“How can one be shaheed (a martyr) and enter heaven if he ends up dragging his family to the streets, leaving them in shambles,” wonders an aunt of Mohammed Shariq, 24, the accused in a November 19 blast in Mangaluru.
With tears brimming, she asks whether the family, left with only women after Shariq’s arrest and the death of his father Hasim Abdul Majeed three months ago, have seen the last of the police at their home.
Shariq was in jail for eight months in 2021 for an Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) case registered for writing provocative graffiti on the walls, and wanted in a September 2022 case of testing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Shivamogga. He is now at the centre of a new UAPA case over an accidental blast that occurred in an autorickshaw in Mangaluru this month while he was allegedly ferrying an IED.
“I hope we won’t have any more issues like this,” says Shariq’s aunt, on condition of anonymity, in the family’s home town of Thirthahalli in Shivamogga.
The aunt was one of three close women relatives of Shariq who were called to Mangaluru on November 19 to identify him when he lay injured in a hospital after the autorickshaw blast.
“Our problems would have been manifold if he were still on the run,” says his aunt.
The family fears that the business they relied on – a cloth store in a rented room – now runs the risk of closure due to Shariq’s activities and arrest.
Since Shariq’s first case in 2020, his grandmother’s house at A K Colony in Thirthahalli has been raided several times, with the police seizing 11 mobile phones from the women till date – one of which had all the contacts to procure clothes from Mumbai.
Shariq was distant
Shariq’s father, his relatives say, died of mouth cancer about three months ago when his son’s case had taken a toll on his health leaving him uninclined to pursue chemotherapy. His mother died when he was nine, evoking questions from a few on whether a lack of a mother’s care led him astray. These questions are dismissed by his relatives, who insist that his step-mother Shabnam Bhanu did perform her role in earnest. His sister Aafiya was married around a year ago, and the family worries that the cases against Shariq could put a strain on her marriage too.
The acquaintances of Shariq in the nondescript town of Thirthahalli, nestled in the Western Ghats, remember him as being aloof.
“Probably, he was off in his head by around 25 per cent,” observes Karim Khan, who runs a footwear store along Market Road. “We were shocked by what he did (Mangaluru blast),” he adds.
Others note that people of the town had kept their distance from him since the Mangaluru graffiti case, where he was accused of spraying pro-terror graffiti.
Local residents say after dropping out from a BCom course in a college Shariq had pursued a wholesale cloth business for a while. “He did not want to pursue his father’s (apparel) business,” recalls another relative.
Right around the time of the Shivamogga stabbing incident in August, 2022, Shariq went incommunicado and the worried family registered a missing complaint in September as he was expected to appear in court in connection with the graffiti case. It was only after the blast in Mangaluru did they realise that he was back doing things that the family had expressly forbidden him from doing. “We advised him as much as possible after the graffiti case, but in vain,” the relative rued.
Others linked with Shariq
The Thirthahalli town in the Shivamogga district, where Shariq comes from, has a population of around 16-17,000 people and is located on the banks of the River Tunga. The Thirthahalli assembly constituency is represented by Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra.
“This is a region where people have a lot of awareness. Some of these youths have however got linked to fundamentalists in the coastal Karnataka and Kerala region,” Jnanendra said last week regarding a spurt in the number of individuals accused of involvement in unlawful activities from the region.
Six of the terror suspects caught or absconding in Karnataka since 2021 for unlawful activities and with links to efforts at making bombs with Shariq are from the town. The houses of three suspects are merely a few metres from one another.
Maaz Muneer Ahmed, 22, an accused in the Shivamogga trial bomb blast case of September, was once a resident of Thirtahalli and lived near Shariq. Many are surprised at how he had changed since he was always closely monitored by his parents.
“They shifted to Mangaluru once he started his engineering course,” a resident of the A K Colony said, while indicating that Maaz came from a reputed family known for their charity work.
As soon as the graffiti case came out, his parents ensured that he surrendered to the police as Shariq, who had painted the graffiti, ahad stayed with Maaz, local residents said.
This was the precursor to a series of misfortunes for the family of the engineering student – his sister, a dentist, was divorced over his arrest in the case, his younger brother was asked to leave school and his father Muneer died of a cardiac arrest worrying about his son. Now, the family has moved out of Thirthahalli.
A few in Thirtahalli also question whether Maaz was really involved in the trial blast case.
“He had gone missing for a week. His parents filed a missing complaint and a habeas corpus petition in court on the advice of their lawyer,” a resident close to Maaz’s family said.
Curiously, Maaz was arrested the next day at Thirthahalli and the footage of which was submitted to court by Maaz’s lawyer, he claimed. “We don’t know what actually transpired, but hope that it does not ever repeat in this town,” he added.
Another Thirthahalli resident who has come on the radar of security agencies in the recent months is Abdul Taha Matheen, 30.
Wanted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) with a Rs 3 lakh bounty on his head, Matheen is the son of Mansoor Ahmed, who had served in the Indian Army for 26 years before retiring around 10 years ago.
One of Matheen’s classmates, Sandeep Shetty, recalled him as being a very tech savvy student in his school days. “After school, we were not in contact as he went to a different college,” he said.
His father told reporters recently that Matheen was not in touch with the family since the 2020 case. “We never thought he was waylaid,” he said, advising anyone against pursuing a path that meant trouble for their parents.
Another resident of the town wished that the menace of youth resorting to terror activities is a phase that would pass quickly. “The region was notorious for Naxal movement until a decade ago,” he added.