India shares phone numbers of five Lankans linked to IS

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In the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings which killed more than 250 people, India has shared with Sri Lanka phone numbers of five Lankans suspected to be associated with Islamic State (IS).

India has also shared call logs and details of some Indians who were in touch with the family of two Lankan suicide bombers involved in the attacks, the Indian Express reported.

The report by the Indian Express said:

“A National Investigation Agency (NIA) team was in Sri Lanka last week in connection with the agency’s probe into two IS modules in India that are suspected to have had connections in Sri Lanka. “The NIA had found four to five numbers in Sri Lanka which were in touch either directly or through social media with certain Islamic State suspects in India. These have been shared with Lankan authorities for further investigation.

Whether these numbers belong to those associated with the Easter bombings in any way is not known,” said a Home Ministry official.

Incidentally, the NIA had first generated an input about possible bombings in Sri Lanka when forensic analysis of phones of some IS recruits in Coimbatore threw up a video of Lanka suicide bomber and attack mastermind Zahran Hashim asking Muslims to rise in the cause of Islam and warning of an impending attack.

Following the attack, the NIA had even arrested a youth from Kerala, Riyas Abubakar, for not only being in touch with members of the Kasargod IS module that fled to Afghanistan to join the outfit in 2016 but also for watching and being inspired by videos of Hashim. The NIA claimed Abubakar admitted he had intentions to carry out suicide attacks.

“The NIA has also found that some suspects in India have been in touch with the family of Inshaf and Ilham Ibrahim, two brothers who were among the suicide bombers. They were sons of Lankan spice trading tycoon Yousuf Ibrahim. Details of these people have been given to Lankan authorities. It is not clear whether they are associated with IS or were in touch with the family because the Ibrahims have long-standing trade relations with people in India,” said the Home Ministry official.

The NIA also looked into links of Adhil Ameez, a Lankan tech graduate arrested in connection with the bombings, in India. Ameez, who went by the online identity of Adhil Ax, was extremely popular in several online IS groups. These included a group called “Islam Q&A” where a number of Indians actively engaged. Ameez had come in touch with at least three modules busted by Indian agencies.

Adhil, NIA sources said, was in touch with Ubed Mirza and Qasim Stimberwala arrested in 2017 for planning to attack a synagogue in Ahmedabad. He had also been in touch with modules led by Bhatkal-resident Adnan Hassan Damudi and Jaipur-resident Mohammed Naser. They were deported from Dubai and Sudan respectively in 2016.

“Lankan investigators, however, are yet to find concrete evidence to link Adhil with the Easter bombings. The investigations are still going on, though,” said the Home Ministry official.

Lankan authorities have also denied that Zahran Hashim ever travelled to India, a reiteration of what Sri Lanka President Mathripala Sirisena said on his visit to India recently. Senior Lanka Army Officer Mahesh Senanayake had claimed in an interview after the bombings that Hashim had stayed in India for three months before the blasts.

“At least there is no evidence to prove that he entered India. If he came in surreptitiously infiltrating across the sea, it is not known,” said the official.

Sources said the visit was successful in building relations between agencies of the two countries though the NIA gathered little for their own investigations. “All the bombers are dead. Their electronic devices have been taken away by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is helping the Lankans in the probe. Unless the data from these devices is made available, little will be known of the bombers’ India links,” said the official.