A man arrested by Trombay police on January 29 for allegedly selling illegally procured SIM cards is now being probed for terror links. The Mumbai police are currently decoding at least one encrypted message allegedly found on one of the cellphones found in possession of Sharif Haneef Khan (26).
Officers suspect the message makes a mention of locations in Mumbai and Iraq, and contains a coded reference to a terror act, said a senior official privy to the investigation.
The local investigating team has sought help from specialised units, including the Anti-Terrorism Squad and other agencies, to probe Khan, officers said. Officers also alleged Khan’s personal diary contained “doubtful content”.
On the day of his arrest, Khan was allegedly found holed up in his rented space in Trombay’s Cheetah Camp with 12 cellphones, three stamps with the print of two major telecom companies, Rs 24,000, 1,777 activated and 393 non-activated prepaid SIM cards — all belonging to a particular telecom company. The police seized his personal computer, a printer, a huge bundle of forged papers and his personal diary.
“His personal diary had about 25-30 used pages and contained doubtful content. There were codes written in English but hard to decipher.
There were also names of several countries in the Middle East that had been noted down, those countries that are facing conflict right now,” said the senior officer.
While the police is probing the details behind the forged SIM connections and the trail of illegal purchases involved in getting SIM cards active, a special team comprising officers of the Maharashtra ATS, cyber cell and crime branch are working to understand the language behind the message and the contents in his diary, since Khan is learnt to be non-cooperative.
A preliminary probe has found that Khan — a history sheeter arrested twice in the past for stealing — has Facebook friends from the Middle East. Officers said one concern so far is that he used an assumed name, Dangerous Hacker, and used only a social media account to stay in touch with friends from Middle East countries that are facing conflict.
Two others — Atin Vats (29) and Dharmendra Bangaari (31) — both territory channel sales managers in a leading telecom company, have also been arrested in the case. Officials said they allegedly aided Khan in procuring prepaid SIM cards.
“No international calls can be made on these prepaid SIM cards. However, they could receive calls made from other countries. We are trying to obtain the Call Data Records (CDR) of all the live SIM cards and trace the user,” said an officer. Khan claims to have sold nearly 10,000 such SIM cards in 2014.
“Khan ran a mobile repair shop by the name Alia Communications. However, he said in the last two months, he asked his brother to run it while he ran the illegal business from his rented room at Cheetah Camp,” an officer said. On Tuesday, police arrested a fourth accused in the case, Abid Rashid Siddiqui (20), a salesman with another telecom agency.