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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 18 June 2024

‘Hiding under false identities’: NIA arrests Bengaluru cafe blast duo in New Digha

An NIA official said the duo had checked into the hotel three days ago and had earlier spent a night at a small hotel in Lenin Sarani, Calcutta

Kinsuk Basu, Meghdeep Bhattacharyya Calcutta Published 13.04.24, 05:14 AM
Rameswaram Cafe

Rameswaram Cafe File Photo

The National Investigation Agency on Friday arrested the alleged mastermind of last month’s Bengaluru café blast, Abdul Matheen Taha, and the suspected bomber Mussavir Hussain Shazib from a hotel in New Digha.

“Early on Friday morning, the two were traced to a hideout near (186km from) Calcutta and apprehended by the NIA team,” a senior official of the federal anti-terror agency said. “The accused were hiding under false identities.”

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An NIA official said the duo had checked into the hotel three days ago and had earlier spent a night at a small hotel in Lenin Sarani, Calcutta.

Nine people had been injured in a low-intensity blast, caused by a bomb left in a bag, at the Rameshwaram Café in Bengaluru on March 1.

The NIA, which is also probing a few cases in Bengal, had announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on the two suspects, both from Thirthahalli in the Shivamogga district of Karnataka.

Their arrest from Bengal prompted the BJP ecosystem, led by party IT cell chief Amit Malviya, to accuse the Mamata Banerjee government of having turned the state into a “safe haven for terrorists”.

The chief minister and her party emphasised Bengal police’s role in the arrests and underlined that the suspects had been hiding in state leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari’s backyard.

“NIA detains two chief suspects in the Rameshwaram Cafe blast, bomber Mussavir Hussain Shazib and accomplice Abdul Matheen Ahmed Taahaa, from Kolkata,” Malviya posted on X.

“Both likely belong to ISIS cell in Shivamogga, Karnataka. West Bengal, unfortunately, under Mamata Banerjee, has become a safe haven for terrorists.”

Mamata returned the fire at a poll rally in Cooch Behar. She gave the credit for the arrests to the Bengal police, who had cooperated with the NIA in the operation, and questioned the law-and-order situation in BJP-ruled states.

“There was a bomb blast in Bangalore. The accused too are from Karnataka, not from here. They hid in Bengal for two hours. In two hours, we arrested them, our police here,” she said.

“Yet they have the audacity to say that Bengal is not safe. Is your Delhi (the Centre manages law and order in the capital) safe? Your Uttar Pradesh? Your Rajasthan? Your Gujarat? Your Bihar? Are they safe?” she said, referring to NDA-ruled states.

“The people of Bengal live in peace. The BJP cannot tolerate it. A tyrannical party, (which has) crossed all limits of torture.”

An NIA release said Mussavir had planted the explosive device at the café while Taha was the mastermind who plotted the blast and drew up the escape plan. It said the duo and co-accused Maaz Muneer Ahmed had been involved in several earlier acts of terror, too.

The two were brought to Calcutta in the afternoon and the Bankshall court granted three days’ transit remand, during which they will be taken to Bengaluru.

Agency sources said Taha is an IT engineer and that Mussavir is part of an Islamic State module in Shivamogga.

They had allegedly fled Bengaluru following the blast and eventually reached Bengal where they kept changing their locations. They had checked into a rundown hotel in Lenin Sarani for a night before moving out, an NIA source said.

Mussavir had procured a driving licence in the name of Mohammad Juner Sayed, and Taha an Aadhaar card in the name of Vignesh D, agency sources said.

While the saffron camp cited this as evidence that getting such documents with fake identities had become easy in Bengal, it could not be confirmed whether the documents had been obtained from the state.

As state BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar and Adhikari joined the fusillade against the state government, Trinamul fielded Shashi Panja and Kunal Ghosh to argue the Bengal police had done their job and helped the NIA.

Soon after, the state police — who function under the chief minister, who is also the Bengal home minister — issued a statement on X.

“Falsehood at its worst! Contrary to the claims made by @amitmalviya, the fact is that, two suspects in the Rameshwaram Cafe blast case have been arrested from Purba Medinipur in a JOINT operation by the West Bengal Police and the Central Intelligence Agencies,” the statement said.

“The proactive role of WBP in the matter has been officially acknowledged by the Central Agencies. West Bengal has NEVER been a safe haven for terrorists and the state police will continue to remain ever-vigilant in keeping its people safe from nefarious activities.”

Malviya posted a rejoinder on X, saying: “Who is the Chief Minister and Home Minister of West Bengal?”

He added: “Has Mamata Banerjee resigned or too incompetent to defend her poor track record on law and order? Every time she has no answers, which is often, she hides behind @WBPolice.”

Ghosh underscored that the arrests had been made from the Contai (also known as Kanthi) area, which is part of Adhikari’s home turf.

“But let me ask to @BJP4India and their minions — where is this arrests made from? KANTHI,” he wrote on X.

“We all know which family and BJP’s main leader runs illegal activities from Contai. I urge the State agencies to investigate into this matter to find out that FAMILY’s links in providing shelter to ANTI-FORCES!”

NIA officials said Taha and Mussavir had been under the central agencies’ scanner since 2020 for their suspected Islamic State links. “About three days ago, Shazib (Mussavir) and Abdul Matheen (Taha) reached New Digha and checked into a hotel using forged identities,” an NIA official said.

Till late Friday night, the details of how the duo had been tracked to the New Digha hotel room remained unknown.

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