The National Investigation Agency is looking into a “kill list” obtained from handlers of the Islamic State group. The list targets computer experts such as ethical hackers and software managers who helped agencies trace members of the outfit and recruits. It contains names of of people across the world, including details of more than 150 such professionals from Maharashtra, and nearly 70 from Mumbai alone, The Indian Express reported.

Investigators recovered the list from a laptop belonging to a suspected Islamic State recruit from Maharashtra’s Parbhani, Nasir Bin Yafi Chaus, who has been arrested. The agency has not ruled out the possibility that the “kill list” recovered could be a “red herring” planted to distract them from the “real targets”.

Chaus’ handler, identified as Syria-based Shafi Armar alias Yusuf alias Farooque, had shared the list with him. Officials told The Indian Express that that the “kill list” specified names, designations, companies and email addresses of the targets.

A senior security official aware of the case said that these professionals were being targetted because they were seen as a “threat to their ideology”. “Many of these professionals are ethical hackers and some of them are also associated with various security agencies in curbing the IS menace...We visited a few of them and found nothing that they do or have done which could be constituted as anti-IS,” the official said, adding that it was evident that the list had been “diligently prepared”.

Chaus was among the four arrested from Maharashtra’s Parbhani and Hingoli between July and August last year, after the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Sqaud busted a suspected Islamic State module in Parbhani. The others arrested were Iqbal Kabir Ahmed, Shaheed Khan and Mohammed Raisuddin Siddique. The ATS believed they were planning to attack the Aurangabad ATS unit.

An official explained that pro-Islamic State hacker groups share such lists on messenger services like Telegram, which are hard to track by security agencies. “The list is shared with a sympathiser, and if the target is someone in their neighbourhood, they are egged on to carry out an attack to prove his allegiance towards IS.”