A low intensity blast in an autorickshaw that was plying in Mangaluru has led Karnataka police to start an investigation into a suspected terror strike in the coastal city. Police sources told The Quint that it was the crime scene that led them to confirm that the blast was "not an accident but an act of terror."
A senior police official told The Quint, "We found nuts and bolts in the pressure cooker found inside the auto. We found circuits and explosives too." The accused in the case is now identified as Shariq, 24, a resident of Shivamogga. "He had connections with Al Hind, a terror outfit influenced by ISIS," a senior police official confirmed.
The blast happened on Saturday, 19 November in an autorickshaw that was plying in Mangaluru city. The passenger who got into the auto was allegedly carrying a pressure cooker with him. According to the police, the cooker exploded mid-journey, injuring both the passenger and the driver.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Director General of Police Praveen Sood told The Quint that the accused who allegedly boarded the auto, has been admitted in a hospital's intensive care unit. "He has suffered 40 percent burns." The police have not arrested the accused as arrests are not made in ICU when the accused's health condition is not stable.
Accused Was Wanted in Two Cases in Karnataka
Shariq did not hail from Mangaluru, a police source confirmed. "He hailed from Shivamogga. Shariq was wanted in two separate incidents of criminal history," the source said.
The accused was arrested in 2020 for painting a graffiti in Mangaluru in which he allegedly made a reference to Lashkar-e-Taiba. A police source said, "He had painted, 'Don't compel us to invite Lashkar-e-Taiba to India.' This was in opposition to CAA and NRC." He was booked under Unlawful Activities Prevent Action (UAPA) in the 2020 case, the source said.
On 15 August 2020, he was declared "wanted" in connection with a case of communal tension in Shivamogga, a senior police officer said. In this case, two persons were allegedly stabbed over arguments that broke out when posters of Hindutva ideologue Savarkar had come up in Shivamogga. Two of the co-accused in the case, Maaz and Sayed Yaseen, were arrested under UAPA charges. Shariq, however, was declared absconding.
The accused also allegedly radicalised several persons, the police claimed. Two persons, who were allegedly influenced by Shariq, were picked up on Sunday, 20 November. "They are currently detained and investigation is underway," the police officer said.
However, the police have not identified the explosive substance that was used in the blast. "Forensic team is looking into it. Explosive substances were used, but we have not identified what specific substances were recovered as evidence," the officer said.
Karnataka Police Says Accused Changed Identity To Live in Mysuru
Karnataka DGP Praveen Sood told The Quint, "The accused was using a SIM card which was procured in Tamil Nadu." When The Quint reached out to Coimbatore Police, an official said, "We have been informed that the SIM card, used by the accused, was procured from Ooty in Nilgiri district. We have not been told of any arrest or any other link to Tamil Nadu."
Meanwhile, as he was booked in two separate cases, accused changed his identity to Premraj Hutagi. Hutagi, a resident of Hubballi and railway employee had lost his Aadhar card. This card was later used by the accused to live in Mysuru under Hutagi's identity, police sources said.
Hutagi, who spoke to the press on Sunday, has claimed that he was unconnected with the case.
The police have also reached out to the family of the accused, to ascertain his identity. "The family members of the accused reached the hospital where he is admitted and identified him," a senior police official said.
The police source said, "We have traced the contacts and the accused's travel history."
Second Alleged Terror Strike in South India in Two Months
The Mangaluru case is strikingly similar to the Coimbatore car blast case in which an LPG cylinder exploded to kill the accused who was driving the vehicle. The accused was later identified as Jamesha Mubin, who had allegedly plotted a terror strike. The blast took place in October 2022.
When enquired, the Karnataka Police said that the terror strike seemed to be a lone attack which did not achieve its target. "We cannot reveal what the target was at this moment. But there was a target and the blast did not achieve it," a police officer in the know said.
Tamil Nadu Police, meanwhile, has said that accused are not connected to any outfit in the state. The banned organisation Al Hind could have allegedly helped the accused in the case, a police source claimed.