THE MAHARASHTRA Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) is now probing alleged Islamic State (IS) suspect Tabrez Tambe’s one-month-long visit to India in January 2015 along with his Saudi friend identified as Ali. During the said visit, Tabrez allegedly took him to various areas of Mumbai and its adjoining satellite town of Thane. Sleuths from the agency are now drawing up a list of people with whom Tabrez and Ali interacted in India. They will be questioned by the ATS in due course.
“Tabrez, who was employed in Saudi Arabia since 2014, returned to India after his father’s demise. Ali followed him. The two lived in Amrut Nagar in Mumbra for over a month and interacted with many of Tabrez’s friends. We will now probe the nature of their interaction and also check if any one of them has left the country and if they have, then what is the purpose and how genuine is the purpose cited by them,” said an official.
Of the many sections invoked against Tabrez under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), he has been booked under Section 18 (B) of the Act which deals with punishment for recruiting person or persons for terrorist acts. “We suspect that it was Ali’s idea to visit India for tapping potential recruits who would be interested in fighting alongside IS and the January visit was for this purpose,” the official added.
On Saturday, multiple ATS teams were in Mumbra to make enquiries in connection with the case. Sources add that the family members continued to be questioned on Saturday on various interactions they had with Tambe since January 2015. Other than the family members, the police are quizzing neighbours and the owner of the flat in Saif Apartment where the Tambes currently reside.
“The Tambes moved into a rented accommodation in Saif Apartment in February last year, immediately after Tabrez left for Egypt. The owner has been contacted and his statement will be recorded,” another official said. Before moving into Saif Apartment, the family — which consists of Tabrez’s mother, sister and brothers — lived in the neighbouring locality of Amrut Nagar. Tabrez’s wife stays in their hometown in Harnai in Ratnagiri.
The investigation revealed that while Tabrez left India claiming to have bagged a new job in Egypt, he moved to Libya within a month along with Ali. After moving to Libya earlier this year, Tabrez had informed his family about his plans to join the proscribed outfit. The family was against the decision and had asked him to return.
“The wife, mother and his brothers tried to drill sense into him and asked him to return to India but Tabrez refused and even snapped ties with his family. The conversations between Tabrez and his family members were limited and there were no calls from him between May and September,” the official added.
The family claims that Tabrez recently re-established contact with them, seeking their help to return to India as he developed cold feet after being apprehended by local enforcement authorities in Libya. However, the authorities don’t have any independent confirmation on this claim and are investigating it.
“His family members claim he was held in Libya and approached us. Tambe had confided that he was stuck in Libya and wanted to return and asked his family to lodge a police complaint of him going missing and of them suspecting that he has been brainwashed by his friend Ali to join IS. He had also asked his brother to approach the embassy to facilitate his release. We are now probing if he was actually apprehended or had cooked up the story of his arrest after developing cold feet and wanting to return to India but not being able to find a safe route,” an official said.
The state counter terrorism agency is also focusing to get more leads on the Saudi Arabian national identified as Ali who visited India last year. ATS suspects that Ali was instrumental in Tabrez deciding to join IS but his whereabouts still remains unknown. “Ali is a mystery. In a bid to establish his nationality we have sought help from the Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office (FRRO). His passport details will help us in ascertaining his identity,” added the official.
Tabrez has been booked under Sections 16 (committing terrorist acts), 18 (conspiracy), 18(B) (recruiting person or persons for terrorist act), 20, 38(member of a terrorist organisation) and 39 (supporting a terrorist organisation) under UAPA.
According to sources, Tabrez who hails from Harnai in Ratnagiri had completed his graduation from Mumbai University and subsequently had done a diploma course in Air Cargo management.
He has three brothers and a sister. While the brother who lodged the complaint with ATS works with a private airline as an executive with its booking and reservation centre, one brother works with an IT firm in Hinjewadi, Pune and the other is a student. Somewhere in 2009 the family had moved to Mumbra and has been staying on rent. Their sister stays in Harnai in Ratnagiri.