The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which had picked up 10 youths for alleged links with the banned Islamic State (IS), has said that the accused, including a 17-year-old, had allegedly planned to cause “mass casualties” in India before travelling to Syria in order to be received as credible recruits by the terror organisation.
The lawyers of the accused denied their clients were involved in any such plans. In an indication that the accused were greenhorns, ATS officers probing the case have alleged that they explored harebrained ideas to carry out attacks, such as “burning a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and black pepper”, hoping it would cause an explosion.
According to the statements of the accused recorded by ATS, the nine men and one minor would reportedly hold meetings in Mumbra, on Mumbai’s suburbs, every night around 9 for the past few months. They allegedly planned to mix a toxic chemical in the ‘prasad’ at a temple and also in the food at a hospital in Nagpada, Mumbai.
The ATS also said they discussed setting off an explosion at the office of an Indian right-wing organisation. “They were still learning. They would surf the Internet and with the help of online tutorials, they were trying to make bombs and toxic chemicals,” said an investigator.
Khizer Patel, lawyer of six of the 10 accused, denied the charge. “The ATS is making several claims… Recently in court, it claimed that one accused had preserved a dead lizard in a bottle of oil because it becomes poisonous…”
He said ATS has little evidence of any attack being planned by the youths. “They have recovered phenyl, vinegar and rat poison from their houses. Poisonous substances are readily available in the market, why would anyone make so much effort to make some toxic chemicals,” Patel asked.
Among those arrested is Mohsin Sirajuddin Khan, accused of radicalising the others. The ATS claimed that he had even set the others a target of raising Rs 2 lakh each to meet travel and living expenses in Syria. “They planned to collect the sum by selling their house or withdrawing money from fixed deposits. They would exercise together and were learning hunting methods in preparation for a stay in a jungle in Syria,” said an officer.
The ATS has alleged that Mohsin started radicalising the youths from Mumbra and Aurangabad, starting with his brothers Salman and Taqi, then scouting for recruits in mosques and in the vicinity of Muslim organisations.
Mohsin formed three groups on messaging app Telegram, adding his brothers, brother-in-law Mohammed Sarfaraz, relative Mohamed Mushahid-Ul-Islam, Mazhar Shaikh from Mumbra (son of gangster Rashid Marbari), Fahad Ansari (Mumbra), Jaman Khuteupad (Mumbra), Talha Pudrik (Mumbra) and a 17-year-old teen (Mumbra).
Officials said Mohsin was keen to recruit others with technical know-how, and thus selected Khuteupad, a medical representative with a laboratory in Nagpada, and Mazhar, the son of a gangster, Marbari. Khuteupad reportedly floated the idea of mixing chemicals in food served at a hospital.
Mazhar then reportedly came in contact online with an IS sympathiser, claiming to be from Afghanistan. He identified himself as ‘Keep Safe Distance’. He reportedly added Mazhar in a Telegram group where extremist material was posted. While the ATS has sent cellphones from all 10 youngsters for forensic examination, and are hopeful of extracting the contents, they conceded that the extremist material the accused are alleged to have viewed is not available on their phones. “They deleted it,” claimed an officer.
The ATS, having monitored the group’s conversation on cyber platforms for several weeks, laid a trap and arrested Mohsin, Taqi, Mazhar and Sarfaraz from Aurangabad on January 23. Their interrogation led to one more arrest, Mushahid-Ul-Islam, a freelance graphic designer who was pursuing graduation.
During their interrogation, the names of Salman, Ansari, Khuteupad and the minor were revealed, claimed ATS. They were picked up from Mumbra on January 23.