Active on social media, school dropout was drawn towards pro-Khalistan online movementhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/active-on-social-media-school-dropout-was-drawn-towards-pro-khalistan-online-movement-5494664/

Active on social media, school dropout was drawn towards pro-Khalistan online movement

The FB group, which propagates the idea of a separate Khalistan, has about 2,315 followers.

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Investigation has revealed that Harpalsingh Pratapsingh Naik (42) of Punjab, who was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) this month from Pune, was active on social media and was allegedly drawn towards operatives based in London and Pakistan, who were promoting ‘Referendum 2020’, a movement to gather online support to declare Punjab as a separate Khalistan nation.

The intelligence wing of Punjab Police has also been in contact with the Maharashtra ATS as a suspect, Mohin Khan alias Munna Khan of Delhi, who was arrested by the Punjab Police from Sirhind, was found to be associated with Harpalsingh. As Harpalsingh worked as a driver on a trailer, his trips to various areas are being investigated.

Investigators have confirmed that Harpalsingh and Khan, both active social media users, belonged to the same pro-Khalistan ‘terrorist gang’ and were allegedly involved in procuring firearms and inciting youths to carry out terror attacks in the country as per the instructions of operatives based outside India. The duo, along with other suspects being probed in this case, have been found to be connected to each other through a Facebook group, ‘Khalistani Zindabad Khalistan’. The group was allegedly formed by Harpalsingh, who is a native of Ropar district in Punjab, said sources.

The FB group, which propagates the idea of a separate Khalistan, has about 2,315 followers. No messages were posted on this group after December 2, the day Harpalsingh was arrested from Chakan Shikrapur Road. He was found to be in possession of a pistol and five cartridges, said ATS sources.

Punjab Police, meanwhile, had recovered a pistol and cartridges from Munna Khan, against whom an offence under sections of Indian Penal Code and Arms Act was lodged at the Sirhind Mandi police station this month.

Probe is on to ascertain whether they procured and supplied more firearms to sympathisers of the Khalistan movement. Investigators are zeroing in on an operative from London, who is reportedly connected to the two suspects through social media, and is suspected to be handling the group. The investigation has also revealed that Harpalsingh, a school dropout, was allegedly indoctrinated by social media operatives from India and abroad, including UK and Pakistan, who are suspected to have encouraged him to work for the cause of a separate Khalistan. He is then suspected to have become part of the ‘Referendum 2020’ movement and to have been connected to thousands through social media platforms like FB and WhatsApp. Police said at the time of arrest, Harpalsingh was living in Bellary. During searches, ATS recovered an identity card of a prominent corporate company, along with a blank cheque and an ATM card, from him. The ATS has invoked the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act against Harpalsingh and he has been remanded to police custody till December 17.

State ATS chief Atulchandra Kulkarni said, “As part of the probe, the online activities of the suspect and the sources of funding are being looked into. We are coordinating with Punjab Police on the subject.”

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Senior Superintendent of Police of Punjab’s Fatehgarh district, Alka Meena, told The Indian Express, “Recently, we recovered a weapon from a person who was held after his movements were found to be suspicious… we found that this person was linked with a suspect arrested by Maharashtra Police. Investigation in the case is going on and our intelligence wing is coordinating with Maharashtra Police on the subject.”