NEW DELHI: Mohammad Shafi Armar, the head and principal recruiter of Islamic State (IS) in India, died a few days ago in a US drone strike in Syria, sources said.
Shafi, also known as Yousuf, had reportedly become an important ally of IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and was helping establish the outfit in India. He is learnt to have recruited at least 30 men for the group. According to 23 IS recruits arrested over the past year and a half by the NIA, Delhi Police and police forces of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, Shafi planned to establish an IS unit in every Indian state.
According to top government sources, the death of 26-year-old Shafi, a native of Bhatkal in Karnataka, may have left the Indian unit of IS “headless” for now. His elder brother Sultan Armar, who was heading the outfit’s India franchise till last year, died in March 2015 in the same manner. TOI confirmed Shafi’s death from three top government and intelligence sources. The agencies are ascertaining the exact circumstances under which he was killed.
Listed on the Interpol website, Shafi had recently formed Junud al Khalifa-e-Hind (Soldiers of the Indian Caliphate) by dismantling the Ansar-ul-Tauhid (AuT). AuT was born out of Indian Mujahideen (IM) after Shafi and Sultan developed differences with Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal, the Pakistan-based chiefs of IM, over misuse of funds received for terror activities. AuT had pledged loyalty to IS and Shafi conducted talent-scouting from his Syrian base.
It is suspected that Shafi was in touch with at least 600-700 Indian youngsters on closed Facebook groups and messaging platforms like Trillion, Surespot, WhatsApp and Skype over the past one year, and may have recruited some men for the outfit. He even arranged funds – through transfers and hawala transactions – for IS recruits here. He sent some Rs 6 lakh to the module of Mudabbir Mushtaq Shaikh, whom Shafi made the ‘amir’ of IS in India while keeping the larger ‘head’ designation with himself. Sources said very few IS recruits have managed to travel to Syria as security agencies have been keeping a close watch on their activities in India.
“We have learnt about his death. We are gathering more details. The final confirmation and details may take time as it is difficult to get information from Syria, where IS has presence, but it’s big news,” said a top official.
Officials said Shafi was the common link between several IS suspects caught or questioned by different agencies. Sultan Armar, who headed AuT before his death, allegedly appeared in many videos (now blocked) with his face digitally masked, asking Indian Muslims to join AuT and wage a war in the name of jihad. In one of the videos, he reportedly exhorted, “Rise like Ahmad Shah Abdali and Muhammad ibn-Qasim, like Syed Ahmad the martyr, like the Prophet and his companions, take the Quran in one hand and the sword in the other, and head to the fields of jihad.” He also asked IS recruits to “teach Brahmins and worshippers of cows, as well as the whole world of unbelievers, that the Indian Muslim is no coward”.
The Armar brothers’ links to the IS first emerged during the interrogation of Yasin Bhatkal, who headed IM and was arrested in 2013.