More than a year after a bomb blast on a busy street in central Bengaluru killed a woman, Telangana police have arrested a 30-year-old suspect who has allegedly confessed to having planted the improvised explosive device, sources told The Indian Express.
The suspect, identified only as Rafiq, is also allegedly linked to the July 2008 blasts believed to have been carried out by Indian Mujahideen and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) cadre in Ahmedabad that killed 56 people, said sources.
The real identity of Rafiq, who had been living in Bengaluru for the last three years as a mechanic, has been established as Alemzeb Afridi, they said. Afridi is allegedly associated with a splinter group of the proscribed SIMI.
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The arrest, in southeast Bengaluru on January 23, occurred while attention was focussed on the arrests of 14 alleged Islamic State sympathisers by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) the day before. It occurred shortly after the NIA released a video of a suspect in the Church Street bombing, with sources saying that it matched the profile of Afridi.
When cornered near his home in Doddanagamangala near Parappana Agrahara, Afridi allegedly attacked a constable and mutilated himself, too, forcing hospitalisation, said sources.
Afridi had come under the radar of security agencies in recent months, and was apprehended when it was suspected that he was making an attempt to flee with his wife from Bengaluru following the IS-related arrests, sources said.
On December 28, 2014, Bhavani Devi, a 37-year-old from Chennai, was killed in the blast that occurred around 7 pm outside the prominent Coconut Grove restaurant. Devi was on a dinner outing with her extended family in the central business district.
A former resident of the Juhapura area in Ahmedabad, Afridi is alleged to have fled from Gujarat after the 2008 blasts. He is considered a close associate of a top SIMI leader Abdus Subhan Qureshi, alias Touqeer, who is still at large.
In the course of investigations since his recuperation over the last few days, Afridi allegedly claimed that he planted the bomb outside the restaurant on the directions of a man whose identity is yet to be established, sources said. Afridi also claimed that he intended to plant the device inside the restaurant but was deterred by the presence of people and placed it outside the compound wall, they added.
Afridi is also being linked to a 2015 case of arson outside an Israeli visa office in Bengaluru, which was captured on CCTV, sources said.
They added that Afridi allegedly claimed that he constructed the IED for the Church Street blast himself from knowledge gathered earlier and from online sources. He has claimed to have created the concoction of explosives by using substances like potassium from match sticks, said sources. Forensic analysis of the bomb scene in December 2014 had revealed the presence of a mixture of Ammonium Nitrate, Sulphur, Aluminium and Potassium Chlorate as substances in the explosion.
The motive behind the blast, which occurred shortly after the December 13, 2014 arrest of suspected online IS propagandist Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who operated the Twitter handle @ShamiWitness, has not been ascertained as yet. The NIA, which is investigating the Church Street blast case, is likely to take custody of Afridi shortly, sources said.
Besides, they said, the device used for the Bengaluru blast was very similar in nature to bombs planted in Chennai, Pune, Rourkee and Patna since October 2013.
A team of experts from the NSG’s bomb data centre that visited Bengaluru had reported that the Church Street device was very similar to IEDs used by SIMI/IM operatives for blasts at a Narendra Modi rally in Patna on October 27, 2013. The similarities are in the technical specifications such as the use of L-shaped pipes that are 2.5 inches in diameter with a 5 mm thickness, a timer-based triggering mechanisms and explosives, said sources.
The needle of suspicion in the blast had pointed towards five fugitives linked to SIMI who escaped from the Khandwa prison in Madhya Pradesh in October 2013 who are found to have been involved in a series of bombings and bank robberies across India since early 2014.