ARRESTED FOR alleged involvement in the October 2016 murder of an RSS worker in Bengaluru, Asim Shariff, leader of the district chapter of social and political organisation Popular Front of India (PFI), was associated with members of terror groups such as Indian Mujahideen and Al Ummah, the NIA has alleged. The probe agency made its contentions while arguing in a plea filed by Shariff, 40, in Karnataka High Court. Shariff has questioned the invoking of provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, against him for the murder of RSS leader R Rudresh, and the suo motu decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to ask the NIA to probe the case. In the course of arguments, the MHA and NIA have stated that provisions of UAPA are applicable in the case since it involves issues of national security.
Arguing on behalf of NIA, State Public Prosecutor-II Sandesh J Chouta said in court that call records of the accused in the murder case, including that of Shariff, had revealed links with an Indian Mujahideen (IM) leader and members of the banned Al-Ummah from Tamil Nadu. The NIA has also argued that it needs to probe Shariff and others under UAPA to establish whether murders of 17 Hindu leaders in South India over the last few years are interlinked.
The agency has argued that Hindu leaders are being targeted in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu by trained assassins. Sources familiar with the probe said links had been found between some of those accused in Rudresh’s murder and alleged IM operative Syed Ismail Afaque. Arrested in January 2015, Afaque is said to have been associated with the PFI at one point and was allegedly the main supplier of explosives for the outfit.
Rudresh was hacked to death on Kamaraj Road, in the heart of Bengaluru, by two men on a motorcycle on October 16. The incident occurred soon after an RSS route march ended in the sensitive Shivajinagar area. While a case of murder was initially filed, the police invoked provisions of UAPA after the arrest of five people, including Shariff. The NIA, which subsequently took over the probe, had last month sought custody of Shariff for further investigations. But the PFI leader filed a plea in Karnataka HC and questioned invoking of UAPA and the decision to hand over the probe to NIA.
In his plea, Shariff argued that Bengaluru police had not unearthed any material to prove that the murder is linked to terrorism, and that Al Ummah is not banned in Karnataka. The HC has reserved its judgment in the plea. Based on leads provided by CCTV cameras located around the crime scene, Bengaluru police had on October 27 last year arrested four locals: Mohammed Sadiq alias Mohammed Mazar, 35; Mohammed Mujibulla alias Moula alias Mujib, 44; Wasim Ahmed, 30; and Irfan Pasha, 30. Shariff was arrested following their interrogation.
The police had said that their probe found Shariff had brought the four men together for Rudresh’s murder, and that they were paid to carry out the killing. They suspect Shariff had been acting on the direction of others.