Maharashtra ATS arrests Mumbra man on suspected Islamic State links: A look at issues plaguing the township

In a fresh arrest in the bid to bust the alleged Islamic State-inspired group plotting attacks at events using poisonous chemicals, the Maharashtra ATS picked up a 34-year-old man from Mumbra, a township on the outskirts of Mumbai. So far, the intelligence agency has taken 10 people into custody.

Talha Podrik was arrested on Saturday, an Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) official said. A laptop, a tablet computer, a hard disk, pen drives, a router, mobile phones and diaries were seized from his residence. Podrik is a graduate in management studies, according to reports.

The agency had arrested eight people, and detained a minor boy, from Mumbra, Aurangabad, and Thane after several teams carried out searches through 21 and 22 January. They were charged under Indian Penal Code section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and relevant provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Bombay Police Act.

Maharashtra ATS arrests Mumbra man on suspected Islamic State links: A look at issues plaguing the township

Representational image. Reuters

This group, during interrogation, had named the accused who was arrested on Saturday. Podrik was produced before a court, which remanded him in the ATS custody till 5 February, according to a PTI report.

Reportedly, among the people the ATS arrested on 22 January, are a football coach, a computer engineer, a civil engineer and a cyber expert. Hindustan Times reported that the terror plan was run by three brothers from Mumbra — Salman, Mohseen, and Taki Khan. The report said, "They used to identify, get in touch, and radicalise youths. Their hunt for recruits started in mosques." The intelligence agency closed in on the suspects are monitoring their conversations on cyber platforms, according to reports.

Mumbra and the Islamic State

Last week's arrests are the latest result of the authorities' suspicion of the "largest Muslim ghetto" in the country. Over 2016 and 2017, four Mumbra residents were arrested on charges of having links with the terror outfit. Mudabbir Shaikh, who was allegedly a recruiter, was arrested from his residence in January 2016.

Reportedly, the 37-year-old was the Islamic State chief in India. A report by The Economic Times details Mudabbir's failed attempts at taking up employment in the period between 2003-12. “I was disturbed after the 2001 attack as everyone labelled Muslims as terrorists. I went under depression,” Mudabbir quoted as telling his interrogators.

According to the report, Mudabbir joined the Islamic State around 2012, after he started reading about the terror outfit.

Another resident of Mumbra, Farhan Shaikh, was convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail in April 2017 on the charge of being a member of the Islamic State. After Farhan was picked up and deported for suspected terror links from Dubai in January 2017, a special National Investigative Agency (NIA) court convicted the 28-year-old. Farhan had pled guilty of the crime.

Farhan's aunt whom he lived with in Dubai, Naziya, had expressed shock at his admission about his involvement with the group. "I could not believe it (that Farhan had pleaded guilty). When Farhan was picked up, we had no clue what had happened. Later we found out that he had been deported to India on the charges of being an Islamic State member," she was quoted by The Times of India as saying.

The report added, "Mehrunissa (Farhan's grandmother) said that Shaikh, after having lived for 20 years in the economically underprivileged ghettos of Mumbra, landed a well-paying job in Dubai and moved there."

Illegal structures

A large number of structures that make up the nine-lakh strong township are built illegally, according to reports. To match the demand for affordable housing for the hordes of Muslims who fled the city after the 1992-93 violence, builders seized the opportunity to build cheap and "sub-standard" structures on what was previously marshland.

A report by The Hindu said, "In the early 1990s, an illegally built two-bedroom apartment in Mumbra would sell for around Rs two lakh." A builder is quoted by the report as saying, "Most of the buildings are illegal. Today, an illegally built three bedroom costs Rs eight to 10 lakh. If I built that legally, it would cost Rs 25 to 30 lakh."

The cheap housing and lack of "stringent checks on leave and license agreements" has aided terror networks in functioning and recruiting people from the area, according to reports. Mid-Day reported that most of the landlords "skip" background checks of the tenants, because of the possibly illegal status of the buildings.

"Beyond the doors of the ghetto, a Mumbra address often carries a degree of prejudice and suspicion. A lawyer spoke of trying to buy an Idea Internet dongle at a Thane shop and being turned away; an Urdu publisher spoke of waiting months to get a landline and broadband connection from BSNL.

A few weeks ago, a private school in Panvel, a suburb 24 kilometres from Mumbra, decided to ban admissions of students from the ghetto, claiming that they behave badly," said The Hindu report.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2019 18:11:54 IST

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