After an accused in an alleged terror plot to assassinate a state leader was arrested from there in 1997, the staff at the mosque in Mumbra’s Almas Colony had taken several measures to make sure the premises were not used for any wrongful activity. On Wednesday, however, they were disappointed to learn that some of the accused arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) allegedly met each other on the mosque premises.
Cleric Amir Hamza (55), who leads the prayers at the mosque, where at least two of the accused came to pray, told The Indian Express, “In the 90s, there was an incident where a person was arrested from here by the police. Ever since, we have been vigilant to ensure our premises are not used for any wrongful activity.”
“These days with the internet the threat of youngsters being wrongly influenced has gone up. Hence, we especially keep an eye to ensure youngsters do not watch or discuss things that could lead them astray,” he added.
The ATS on Wednesday arrested eight men and detained a 17-year-old youth for their alleged links with the Islamic State (IS). Four of them were picked up from Mumbra and five from Aurangabad.
Two of them, Fahad Ansari and Salman Khan, the eldest of three siblings arrested in the case, came in touch with each other nearly two years back when they did “itikaf” — staying in the mosque for a certain number of days devoted to prayer — in the mosque together during Ramzan. After that, they became friends. “It has come as a shock to us since they were never heard discussing or behaving in a way that would arouse any suspicion in and around the mosque,” Hamza said.
On Mohsin Khan, the second of the arrested siblings, a local resident said, “Nearly two years back he married a woman from Aurangabad and moved there. He recently started a shoe shop there for which he would pick up the stock from Mumbra and come here often.”
The youngest sibling Taqi was studying in college, local residents said. The residence of the siblings was locked since Wednesday morning.
Some distance from their residence is Sagar Apartment from where the ATS arrested Mazhar Shaikh. His family members, comprising elder brother Azhar and mother Zohra, are in disbelief. Zohra said her son, who was pursuing a correspondence course in Commerce from Mumbai University and working at a shop in Bhiwandi, had been framed.
“I got my son (Mazhar) married more than a year ago. He has a one-year-old son. He would leave for work in the morning and return late evening. He would then go to pray in the local mosque. During weekends, he barely ventured out. He has been framed,” Zohra said.
Azhar said his brother was going to Aurangabad on Monday night when he was picked up by the ATS. “He and his wife have been to Aurangabad before as he has friends there. This time, he had told us he might go there as his friend’s wife was unwell,” Azhar said. “It’s true he would watch (religious) sermons in online videos on his mobile phone but what is wrong with that,” asked Azhar Shaikh, elder brother of Mazhar Shaikh (21), who was arrested by the ATS from Mumbra.
The fifth accused arrested from Mumbra is Fahad. “Fahad kept to his work and you won’t find anyone who has anything bad to say about him. His arrest is shocking,” a local resident said.
Family members of Mushahid-Ul-Islam rejected the allegations made by the ATS, saying the youth was “100 per cent opposite of what has been portrayed by ATS and media”. Mushahid-ul-Islam (23), who stayed with her 65-year-old mother in their Qaisar Colony residence — four brothers live in Saudi Arabia — freelanced as a graphic designer while pursuing graduation.
Mukhtar Ahmed, his brother-in-law, said, “I have seen him since birth… He is pursuing graduation and simultaneously worked as a graphic designer from his small house office. He mostly designed marriage invitation cards, visiting cards… His father had a small printing business so he knew the craft since he was very young. He also used to get some freelance designing work from abroad. He was quite busy in that,” he said.
As per him, on Tuesday ATS officers landed at Mushahid-ul-Islam’s house at 3 am. “Only Mushahid-ul-Islam and his mother stay there. The officers started banging the outer gate. After some time they broke it open and also broke the door of the house,” said Mukhtar, who stays a few kilometres away.
“They ransacked his small office, took away hard disks, they also seized incense material and itra that was brought by his brother from Saudi Arabia. I was surprised to learn that the ATS told the court they found chemicals to prepare bombs. When they asked me to sign a document while taking him away, they told us they were taking him for a minor inquiry and asked us to pick him up from the ATS office at 11 am,” said Mukhtar.