India’s Home-Grown Jihadi Threat: A Profile of the Indian Mujahideen

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 4

Muslim activists in New Delhi protest against terrorism following a wave of bomb blasts in September 2008. The Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed nearly 30 people and injured over 100 others. (Photo: AFP)

Unknown before 2008, the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) has emerged as a well-organized jihadi terrorist group in India, claiming responsibility for a number of terror attacks perpetrated in various urban centers of India during 2007-2008. Even though the exact moment of IM’s formation is not known, the recent arrest of a number of IM operatives has revealed its possible existence and involvement in terror strikes in India as far back as late October 2005. The name “Indian Mujahideen” was reportedly conceived at a terrorist conclave attended by top leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI) in Pakistani-administered Kashmir in early May 2008 (, July 29, 2008).

The well-concealed rise of the Indian Mujahedeen as a home grown jihadi organization is not a good omen for India’s security. IM came into the open for the first time in November 2007, when simultaneous bomb blasts targeted lawyers in court premises in three Uttar Pradesh cities—Varanasi, Faizabad (Ayodhya), and Lucknow (NDTV, November 23, 2007). IM described the attacks as “Islamic raids” and justified them as revenge against lawyers who had allegedly assaulted a couple of Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorist suspects. IM also alleged that the lawyers had refused to take cases involving other alleged terrorists, including suspected HuJI leader and Phulpur-based Islamic cleric Muhammad Waliullah, the alleged mastermind of the March 2006 Sankatmochan temple blasts in Varanasi.

In IM terror strikes, email messages have typically been sent out to the media prior to the attacks, describing IM viewpoints on issues such as the Babri mosque demolition, the Mumbai riots, the communal violence in Gujarat that followed the 2002 torching of a train carrying Hindus, and various atrocities against the Muslim community in Gujarat and beyond. IM cites these incidents as reasons for their Islamic jihad.  IM’s email manifestos shed some light on its objectives. The group calls for spreading Islam in India and waging jihad against the “infidels” (non-Muslims, i.e. Hindus) and establishing “God’s government” according to Quranic tenets.

After prolonged investigations, Indian intelligence agencies have corroborated that members of IM are mainly drawn from proscribed outfits such as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Pakistan-based LeT and the Bangladesh-based HuJI. IM’s email statements indicate their ties with SIMI when they put forward demands for the release of SIMI cadres under detention or serving jail terms. However, the newly emerged IM continues to deny any connection with Pakistan, Bangladesh, or any of their agencies (e.g. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] and Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence [DGFI]). It also denies any links with terrorist groups such as LeT and HuJI.

The Indian Mujahideen has been trying to garner support from India’s teeming Muslim population, often by raising indigenous issues in its manifestos. Since the Uttar Pradesh Court attacks, IM, as a home-grown jihadi outfit, has claimed responsibility for at least four major terror strikes in 2008 that targeted civilians. Each attack came with prior emails to media citing a list of anti-Muslim atrocities in the country. The group justifies the violence by tagging the terror campaign as the “rise of Jihad” and the “revenge of Gujarat.” [1]

The Indian Mujahideen’s Urban Mayhem

Massive IM terrorist attacks occurred throughout India in 2008, all apparently designed to inflict maximum civilian casualties:

• May 13, 2008:  Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan State, suffered nine bomb blasts that killed over 60 and injured scores of people. The explosions occurred in busy market places, including Tripolia market, Manek Chowk and Johri Bazaar.

• July 25, 2008: IM struck again in India’s IT capital, Bengaluru (Bangalore, Karnataka State), with eight simultaneous low-intensity blasts, in which at least two people were killed and seven injured. The explosions occurred near the Madivala check point in Hosur Road, the Adugodi area, a place near the Mallya Hospital, and another site near the Rashtriya Military School.

• July 26, 2008: A series of over 16 synchronized bomb blasts hit Ahmadabad (Gujarat State), in which as many as 38 people were killed and more than 100 others injured. Most of the blasts occurred in crowded places like Hatkeshwar, Bapunagar, Narol, Ishanpur, Saraspur, Sarangpur, and L.G. General Hospital in Maninagar.

• September 13, 2008: The national capital, New Delhi, was hit by a series of five bomb blasts that killed nearly 30 people and injured over 100 others. The explosions took place in the crowded Karol Bagh area, the busy Barakhamba Road, the market place at Greater Kailash, and the Central Park in Cannaught Place area.

After widespread mayhem in these vital urban centers, the organization was subject to a stepped-up counterterrorist crackdown on its operatives and hideouts across the country. At least six senior IM leaders are reported to have fled to Pakistan or Bangladesh after the Delhi serial blasts. They were identified by Mumbai’s Crime Branch as Riyaz Bhatkal, Amir Reza, Iqbal Bhatkal, Muhammad Khalid, Shahzad Ahmed, and Ariz Khan.

After months of investigations it is widely believed by intelligence agencies in India that the IM was created by Pakistan’s ISI to operate beyond Kashmir. However, no conclusive evidence has been gathered to implicate the ISI in such an alliance. [2] The alleged Pakistani connection has not been supported by the large number of arrests of Indian operatives after the recent terrorist attacks.
Terror Tentacles

Though many details of IM’s organization remain unclear, some facets of the mystery were unraveled during the interrogations of arrested cadres, documented in the 1,809- page charge sheet filed by the Mumbai Crime Branch. 21 IM members have been charged for conspiracy, damaging a place of worship with intent to insult a particular religion, collecting arms for waging war, and waging war against the country. Most of the accused are from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh and are well-qualified professionals (The Hindu, February 18). Among the 21 suspects is Muhammed Saif, who was involved in the September 13, 2008,  New Delhi serial blasts and was later captured during the controversial October 19, 2008, Batla House raids, in which two suspects were killed.

Since his arrest, Muhammad Saif has provided details of the IM organization and its countrywide activities. According to his confession, the Indian Mujahedeen has four wings, each wing having a distinct responsibility for spreading terror in India with the LeT’s active assistance (Bangalore Mirror, February 18;, February 10):

(1)  Shahabuddin Ghouri Brigade: Headed by Amir Raza; responsible for planning and executing attacks in southern India, headquartered in Kerala

(2)  Muhammad Ghaznavi Brigade:  Responsible for planning and executing terror strikes in northern India

(3)  Shaheed-al-Zarqawi Brigade: Responsible for targeting political and other important personalities of the country as well as organizing suicide attacks

(4)  Media Wing: Headquartered in Pune, Maharashtra, the wing was responsible for email and print media communications/press release of manifestos before or after the blasts [3]

The arrest of IM cadres from different locations demonstrates the geographical spread of a terror network that now spans the length and breadth of India—possibly even extending into neighboring states.

Indian Mujahideen Who’s Who

After months of speculation on the leadership hierarchy of IM, investigating agencies finally sketched a relatively clear picture of who’s who in IM. Earlier, it had been speculated that the group’s leader was Abdul Subhan Qureshi (a.k.a. Taqueer), a former SIMI cadre and software engineer by profession. However, instead the credit of founding the first home-grown Indian jihadi outfit goes to Sadiq Israr Sheikh of Azamgarh. A former SIMI member and an electronics engineer by profession, Sheikh has been identified as the co-founder and leader of the IM. Sheikh is alleged to have contacts with LeT in Pakistan through his brother-in-law, Mujahid Salim (The Hindu, February 22). The anti-terrorism squad of the Maharashtra police has been interrogating Sheikh regarding his role in the group’s July 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai. Sheikh has described how the group planted seven cookers filled with explosives on the train before getting off in advance of the blasts (Times of India, February 27). Sheikh’s confession also indicates IM’s hand in the March 2006 attack on the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi.

Riyaz Bhatkal (a.k.a. Ismail Shahbandri), who has eluded police so far, is the commander of the southern region. Iqbal Bhatkal, Riyaz’s brother, has a senior position in the IM hierarchy, according to police sources. [4] Riyaz Bhatkal was previously involved in organized crime in Mumbai as part of the infamous Fazlu Rehman gang (Chennai Online, September 27, 2008). Interrogation of arrested IM members revealed that Bhatkal was a key LeT operative in south India who had planned the Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Ahmadabad, and New Delhi serial blasts (, January 5). Abdul Subhan Qureshi, still on the run and formerly believed to be IM’s leader, has now been confirmed as the IM second-in-command. Despite previously being named as one of the country’s most wanted terrorist masterminds, Abdul Subhan’s name did not appear in the recently filed chargesheet (Indian Express, February 19).

The most surprising revelation has been the many IT professionals found to be involved in IM’s activities, including wealthy professionals Asghar Peerbhoy, Salman Kadar Shaikhand, and Asif Bashiruddin Shaikh, who have played pivotal roles in generating funds for the outfit and planning attacks. Peerbhoy, believed to have headed IM’s media wing, reportedly worked for before being arrested by the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad in October 2008 (Indian Express, February 5, 2009).


1. See the full text of IM’s manifesto following the Ahmadabad blasts, signed by Al Arbi Guru al-Hindi; “The Rise of Jihad, Revenge of Gujarat,” Outlook India, July 29, 2008.

2. For a possible ISI linkage, see, B. Raman, “Another step in ISI-sponsored Indianization of jihad,”, July 27, 2008.

3. The e-mail communications and manifestos were sent through similar IDs and signed with a distinct pseudonym, “Guru al-Hindi.” See Praveen Swami, “Terror mail threatens to stop India’s heartbeat,” The Hindu, September 14, 2008.

4. For a detailed background of Riyaz Bhatkal and the influence of the Tabligh Jamaat on his thought, see “Politics of hate gave birth to top terror commander,” The Hindu, February 23.