The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Wednesday arrested eight men and detained a 17-year-old youth for alleged links with the Islamic State (IS) and for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to carry out strikes in Mumbai, Aurangabad and other places.
Early Tuesday, ATS teams had carried out raids at homes of the accused in Aurangabad and Mumbra in Thane district.
Those arrested from Aurangabad have been identified as Mohsin Sirajuddin Khan (32), Mohammed Taqi (20), Mazhar Abdul Rashid Shaikh (21), Mohammed Mushahid-Ul-Islam (23) and Mohammed Sarafaraz (25). From Mumbra, Salman Sirajuddin Khan (28), Fahad Mohammed Ishtiyaq Ansari (25) and Zaman Nawab Khuteupad were arrested. A 17-year-old, detained from Mumbra, was sent to a juvenile home.
After monitoring the group’s conversation on cyber platforms for weeks, the investigators first got hold of Mohsin, Mohammed Taqi, Mazhar Shaikh and Mohsin’s brother-in-law Mohammed Sarafaraz from Aurangabad. During their interrogation, ATS said, a relative of Mohsin, Mohammed Mushahid, was identified and picked up from Aurangabad. When questioned, they revealed roles of four others — Salman Khan, Fahad Ansari, Zaman Nawab Khuteupad and the minor — from Mumbra.
According to ATS, which has seized several gadgets, along with powders and bottles of chemicals in the raids, the accused were planning operations on Holi. Investigators claimed the men called themselves ‘Ummat-e Mohammadiya’ (followers of the Prophet) and were in touch with handlers abroad. “The group was planning to make some poisonous chemical and mix it in food and water at an event that would result in mass casualty. We cannot rule out Holi, as it is an upcoming festival involving water,” said an officer.
The agency is probing whether the group intended to poison a reservoir, officers said, adding that ‘hydrogen peroxide’ was written on one of the seized bottles.
All have been booked under IPC, UAPA, and the Bombay Police Act. A special court in Aurangabad sent the accused to a 14-day police remand on Wednesday.
Investigating officer ACP Sunil Yadav told the court: “On December 24, during the course of further investigation, it was found out that suspect Mohsin Khan had moved to Aurangabad with some aides from Mumbra. It was also learnt that Mohsin Khan and his aides had former a group ‘Ummat-e-Mohammadiya’ and like-minded persons were being included in it by taking utmost precaution. Secret information was obtained that members of said group were inspired by the ideology of terror outfit ISIS. Technical analysis of the mobilephones of suspects was done. Based on obtained information and technical analysis, need of a house search was felt due to high probability of these suspects indulging in an assault.”
The agency said it was verifying if the underworld is involved as Mazhar Shaikh is son of Rashid Marbari, a gangster who allegedly has links with Chhota Shakeel gang. Investigators said that earlier this month, an alert was received that IS had threatened to launch a chemical attack in the Ganga during the ongoing Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj. The ATS will be probing if the men arrested Wednesday were linked to this, they said.