesture used by IS terrorists as a symbol of their cause.
According to a source in the intelligence, the man is suspected to be 21-year-old Muhammad Muhsin, also known as Abu Khalid Al-Hindi.
“That photograph appears to be that of one Muhammad Muhsin. He is not an accused in any case of NIA,” the source said.
“Muhsin was a native of Kasargod and was a school dropout. According to our information, he had joined the ISIS. From the pictures released by ISIS, we strongly suspect that one of the gunmen was Muhsin,” the source said.
“Muhsin had reportedly gone to Dubai first, where he stayed for a while and worked for an active member in a Telegram group. He then migrated to Afghanistan from Dubai,” the source added.
NIA can register case
Given that an Indian national is among the fatalities, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) can register a case in the matter in accordance with the expanded ambit of the amended NIA Act. However, it can proceed only after an approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The amended NIA Act gives the agency extra-territorial jurisdiction, allowing it to register a case and investigate terror attacks reported from abroad that either target Indians, Indian interests or have any links to India.
If registered, this will be the first international case to be probed by the NIA since the amendment.
The IS had issued a statement saying the Kabul attack was revenge for India’s treatment of Muslims in Kashmir and threatened more attacks.
Earlier this month, Delhi Police arrested a couple with alleged links to the same Khorasan module from southeast Delhi’s Jamia Nagar over allegations of inciting protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Police said officers of intelligence services alerted them to the suspicious activities of the couple from Kashmir, who were purportedly planning terror activity in the national capital. The police added that that the couple had been on their radar for a while.
The attack in Kabul is not the first by the IS in Afghanistan. A suicide attack, also claimed by IS-K, killed at least 19 people in mid-2018. Many of the fatalities were from the Sikh community in Jalalabad city of Nangarhar. The attack also killed Awtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate who had planned to contest the parliamentary elections.
Rise of IS-K
Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) is the Islamic State’s Central Asian province which came into existence in 2015.
As the Islamic State lost its territory in Syria and Iraq, it turned to Afghanistan to set up a base for its global caliphate. According to intelligence agencies, the IS made these provinces after it decentralised.
Khorasan was one such province in which the terror group had a stronghold. The IS invested a majority of its financial resources here to build its networks in Central Asia.
“Khorasan province was not just a stronghold for ISIS, but also has a history of Islamic radicalism and has been a centre of Islamic rebels,” a source in the Indian intelligence said.
Hafiz Saeed Khan, who was killed by a United States airstrike in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, on 26 July 2016, was chosen to spearhead IS-K in 2014.
The outfit, according to officials, has received support from the Islamic State’s core leadership in Iraq and Syria, and has been responsible for more than 100 attacks against civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A wife’s plea to the PM
Among those killed in Wednesday’s gurudwara attack was Tian Singh. Soon after the incident, Singh’s wife Rajeet Kaur wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting for arrangements to bring her husband’s body back to New Delhi from Kabul.
“My husband was visiting Kabul to meet his distant relatives and friends there as our family has roots in Kabul. He was also there to help the poor Afghan national Sikhs,” Kaur wrote.
“We request you to facilitate and arrange immediate transportation and airlift of mortal remains of my husband from Kabul to Delhi and we would like to perform his last rites in Delhi as we do not have any blood relatives in Kabul and my other children are in the USA and UK,” she further said.
Citing the ongoing travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kaur asked for help since her children cannot travel to Kabul or Delhi.
The three gunmen had first killed a guard to access the gurudwara and then made their way towards the compound where they opened fire inside the shrine.
According to the country’s Interior Ministry spokesman, Tariq Arian, the siege began at 7:45am and Afghan security forces responded promptly by cordoning off the area.
Forces cleared one floor of the complex, and had to move slowly in order to avoid civilian casualties, Arian added.
According to Narinder Singh Khalsa, a member of Afghanistan’s Parliament representing the country’s Sikh minority, three suicide bombers entered the gurdwara’s dharamshala, the sanctuary area within the complex, and began attacking worshippers.