Nasarat Mubin, a 24-year-old hearing and speech impaired woman, is the reason why there is an National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into suspected terror links in Coimbatore car blast case.
Nasarat was married to Jamesha Mubin, the driver of the Maruti 800 that burst into flames when an LPG cylinder went off in the car. Jamesha, 29, who allegedly triggered the blast, which took place in front of Kottaimedu Sangameswarar temple, died in the explosion.
At first, the blast was thought of as an accidental LPG explosion. However, the police soon discovered marbles and nails from the site, leading to suspicion that it could have been a bombing attempt.
Nasarat, with the help of a sign language interpreter, confirmed to the Coimbatore Police that when she visited Jamesha just “four days before” 23 October – the day on which the blast took place – she had seen only one LPG cylinder in the house. She also told them that the house was near empty, with no cartons or vats around.
“We then checked the CCTV footage to find four people, including Mubin, transporting material to the car. We realised that the explosive material reached Mubin, only days prior to the blast. This led to the arrest of all the accused accomplices,” V Balakrishnan, Commissioner of Police, Coimbatore told The Quint.
The Arrested 'Conspirators' in Their 20s
After further probe, the police arrested Firoz Ismail (27), Nawaz Ismail (25), and Muhammed Riyas (27), all of whom allegedly helped Mubin stuff the car with vats of explosive substances, including potassium nitrate, sulphur, aluminum powder, and a fuse; all of this were allegedly used to intensify the explosion.
The police then arrested Mubin’s cousins Mubammed Azharuddin (25) and Afsar Khan (28) for allegedly helping him procure explosives. Muhammed Talha (25), who allegedly sold the car to Mubin, was also arrested.
The discovery of 109 items from Mubin’s home, including 75 kilograms of explosive substances, has led the state police to believe that the blast was allegedly intended to cause widespread damage. "The target was a temple, and the motive was terror," a police official told The Quint. The explosive items are now listed in the NIA's FIR.
Mubin was allegedly influenced by terror plots of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Sri Lankan Easter bombings of 2019, the police say. After invoking Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act charges to book all the six accused in the case, the investigation was transferred to National Investigation Agency (NIA) on 31 October.
Silenced Wife and Suspicious Behaviour Which Went Unnoticed
Jamesha Mubin was a mechanical engineering graduate who did odd jobs for a living. He got married to Nazarat in 2017. “We got to know of Mubin through a relative and agreed to give my sister’s hand in marriage to him because he was known to be quiet and well natured,” H Nijaz, Nasarat’s 28-year-old brother told The Quint.
Nasarat and Mubin had marital squabbles regularly, Nijaz claimed. “Mubin used to get angry at her over small matters,” he said. Most of the arguments were over mysterious cartons lying around the house.
“Whenever she asked him what the cartons stored, he used to accuse her of being nosy. He also used to assure her that the cartons had books,” Nijaz claimed.
Mubin used to work at a bookstore owned by Hani Idayattullah, an accused that the NIA arrested in connection with the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. Once the store shut after Idayattullah’s arrest, Mubin went on to do odd jobs, including selling books on his own. “He was an oddball. But we never suspected that he was up to something sinister,” Nijaz said.
Mubin, according to material objects including his diaries and notes allegedly recovered from his home, was radicalised.
“He was influenced by IS ideology, and had aversion towards other religions, especially those which practise idol worship. He had entries about jihad and other religions in his diaries,” Balakrishnan said. According to local Muslim leaders, Mubin was not part of any Jamaat, or masjid congregation.
“Many of us did not even know of his existence till the news broke. When we enquired, we realised that he never attended prayers at local mosques. He also did not mingle much with other community members,” said Abdul Mallik, secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Coimbatore.
Though seemingly mindful of Islamic practices, as per the incriminating material recovered from his home, Mubin offered namaz only at home, Nijaz said.
Mubin and family started living in Kottaimedu with his family just one month prior to the blast. But he had been plotting to build a bomb for at least two years, the police claimed. For over two years, Mubin used to live in Al Amin colony in Ukkadam, Coimbatore. Most of the plotting for the blast allegedly took place around this time.
Did Friends and Cousins Form a Terror Module?
How was the alleged plan hatched? In the case, Muhammed Azharuddin and Afsar Khan were named as Mubin’s prime accomplices. One, they are his cousins and hung out with him even when his wife, Nusarat, was away at her paternal home at Ukkadam. Two, they allegedly helped buy explosive substances in small quantities on online shopping websites.
“We dated back the earliest purchase to January 2021. Afsar has made the purchase of a few kilograms of sulphur online,” a police official told The Quint. The police had written to both Amazon and Flipkart to get their purchase histories; a task, NIA is expected to now follow up.
To accumulate kilos of explosive material, many of which are also known metal plating agents and fertilisers, both Afsar and Azharuddin helped Mubin. “In the interrogation, both Afsar and Azharuddin have confessed to having procured explosive substances. They used to buy three to four kilograms of material at a time, to avoid suspicion,” a police officer said.
However, the purchase of PETN powder – a military-grade explosive material – which was allegedly recovered from his home, was allegedly bought on the Dark Web in small quantities. A good number of explosive material purchases were made by Mubin himself.
According to the police, Mubin moved to Kottaimedu from Al Amin Colony to execute the blast. However, he needed help to transport the substances. That’s where the other accused – Ismail brothers, Muhammed Riyas, and Muhammed Talha – came in.
According to Firoz and Nawaz Ismail’s mother Maimun Begum, 53, her sons and neighbour Muhammed Riyas knew Mubin since childhood.
“All our families used to live close by in GM Street. Mubin’s family later on moved to a different place, and so did the families of others,” she said. According Begum, her sons Firoz and Nawaz met Mubin on the fateful night of 22 October, only because she compelled them to help Mubin “shift houses.”
“Mubin had come home a day before and asked me whether I could send my sons to help him shift some household things. I was under the impression that he was shifting houses and asked my sons and their friend Riyas to help him on 22 October."Maimun Begum, Firoz Ismal's Mother told The Quint
The police, however, claimed that Firoz was in touch with Mubin for longer than the family has claimed. The young man who was working in Dubai till 2020, was also friends with Muhammed Rashid, an accused arrested by NIA in connection with the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings.
“They all complemented one another’s thinking. Hence we think that this was a terror module which had found new recruits,” a senior police official said.
A Sivakumar, an inspector of Intelligence, said that the sleuths rounded up most accused by noon on 23 October, because they were already on an Intelligence watchlist. “We were constantly monitoring these youth for long. But we were not aware that they had grouped together to buy explosive substances,” Sivakumar said.
While the group had manpower to buy, and transport substances, they needed a vehicle to carry out the blast. Muhammed Talha, whose father was convicted in 1998 Coimbatore serial bomb blasts, sold Mubin the car – a Maruti 800.
Talha’s mother, Hafsat Biwi, has been claiming that her son was not aware of the terror plot. “He merely sold the car because he worked as a used cars dealer,” she said. However, the police said that Talha had not maintained records of the sale. “The car was owned by at least nine people prior to Mubin. Talha sold the car to him but kept the transaction secret. Hence we suspect that he was aiding the operation,” a senior police officer said.
According to the police, the alleged aim was not to target the Sangameswarar temple, but a bigger one nearby.
Aim Was To Bomb a Bigger Temple, Claim Police
A police source told The Quint that Mubin along with Afsar and Azharuddin had recced around six temples in Coimbatore over an extended period of time. “They wanted to carry out the operation in a bigger temple near the one where the blast took place,” a senior police officer claimed. However, when he drove out to the bigger temple, located just 200 metres away from Sangameswarar temple, he could have seen the beat patrol.
“There were officers standing nearby and he decided to abort the initial plan. In the CCTV we have seen him hesitate and then finally park near the temple which ultimately became the target,” the police officer added.
The police, however, do not think that this was a suicide attack. Mubin allegedly closed the windows of the car to let the vehicle fill with LPG and then he got out to trigger the blast. However, he failed to escape it, the police said. The blast, meanwhile, did not have the expected impact because the fuse attached to the other LPG cylinder and the vats of explosive substances did not go off on time.
“The radius of the blast was small because he could not trigger the other explosives immediately. The blast just triggered a cloud of fire which rose up instead of spreading wide. The temple escaped the impact."A Police Source
In the making of the explosive assortment, Mubin did get the help from Afsar and Azharuddin, the police claimed. “One of them was an electrician and he helped with the wiring and the fuse,” an officer added.
However, in the alleged terror plot, how did educated Muslim men end up as accomplices? Four of the accused have undergraduate degrees.
“Coimbatore is a sensitive area where there are many unemployed youth who band together. Ideas travel in lightning speed,” a senior police official said.
The NIA will now look at the bank transactions of Mubin and others to probe whether they got funding to plot the attack. “At the outset, we do not think that they were a good team who had a lot of resources. But they did manage to pull off something without drawing much attention,” the senior police officer said.