"The group was planning to undertake terrorist attacks at vital installations in India with an aim to kill innocent people and strike terror in their minds," says the NIA. (Representational image: iStock)

By S Neeraj Krishna

INDIA’s National Investigation Agency has arrested nine terror suspects allegedly belonging to a “Pakistan-sponsored” al Qaeda module planning attacks on “vital installations” across the country.

The premier anti-terrorism wing’s raid in the wee hours of Saturday (19) led to the arrests of six suspects in the eastern state of West Bengal and three in the southern state of Kerala.

An NIA officer said a large quantity of incriminating materials — such as digital devices, documents, jihadi literature, sharp weapons, country-made firearms, a locally fabricated body armour, articles and literature used for making home-made explosive devices — was seized during the operation.

“The group was planning to undertake terrorist attacks at vital installations in India with an aim to kill innocent people and strike terror in their minds,” the NIA said.

It added that the terror suspects “were radicalised by Pakistan-based al Qaeda terrorists on social media and were motivated to undertake attacks at multiple places”, including the national capital.

“For this purpose, the module was actively indulging in fund raising and a few members of the gang were planning to travel to New Delhi to procure arms and ammunition,” an NIA spokesman said.

“These arrests have pre-empted possible terrorist attacks in various parts of the country.”

The terror suspects will be produced before the special courts in West Bengal and Kerala, and face further interrogation.

Notably, Kerala has already been embroiled in a controversy, after a high-profile racket — with alleged links in the leftist state government — used the “diplomatic baggage” route for smuggling in huge quantities of gold from the UAE.

The case turned murky as officers suspected that illicit money through such crimes was being used to fuel anti-national activities.

Several central agencies, including the NIA, have launched probes in the state after the national home ministry observed that the “organised smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security”.

A top central intelligence officer based in the state told Eastern Eye that the arrests, which have sent shock-waves across the country, were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“Terror sleeper cells have been on our radar for long,” he added. “Many a time, inputs turn out to be hoax or mere bogeys. But, we are certain that there could be several such modules.”

The officer said there was only a “thin line” between aggressive socio-political activism and anti-national activities. “So, we need to be extra-careful while dealing with such cases,” he said.

“There is also the risk of being branded as ‘anti-minority’ while undertaking investigations involving religious sensitivity. We decide on an operation only after gathering conclusive intelligence.”

India has adopted a “zero-tolerance policy” towards terrorism, and stepped up its offensive against militants in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and elsewhere.