Four held in Tamil Nadu over links with Easter attacks

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Ten Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) teams on Wednesday carried out raids at locations in Tamil Nadu’s Kumbakonam, Adhirampattinam and Keezhakkarai a day after the anti-terror agency detained four suspects in Chennai who may have links with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, an official said on condition of anonymity.

Raids have been carried out in Kerala and Tamil Nadu to track down people linked to the Islamic State (IS) after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings in Sri Lanka. On April 23, the IS claimed responsibility for the coordinated bombings that left over 250 people dead.

“The NIA and Tamil Nadu’s Q-branch [Criminal Investigation Department] detained four suspects in Chennai [on Tuesday] in connection with the attack in Sri Lanka,” the official cited above said.

The official declined to name the detained suspects, citing security reasons. One of the four is understood to be a Sri Lankan national, who had come to Chennai from Ramanathapuram, according to officials aware of the development. He had rented an apartment using fake documents in the Tamil Nadu capital, they added.

The Sri Lankan national was being interrogated, but NIA officers declined to comment on whether his detention was linked to the April 21 terror attacks in Sri Lanka. Keezhakkarai and Adhirampattinam are two coastal towns close to Sri Lanka across the Palk Strait.

The fresh raids in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday began a day after the NIA arrested a 29-year-old, Riyas A, suspected to be linked to the IS, who allegedly wanted to carry out a suicide attack in Kerala.

The anti-terror agency said Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the Sri Lankan bombings, had inspired Riyas A, who is from Kerala’s Palakkad district.

“From the information given by the Kerala-based suspect, we came to know that a few suspects are in Tamil Nadu. Therefore, we raided several places here [Tamil Nadu] too,” said another officer. “We are in a search of another suspect, who had alleged connections with Zahran Hashim…”

The NIA search operation began in Chennai’s Mannadi on Tuesday night.

An NIA statement on Sunday said Riyas A’s revelation has “stunned” the intelligence agencies and they now believe that the Sri Lanka attacks were part of a larger conspiracy to create terror in the region.

The NIA said Riyas A has told his interrogators that he had been following Hashim’s speeches for over a year.

HT on Sunday reported Hashim and another Sri Lanka bomber, Mohammad Azaan, had traveled to India in 2017 and 2018 to discuss the plans of the IS.