In December 2019, when Karnataka, among other states, witnessed massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, that made religion a criteria for awarding citizenship in India, Mohammed Shariq was 21. He did not take part in any of the protests organised in Shivamogga, the district he where he lived.
But according to Karnataka Police, Shariq was radicalised post 2019, and was soon arrested in connection with a graffiti case on the sidelines of the anti CAA protest. He is now also accused of having executed a low intensity IED blast in Mangaluru on 19 November 2022. What made Shariq orchestrate an alleged terror strike? Did he have accomplices or was he a lone terrorist?
‘Shariq Lost Faith in Democratic Institutions’
A senior Karnataka Police officer told The Quint, “You don’t have to meet anyone and be influenced by anyone in person to be radicalised. In this case there is no evidence, so far, that he was actively part of any group that brainwashed him.”
At first, Karnataka Police had claimed that Shariq was associated with Al Hind, an Indian outfit influenced by the terror outfit Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The police officer quoted earlier in this report further said, “He had a brief stint with those associated with the outfit four years ago. But there is no conclusive evidence which indicates that he was aided by them to orchestrate this IED blast.”
Shariq, 24, was a resident of Thirthahalli in Shivamogga till August 2021. In 2020, he was accused of having helped paint a graffiti that mentioned the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba. The graffiti, which according to the police, had come up in connection with the protests against CAA, read – “Don’t force us to invite Lashker-e-Taiba to India…” Shariq, however, was let off in the case as his involvement was not proven. During this time he worked at a garment store in Shivamogga to make a living.
Activists who were instrumental in leading the protests against CAA in Shivamogga, before COVID-19 restrictions banned public gatherings, said that there was no evidence that any of the accused in the graffiti case, were active anti CAA protesters.
“They were miscreants who attempted to divert a serious protest to suit their own agenda. All protesting groups from Shivamogga had condemned this graffiti,” an active protester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the police, told The Quint.
Shariq had lost his mother at a young age. While his father remarried, he was never really part of the new family.
“He was aloof and was mostly was attached to his maternal aunt and his sister,” the senior police officer said. Shariq’s father too passed away a few years ago, The Quint has learnt. According to the police, lack of stability at his home drove him towards criminal activities. “With the CAA, according to the information that we have so far, he lost faith in institutions. He took a radical turn and got influenced by terror outfits,” the police officer said.
'Learnt of Circuits at a Mobile Repair Shop'
According to a Karnataka Police source, Shariq had no external support to fund his terror activities.
“We have not uncovered any external funding. He basically used readily available substances including batteries to conduct experiments. Even from his home, we have recovered mostly explosive substances which can easily be bought without spending much or drawing attention,” the source said.
However, Shariq was influenced by radical Islamist ideology, the source said, adding that the police have recovered incriminating literature from his residence in Shivamogga.
In August 2021, Shariq was accused of having influenced two Muslim youth – Maaz and Yasin – in Shivamogga, to stab a man during a rally to honour Hindutva ideologue Savarkar. “In that case, he was accused of having shared incriminating content, including videos on making bombs, with the accused. During interrogation Maaz and Yasin also told us that Shariq had tested low intensity explosives on a river bank,” a police officer said.
The police think that the explosion at Mangaluru could have been a similar trial run. “We need more proof to substantiate this and that will emerge once interrogation starts. But we think he was doing a trial run which failed when the explosive went off in the auto rickshaw that he boarded,” the officer said.
After the Savarkar controversy hit headlines, Shariq moved to Mysuru where he lived under an assumed identity – Premraj Hutagi. He had procured an Aadhar card which a railway employee of the same name, had lost.
“He assumed the new identity to lie low. At the same time he was training himself to operate circuits by working in a mobile repair shop,” a police officer said. From his rented home in Mysuru too, the police have recovered incriminating literature.
“Most of the material pertains to radical Islamist ideology. In the investigation, we have found that he got such material including, speeches of terror suspects, online and trained himself to be like them,” the officer further explained.
The police are looking into his online browsing history closely for clues. Also, several sim cards which were recovered from him are being analysed for evidence. “From what we know, he was radicalised online. He was influenced by radical literature and other forms of content. He felt he could carry out terror attacks in India.” His family members had turned up at Mangaluru to identify him. “We do not think they had anything to do with the case. However, we are leaving no stone unturned,” a police officer said.
Possible Lone Terror Strike?
A senior police officer told The Quint that while Shariq had links with Al Hind, the investigation has not unearthed any conclusive evidence to prove that he was part of a terror module. Most likely, Shariq thought of himself as a lone attacker.
“We have only picked up people for questioning. We have not made any arrests so far as we need to ascertain whether anyone else had a hand in this case,” a police officer said. So far, those who were in touch with Shariq were detained in Ooty, Mysuru, and Bengaluru.
As Shariq suffered 40 percent burns on his body in the explosion, he is undergoing treatment in a hospital in Mangaluru. “We want him to recover. We can interrogate him only after he recovers. This interrogation will tie up all loose ends,” a police officer in the know, said.