The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is learnt to have recently received a communique from the authorities in Libya saying Tabrez Tambe (30), a Mumbra resident who fled the country in January 2016 to allegedly join the globally banned terror outfit Islamic State (IS), is alive and lodged in a Libyan jail as a prisoner of war. The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) has sent a Letter Rogatory (LR) seeking details of this detention.
According to sources, this could probably be the first case in the country where judicial help is sought to bring an alleged IS recruit to book.
“After MEA informed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) about Tambe, the information was passed on to the Maharashtra ATS, which has a case against Tambe. Subsequently, the state counter terrorism agency followed up with the Libyan authorities by sending an LR that has still remained unanswered,” said a senior official from the state home department who is privy to developments in the case. “This could be the first case in the country and definitely in the state where an official request has been sent to the court of a foreign country to bring an IS operative to trial,” added the official.
The sources said Tambe’s family had been apprised of the developments. “In January last year, Tambe’s younger brother Saud had written to the Indian ambassador in Libya, seeking help in locating and rescuing his brother from the war-torn country. We have informed the family of the latest development,” added the official.
Tambe’s family moved to Mumbra near Mumbai from Harnai in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra in 2009 and had been staying in a rented accommodation since. After his graduation from Mumbai University, Tambe completed a diploma course in air cargo management. He then moved to Saudi Arabia where he met a local resident identified as Ali. In January 2016, claiming to have bagged a job in Egypt, he allegedly fled with Ali to join IS.
Earlier, Saud had accused Ali of having radicalised Tambe. “I have sent an email to the Indian ambassador in Libya stating that my brother had moved to Egypt in January 2016 for a job. Ali, a Saudi Arabian national, had helped him land the job. Subsequently, Ali took him to Libya for training. However, in December, 2016, we got a call from Tabrez, saying he was stuck in a war-torn region and that we should seek help from the authorities to get him back to India,” Saud had told The Indian Express in March 2017. When contacted on Monday, Tambe’s family members, however, declined to comment.
The ATS probe has revealed that Ali was his handler who allegedly radicalised Tambe to join IS. While the probe confirmed that Tambe called his mother in March 2016, investigators say it wasn’t to tell the family that he was moving to Libya for training but to inform them that he had joined the IS and that they shouldn’t check on him. Tambe then called in December that year to say he was stuck and needed help.
Tambe 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 the UAPA. The case was registered following the complaint given by Saud accusing Ali of radicalising his brother.
While the ATS had hit a dead-end in the case, the first lead came when Tambe was identified by Dr Ramamurthy Kosanam, a doctor from Andhra Pradesh who was rescued and brought back to India in February 2017. Dr Kosanam had been held captive by IS militants for around two years. He identified Tambe as a medical attendant in the hospital where the doctor was forced to work by the militant group. “Upon his return, an ATS team visited him and showed him Tambe’s photographs. Through the photographs, Dr Kosanam identified him and informed us that he was working as an attendant,” said the official.
After the identification, security agencies mounted efforts to track him and subsequently the Libyan authorities confirmed Kosanam’s claims and informed the Indian agencies that he was in their army’s custody.
If Tambe returns, he will be the second Indian national from Maharashtra to be brought back to India and prosecuted by authorities for joining the banned outfit. Areeb Majeed, one of the four Kalyan youths who had fled the country in May 2014 to fight alongside IS, returned in November that year. Upon his arrival, Majeed was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under sections of the UAPA. The trial against Majeed is yet to commence.