Rameshwaram Cafe blast: Suspects part of terror gang targeting South since 2010
A PTI file photo shows the Rameshwaram Cafe outlet in Bengaluru after the bomb blast on March 1

Rameshwaram Cafe blast: Suspects part of terror gang targeting South since 2010

Accused are members of terror outfits that have different names but are one and the same; they have been targeting Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for a decade

The two key suspects identified by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Rameshwaram Café blast case are from Thirthahalli in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district and have been associated with several banned terrorist outfits working largely in South India, if sources are to be believed.

While the NIA has concluded that Mussavir Hussain Shazib (30) planted the bomb at the popular café in Bengaluru, it believes Abdul Matheen Ahmed Taahaa (30) was a key conspirator. Both Shazib and Taaha are wanted in terror cases in Tamil Nadu and have been on the “most wanted” list of terrorists in India for a while.

The NIA has now increased the rewards for anyone who can provide credible information on the two men to Rs 10 lakh each. Sources told The Federal that the reward amounts were Rs 8 lakh for Taahaa and Rs 5 lakh for Shazib earlier.

Diabolical duo

Both Shazib and Taahaa are members of the banned outfits Al Umma, a Tamil Nadu-based terrorist organization, Al-Hind, and the Base Movement of Kerala. According to sources, these outfits may have separate names but they are effectively the same.

Both the suspects have had professional training in terror activities and have been linked to several cases that go back to 2010, said the sources. Also, both allegedly have links with Mehboob Pasha, who was arrested in 2020 by Tamil Nadu’s Q branch that exclusively deals with extremist organisations.

The NIA believes that Shazib and Taahaa, and the two arrested in the case earlier, Muzammil Shareef and Shabbir, were also involved in terror activities such as a pro-Hindu leader’s murder in Tamil Nadu, a policeman’s murder in Kanyakumari, and an explosion in Mysuru court.

NIA’s probe

The NIA recently arrested Muzammil Shareef after conducting raids at 18 locations, including 12 in Karnataka, five in Tamil Nadu, and one in Uttar Pradesh. The agency says he was one of the conspirators in the March 1 Bengaluru blast. He will be questioned by the Q branch to obtain more details, said the sources.

Shazib is suspected to have left India by sea. However, the NIA is looking at all angles, including the fact that he may still be hiding in India. He has been allegedly using a forged driving licence in the alias of Mohammed Juned Sayed and others, as well as fake ID documents such as Aadhaar card and passport. Shazib has been reportedly using Hindu identity documents, such as a forged Aadhaar card in the name of “Vignesh” or similar, said the sources.

An NIA team has searched the duo’s houses in Thirthahalli and found some digital evidence, said the sources. NIA sleuths have also questioned 55 relatives of both and questioned around 40 terror accused — both convicts and undertrials — held in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala prisons. All these individuals, held in connection with terrorist activities in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala since 2010, have interlinked cases in these three states.

“While they may have connections with other terror suspects operating across India, their primary focus remains on Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu,” the sources told The Federal.

ISIS in India

Shazib, according to NIA sources, was trained under Mehboob Pasha, who and two others were arrested in Kolar by the Tamil Nadu Q branch in 2020. The NIA charge sheet, in that case, named 17 key conspirators who allegedly formed a terror group and played a role in furthering and perpetrating the activities of ISIS/Daish in India, especially in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Pasha, a resident of Bengaluru’s Gurappanapalya, in association with Khaja Moideen of Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, and Sadiq Basha, allegedly formed the terror group to spread the ideology and activities of ISIS, a proscribed terrorist organization in India, through its offshoot outfit known as Al-Hind in Bengaluru, the charge-sheet said.

Pasha’s plot

According to the NIA, the accused had, since April 2019, hatched the conspiracy at Pasha’s home and Al-Hind office in Guruppanpalya and across other places in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, to carry out terrorist attacks in South India, especially in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Shazib and Taahaa were also allegedly involved in these.

Pasha stayed at the Gurappanapalya house from July 1, 2019, to January 10, 2020. He allegedly held a series of meetings in the house to discuss terror plots. Bengaluru’s CCB (City Crime Branch) and intelligence department officials had collected information about these. Later, a joint operation was conducted, and Pasha and many others were arrested in 2020. Explosives and other materials were also seized, they had said at the time.

Base Movement

Shazib and Taaha were allegedly involved in the “Base Movement” as well, along with their leader Mehboob Pasha. This outfit reportedly targets judges, courts, and police officers.

In the 2014 murder of KP Suresh Kumar, leader of Tamil Nadu Hindu organization Indu Makkal Katchi, the main accused was Khwaja Muhinuddin alias Jalal. His accomplices were allegedly Pasha, Taahaa, and others.

Several similar terror plots were allegedly hatched during Pasha’s meetings, where Shazib and Taaha were also present. Based on the evidence, an FIR was registered against all of them at Bengaluru’s Suddaguntepalya police station in January 2020.

Old cases

The 2016 Mysuru court blast was apparently among the gang’s earlier plots. The same team was allegedly also involved in the murder of Kanyakumari SSI Y Wilson at the Kaliyakkavilai Market Road check post, bordering Kerala, on January 8, 2020.

The sources claimed that Pasha and his men also carried out the 2013 bomb blast in front of the BJP state office, Jagannatha Bhavana, in Bengaluru’s Malleshwaram. After that blast, they allegedly plotted to carry out explosions in many parts of Tamil Nadu.

Pasha was reportedly preparing to open an office of Al Hind Trust on Bengaluru’s Bannerghatta Road and had even negotiated to buy one in Gundlupet, Chamarajanagar district, in the name of the same trust, said the sources.

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