A Rs 1.52 crore heist on Muthoot Fincorp premises in Gulbarga in Karnataka in November 2013, the robbery of gold from a Mini Muthoot Finance office in Medak in Telangana in February this year, and a failed attempt to rob a Mini Muthoot Finance office in Medak on May 30 this year are among many bank robberies under the scanner again as police in multiple states, and the NIA, attempt to find a fugitive gang involved in a series of terrorist acts and bank heists.
The three remaining members of a group of six men with suspected SIMI links, who had escaped from a prison in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh on October 1, 2013, are suspected to be involved in these terror acts and heists.
Mohammed Aijazuddin, 30, and Mohammed Aslam alias Bilal, 26, were killed by Telangana police in Nalgonda on April 4, 2015. The chief of the gang, Abu Faisal, a former SIMI leader from Madhya Pradesh, was captured two months after the jailbreak in 2013. The three at large are Shaikh Mehboob alias Guddu alias Maliq, 25, Amjad alias Daud, 25, and Zakir Hussain alias Sadiq, 32.
The involvement of the gang in bank robberies came to light following a Rs 46 lakh heist at a State Bank of India branch at Choppadandi in Telangana’s Karimnagar district on February 1, 2014. Images of the robbers were picked up by CCTV systems — the robbers had intended to take away the DVR system of the CCTV but mistakenly took away a hard disk containing bank transaction data instead — and the Karimnagar police were able to obtain clear details about their identities.
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An accidental explosion at a rented house in Bijnore on September 12, 2014, provided more clues on the gang and its involvement with terrorism. CCTV systems at a private clinic, where the injured Shaikh Mahboob was rushed, captured images of the fugitives while an abandoned cellphone gave a broad picture of the gang’s activities around the country.
Leads on the gang’s recent movements, however, have been few and investigators have been looking at its possible involvement in other unsolved bank robbery cases since for fresh leads. The NIA, which is investigating cases suspected to involve the Khandwa fugitives such as a December 6, 2014, blast in Roorkee near the venue of a VHP meeting that killed a schoolboy, the case of an unexploded bomb on the Rewari-Meerut train on September 25, 2014, and the December 28, 2014, blast in Bengaluru that killed one woman, is revisiting cases of unsolved bank heists too.
One of the earliest unsolved bank heists under the scanner is the November 16, 2013, robbery of gold and cash amounting to Rs 1.52 crore by a masked gang from Muthoot Fincorp Bank at Humnabad Base in the north Karnataka town of Gulbarga. While some investigators suspect the involvement of the Khandwa fugitives on account of the modus operandi involved — including the snatching of the CCTV system’s digital video recorder — others are not so sure.
“There is some suspicion of the involvement of the fugitive gang in this crime and it is being investigated but there seems to be a discrepancy in the modus operandi in the fact that the gang wore masks. The Khandwa gang justify their robberies under religion and call it Maal e Ghanimat (war booty) and never wear masks,” a source involved in the investigations of the fugitive gang said.
“The Gulbarga robbery case is unsolved. There is no evidence as yet to link the SIMI fugitives to the robbery,” Gulbarga SP Amit Singh said.
One of the most recent bank robberies that the gang has been linked to is an attempt at a Mini Muthoot Finance branch in Kukatpally in Medak district where three armed men, having attempted to rob the branch, fled after bank employees refused to cooperate and raised an alarm.
“From the descriptions provided by witnesses, it seems to match those of some of the men involved in a February 4, 2015, robbery at another Mini Muthoot Finance branch, in Ramachandrapura in Medak, which is linked to the Khandwa fugitives,” a police source said. In the February heist, Rs 22.5 lakh in cash and 3.2 kg gold were taken.
Following the shootout death of two members of the fugitive gang in Nalgonda in April, Telangana DGP Anurag Sharma had named the February 2015 Medak Muthoot bank robbery as one of the incidents involving the fugitives.
Investigations since the April killing of Aijazuddin and Aslam have resulted in police ruling out the SIMI fugitive gang’s involvement in a February 27, 2015, robbery at an HDFC bank ATM in Lucknow where a security guard was killed.
Prior to their jail term in Khandwa, the Abu Faisal gang was accused of involvement in a series of dacoities in Madhya Pradesh starting 2010.