Monday, 21 December 2015

3 New Mumbai Malwani Men Suspected to Have Joined Islamic State, ATS fail to 'crack' emails

Update (23/6)):

Mumbai, Jun 16 (PTI) A special court today remanded to NIA custody till June 23, Mohsin Sheikh, who had left him his home in suburban Malwani here, allegedly to join ISIS.
Sheikh and two others had gone missing in December last year after another youth Ayaz Sultan's disappearance in October.

Sultan had reportedly reached Syria and joined ISIS. Sheikh was arrested from Delhi in February by the local police and the case was transferred to NIA.
A case was registered in Mumbai NIA against Sheikh and the local court issued production warrant against him, after which he was brought from Delhi. In the court, NIA today said that Sheik was involved in instigating and influencing Muslim youths in suburban Malwani in Mumbai on the instructions of a Syria-based handler.

NIA also said that he provided logistical support to another accused Rizwan during his Mumbai visit, arranged accommodation and SIM card.
The remand application said that Moshin visited Hubli in Karnataka, Hyderabad and Chennai.

He also took two persons with intention to make them join jihadi organisations in India having affiliations to ISIS.
The court accepting the NIA's request remanded him to the agency custody for eight days.

Update (24/5)

Update (26/3) : 

Back home, Malvani youths ‘regret’ their brush with IS ideology

IT IS a regular summer afternoon at Malvani’s Gate No 7 in suburban Mumbai. Wajid Sheikh, a 25-year-old commerce graduate, is selling lemons from his cart. It’s an average suburban ‘naaka’ or junction, busy, filled with chatter about Pakistan staring at a possible exit in the T20 World Cup. Sheikh does not join the discussion. Then someone starts talking about the attack in Brussels — Sheikh still has no comment to offer. He takes a break only to offer evening namaaz at a Sunni mosque a few metres away. There, he meets Noor Mohammud, a long-time acquaintance and also a regular at the masjid. They share pleasantries stiffly at the gate, but still don’t engage in a conversation. Clearly, the two have realised, the hard way, the value of silence.

On December 15, 2015, Sheikh and Noor Mohammud fled the city with alleged handler Mohsin Sheikh, reportedly to join the Islamic State. The two visited three different states trying to get passports made to flee to Syria. But their plan was cut short when their photographs were flashed across news channels. The two then developed cold feet and returned separately. Both were interrogated and counselled by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). Months later, as normalcy returns slowly, the duo still feels it is better for them to maintain a distance from each other.

Six months ago, Sheikh was the most vocal when people gathered around his lemon cart, especially while discussing Islam. Sheikh would actively endorse the need to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and its ‘holy war’ for a Caliphate. Today, however, Sheikh refers to the IS as ‘Khawarij’ — members of a sect that deviated from mainstream Islam and came to be known as rebels.
“I was shown videos of how Assad (Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad) was bombing hospitals and homes, killing innocent women and children. I felt that was wrong and therefore decided to go to Syria to join the war,” Sheikh tells The Indian Express, speaking to the media for the first time since his return.

“On December 15, around 11 am, Noor and Mohsin met me at Gate No. 7 and told me we have to leave today. Mohsin told me to arrange for some cash. I obliged. I went home, had lunch with my wife and parents and stole my wife’s jewellery. I then sold the same to a goldsmith in the locality and pocketed Rs 18,000.

Around 4.30 pm, I met the two near Gate 7 and we left to Karnataka via bus. I only knew that we were going to meet somebody who would help us get ‘documents’ to help us travel to Syria. Mohsin was coordinating and we were just taking his orders. We weren’t aware of this contact,” says Sheikh.
He continues, “We stayed overnight in Karnataka and then left for Hyderabad where we stayed with Noor’s relatives. From there, we travelled to Chennai where we stayed in a lodge close to the station. I don’t recall the name as all the arrangements were made by Mohsin.”

It is at this lodge that Sheikh and Noor saw their photographs being flashed on TV. “We asked Mohsin what we were supposed to do next. He told us to wait at the lodge and excused himself by giving an alibi of meeting the ‘contact’. We waited for nearly two hours but he did not return. We then tried contacting him over his cellphone but it was not reachable. Noor then told me he was going to offer namaaz. Without informing him, I sneaked out and took the next train to Mumbai on December 22. On my way, I was caught by an ATS team,” he recalls.
Sheikh says he was taken to the ATS office in Nagpada where he was grilled from morning to night and later sent home.

“Around a week after my return, Noor was also brought to the ATS office. On certain occasions, we were grilled together. I learnt that like me Noor had also fled from Chennai,” he adds.

Taking a compassionate approach in the case, the state counter-terrorism squad decided to counsel the two. Two local clergymen were called in who these youth claim helped them understand “the right meaning of the various verses of Quran that were twisted by the IS to attract the recruits”.

“Tanvir and Ibrahim, the local clergymen, corrected our wrong notions. Through them I understood that IS is a ‘Khawarij’ and that their fight is hogwash. In the name of religion, they are spreading hatred,” says Sheikh.
Post his return, a lot has changed in the Sheikh household. Tired of the constant scrutiny by neighbours, the family has moved from the old house to a rented apartment in Malvani Gate No. 8. The house with two rooms and a mezzanine floor is equipped with a toilet.

“We did not have a toilet in our previous home. We are paying a heavy rent of Rs 8,000 per month but with both my son and I working as vendors we make around Rs 20,000 per month,” said Bashir, Sheikh’s father.
The Sheikh family throws a cordon around him; a few checks are conducted before one can gain an entry into the home. Sheikh prefers to stay in his bedroom.

Sheikh says he is a changed man now with family being his priority. “Mohsin used to show us the videos on his iPhone and our discussion used to revolve around Islam and ISIS. We watched many video, including that of a UK-based preacher who supported the fight called by ISIS. I also watched sermons given by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. I was influenced by the manner in which Mohsin used to speak so passionately for IS and therefore I thought it was right to desert by wife and ageing parents and flee the country,” he said, while trying to smile at
 Fatima, his wife, who looked the other way.

“But now all I want is to live a normal life with my wife and parents. I am a five-time namaazi but I no longer go to the Ahle hadees masjid, but instead to a Sunni masjid to offer my prayers. I no more use a cellphone. If I have to make a call, I use my wife’s phone,” he adds.
A few meters away at Gate no 8, Noor Mohammud has just returned, picking up his daughter from a local balwadi (playschool). Like Sheikh, he too has shifted from his old home to a new rented accommodation. But unlike his old door-less house with a tarpaulin roof, this is a ‘pakka’ house with a bathroom.
A broken steel cupboard is the only furniture in his home. The kitchen comprises a cracked granite platform with old rags and plastic bags stocking bare essentials. A small two-piece dish rack adorns the wall opposite the granite platform. A few steel and thermocol dishes and glasses are randomly arranged on the dish rack.

“The ATS has played a major role in my rehabilitation. They have helped me move to this home, even paid the rent a couple of times. They have also connected me to a couple of local contractors because of which I get steady work,” Noor shares while sitting down for a chat in his one-room apartment.
“I don’t have a smartphone, so I used to watch the videos on Mohsin’s iPhone. I was attracted to the Arabic songs played by ISIS. It’s very catchy. I have not heard the sermons of Baghdadi or any other IS preacher. I don’t know what they mean but Mohsin used to say they were asking Muslim men across the world to fight and contribute in the noble war. I decided I should lend myself for his purpose and therefore decided to flee with others,” he narrates.
Noor says he also met another “IS handler” Rizwan Nawazuddin, “who used to visit Mumbai”.

“He met me at Haji Ali and in Malvani a couple of times. While we discussed Islam and ISIS, he used to talk to Mohsin in great detail about the plan,” he adds. Khalid is one of the 14 persons recently arrested in a joint operation carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and six state counter-terrorism agencies, including the Maharashtra ATS. Even the Malvani case has now been transferred to the NIA.

“On December 15, Mohsin visited my home and told me to collect some identity proof saying we have to make a ‘document’ that will help us travel abroad. I carried a photocopy of my Aadhaar card and left. I told my wife I would return in a few days,” he continues.

“However, in Chennai, when our photographs were shown on news channels, I got scared. Mohsin deserted us and became incommunicado. I then went to a masjid to offer prayers. There, I read this aayat — ‘if you kill one person, you kill the entire mankind, if you save one person, you save the entire mankind’. This jolted me and made me ponder that the journey that I had set on was un-Islamic. I then went to Gulbarga to my in-laws’ place and subsequently returned to Mumbai.

After arriving in Mumbai, I presented myself before the ATS and they grilled and also counselled me,” adds Noor. There were reports of him trying to commit suicide after his return. Noor does not come clean on why he made the attempt. “I don’t like to talk about it. All I remember that I was returning home when two motorbike-bound men attacked me with a razor. I got a bruise on my neck when I returned home. I had something and after that I don’t recall anything much. I don’t know why I had it but all I can say that till date I regret the decision of fleeing the country and leaving my wife and my four kids in the lurch,” he says.
According to him, seven more youths from Malvani were part of the ‘module’ led by Mohsin. They too are being counselled by the ATS. Like Noor, they too had plans to flee the country, with one of them also planning to take along his wife who had apparently agreed to join the AuT (Ansar-ul Tahwid), which is currently headed by former Indian Mujahideen member Shafi Armar alias Yusuf. The breakaway outfit has pledged its allegiance to IS.

“These are youths who are engineers, call centre employees and also those who work as vendors and businessmen. We all met at the masjid. But after our return, we all are being counselled by the ATS,” claims Noor.
A senior official from the agency confirms the claims made by Sheikh and Noor.
“This phenomenon is not restricted to Malvani Gate no 7 but has spread across the country. As law enforcers, our job is to distinguish between the active members, fence-sitters and passive sympathisers. If we find out that they don’t have much of a role to play, we counsel them,” says the senior ATS official.

Update (17/3):

One youth attempted suicide: Maharashtra ATS counsels 2 Malvani youth who fled to join IS, came back

THE MAHARASHTRA Anti-Terrorism Squad is counselling two of the Malvani youth who returned after fleeing the city to join the banned terror organisation Islamic State. Meanwhile on Tuesday, the state counter-terrorism agency moved an application in a local court in Delhi, seeking the custody of Mohsin Sheikh who was arrested in February by the Delhi Police Special Cell.

Four youth went missing between October and December last year from suburban Malvani. While Wajid Sheikh and Noor Sheikh ‘returned’ within a month, Mohsin Sheikh was arrested by the Special Cell on February 4.
The fourth youth, Ayaz Sultan, is suspected to have fled to Kabul and joined the Ansar ul Tahwid (AuT) which is currently headed by former Indian Mujahideen member Shafi Armar alias Yusuf.

AuT has pledged its allegiance to the IS and trying to get Indian recruits in its struggle.
“Wajid and Noor are currently being counselled and are reacting positively,” an official told The Indian Express who refused to share the details on the nature of counselling. “The decision to counsel them was taken after Noor attempted suicide,” the official added. In January, Noor took the extreme step as he felt ‘guilty’ of his actions that bought ‘disrepute’ to his family, police sources said.

“Since Mohsin was a wanted accused in our case, we have filed an application with a Delhi court and sought his custody,” said Maharashtra ATS Inspector General Niket Kaushik. Mohsin’s custody has been sought in the case registered against Sultan under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). While the two other youth have not been given a clean chit yet, their fate still hangs in balance.

According to sources in the state counter-terrorism agency, the decision on whether or not to book them in the same case will depend on the interrogation of Mohsin.

“The two have blamed Mohsin for fleeing claiming that they just acted on his instructions. They claim after Sultan’s parents lodged a missing complaint and kept on inquiring with the two men on Sultan’s whereabouts, Mohsin suggested to go underground as police might trouble them and even arrest them as they had downloaded material pertaining to the Islamic State or IS on their phone which is prohibited under the law. On his advice, they all decided to flee and left their homes on December 15,” said a senior officer from the agency.

“While on the run, they left their cell phones behind so that their movements are not being tracked by the agency. This too they claim was Mohsin’s idea. They also claimed that they had travelled separately and did not know about each other’s movements. We have reasons to believe that all three travelled to Chennai to procure passports but failed to do so for the want of rent agreements. This theory would be clear once we interrogate Mohsin,” added the source.

The agency’s probe has revealed that Sultan, their ringleader was in touch with Rizwan Ahmed Ali Nawazuddin who was arrested during the joint operation carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and six counter-terrorism agencies, including the Maharashtra ATS paid the two Malvani youth a paltry sum of Rs 10,000. The agencies had started a clampdown against alleged IS sympathisers across the country and arrested 14 people, including Nawazuddin and two more ‘self-styled leaders’ of a home-grown terror outfit, Janood-ul-Khalifa-e- Hind, which claims to support the IS.

“Of the Rs 6 lakh received by module leader Mudabbir Sheikh through their foreign handler suspected to be Yusuf and routed through Mumbai-based hawala operators, Rizwan was given around Rs 1.50 lakh. Rizwan had met the Malvani youth twice while visiting Mumbai and handed over Rs 10,000,” added the official.

Update (6/2):

After 50 days, missing Malwani man held in Delhi

In less than a fortnight after the NIA and the State ATS collectively arrested two suspected ISIS recruiters from Mumbra, officials from Delhi police’s Special Cell nabbed another Mumbai-based ISIS sympathiser in the national capital on Thursday night.

Acting on specific information, the Special Cell arrested 26-year-old Mohsin Ibrahim Sayyed aka Mohsin Sheikh from the Kashmere Gate at Inter-State Bus Terminal (ISBT) in Delhi. Mohsin is one of the four Malwani men who had left home to join the ISIS in Syria. He was soon to leave for Syria after completing his pending task here. A team of ATS officers from Mumbai have left for Delhi to investigate Mohsin and gather information.

A police officer said, "The Maharashtra ATS was also searching for Mohsin. The Delhi police’s Special Cell, which had specific information from the central intelligence agency, arrested him from the Kashmere gate at ISBT in Delhi. They nabbed Mohsin before he could meet one of his associates in Delhi."

Police officials said Mohsin was in touch with four alleged ISIS sympathisers arrested last month by the Special Cell. The quartet had planned to target the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. The four were identified as Aklaq ur Rehman, Mohammad Osama, Mohammad Azim Shah and Mehroz and were arrested from Uttarakhand. Mohsin had given them Rs 50,000.

ISIS link

A police officer said, "After he left home, Mohsin was in constant touch with ISIS Chief recruiter (India) Mudabbir Shaikh from Mumbra. He was also in contact with Syria-based Ansar-ut Tawhid fi Bilad al-Hind (AuT) chief Shafi Armar via internet. The AuT has pledged its support to ISIS for disseminating its propaganda across India. Another Malwani man, Ayaz, was helping Mohsin execute his plans."

Following his arrest, Special Cell officials recovered Rs 85,000, two SIM cards and a mobile phone from Mohsin. A police officer said the phone is password protected and a great deal of information will be revealed upon unlocking it.

"Mohsin was in constant touch with Hawala operators in Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. We are trying to unearth his network," the officer said, adding, "Mohsin played a key role in recruiting people and procuring funds through Hawala. He was supposed to leave India shortly."

Mohsin has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and is the first one from the city and 21st from the country to be arrested for suspected links with the extremist group. He has been remanded in police custody till February 10 by a Delhi court.

Kin claim innocence

Neighbours claimed Mohsin’s father, Ibrahim, received a call from Delhi police at 5 am yesterday, informing him about his son’s arrest. They said, an hour later, Ibrahim and his wife Safiya left for Delhi. Currently, Mohsin’s grandmother Zubeda and his sister Nagma are at home. One of the neighbours said, "A few days before Mohsin left home, his wife Heena went to her mother’s place and never returned. They have a son (5) and a daughter (3)."

Speaking to mid-day, Zubeda said, "Our son is innocent. We’ll only believe once he tells us personally. Like other children, who came back home, I want Mohsin to come back safely. Allah knows all."

Mohsin worked as an autorickshaw driver and is a history-sheeter. His parents were garment sellers in Andheri. After Mohsin left home, his sister took care of their parents and grandmother.

Another neighbour said, "Mohsin was deeply religious. He would punish his children by not giving them food if they failed to offer namaz five times a day. He didn’t even allow a TV at home."

The case

mid-day was the first to break the story about four Malwani men— Mohsin, Wajid Sheikh, Noor Mohammad and Ayaz Sultan — leaving the city to join ISIS. While Ayaz had already left on October 30, 2015, Mohsin, Wajid and Noor left on December 15. All four gave different reasons to their families for leaving home. While Mohsin said he was going to a friend’s wedding in Surat, Wajid left on the pretext of getting errors rectified in his Aadhar card. Noor said he was going to have tea with friends and Ayaz said he was going to Pune for an interview for a Saudi-based job. While ATS officials managed to trace Wajid and Noor to Pune and Sangli, respectively, they believe that Ayaz is working with the ISIS in Syria. They booked him under the UAPA. 

Update (30/1):

One of the men from Malwani who had left home with the aim of joining the Islamic State has been in the medical intensive care unit of KEM Hospital for over 10 days now, after allegedly attempting to kill himself by consuming rat poison. Sources said alleged harassment by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which has been questioning him about his disappearance, was the reason.

Noor Mohammad Shaikh, 32, is believed to have attempted suicide in the first week of January after the ATS allegedly threatened to arrest him under stringent charges. He is currently admitted to KEM Hospital’s MICU ward 22 and is on bed number 2.

Doctors treating him told mid-day that his condition was initially very serious and that he is “critical but out of danger.” A source in the ATS told mid-day that Noor was being questioned for more than 14 hours a day after he was traced.
“After Noor was traced from the Sangli, he was constantly questioned by the ATS over links to join ISIS,” said the source, who did not want to be identified. “He had alleged that he and his family were harassed by ATS officials in the name of interrogation, but the policemen maintained they were just doing their job. After the ATS registered a case against Ayaz Sultan, who is believed to have left the country, they were threatening to apply the same stringent sections against Noor and Wajid Shaikh, who too had returned home. Just two days before the ATS was to arrest them, Noor consumed poison.”

Another officer added: “Noor consumed one full bottle of rat poison. His body had turned yellow and his condition was extremely serious when brought to the hospital. Noor has alleged that he attempted suicide because he and his wife were being harassed by the ATS. Security in the ward is tight and doctors are monitoring Noor’s health.”

Sultan was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on December 30. Noor’s family refused to comment when mid-day contacted them. mid-day called Maharashtra ATS chief Vivek Phansalkar and ATS Special IG Niket Kaushik several times, but neither answered the phone. Text messages to the two were also unanswered. KEM Dean Dr Avinash Supe also refused to comment on why Noor was hospitalised.

“I have been asked by the Special IG Niket Kaushik not to divulge any information about this patient,” Dr Supe told mid-day in response to several detailed questions about Noor’s condition and hospitalisation.

When mid-day visited the hospital on Thursday night, ATS personnel in plainclothes were manning the ward. Noor gestured to this correspondent that he wanted to speak, but was stopped by three ATS men in plainclothes posted inside the ward. This correspondent then tried speaking to Noor’s wife Rahimunnisa, but the ATS men warned her not to speak to the media.

“I don’t know anything and can’t say anything on the matter,” she said. Other family members also have been warned not to speak to any visitor.
mid-day was the first to report the disappearance of four Malwani men and the ATS’s suspicion that they had left home with the aim of joining ISIS. Ayaz Sultan, 23, left home on October 30, saying he had to go to Pune in connection with job offer he had from Kuwait company. Mohsin Shaikh, 26, left home on December 16 saying he was going to attend a friend’s wedding in Surat.

Wajid Shaikh, 25, left home on December 16, saying he had to get his name corrected in his Aadhar card. Noor too left home on December 16, saying he is going for a cup of tea with a friend. Wajid and Noor were traced by the ATS while Mohsin still remains absconding. ATS has confirmed that Sultan has left the country.

“It is clear case of negligence by the ATS,” said a senior police officer aware of the developments. “Noor is an important witness and can even be made an accused in the case. The ATS should have been with him all the time. And since he was supposed to be arrested, the ATS officials should have taken extra care.
An inquiry in the matter should be initiated and action should be taken against those who let this happen.”  
Update (29/1):

'Kandhar-se-Delhi' video radicalised ISIS recruiter from Mumbai

Arrested suspected ISIS recruiter Rizwan Ahmed Ali Nawazuddin alias Khalid, from Malwani, was brainwashed and radicalised by his foreign handlers using a series of videos, including one called ‘Kandhar-se-Delhi’, said officials from the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad. 

Rizwan, who was allegedly the second-in-command recruiter for ISIS in India after Mudabbir Shaikh, was in contact with the four Malwani youths who left their homes between October-December last year allegedly to join the terror outfit. Two of them returned home, while one — Mohsin Shaikh — is still on the run in India, and Ayaz Sultan has escaped the country to join ISIS.

Rizwan, during interrogation, told ATS that in 2013, his foreign handler had radicalised him using four to five videos, of which one was titled ‘Kandhar-se-Delhi’. The title indicates training in Afghanistan and then targeting India.
The handler had sent Rizwan links of the videos, which were uploaded on YouTube. ‘Kandhar-se-Delhi’ had clips of provocative speeches by hardliners, said ATS sources.

‘Kandhar-se-Delhi’ was created and uploaded on YouTube by Al Isabah Media, which had once claimed to be a supporter of Ansar ut Tawheed Fi Bilad Al Hind, an India-based jihadist organisation, on Twitter. Later, the video was removed from YouTube.

Rizwan, who is believed to have visited many places across the country to recruit youths by conducting meetings, also revealed that his foreign handler was in contact with almost all the 14 suspects arrested recently — by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and other counter terror agencies — to radicalise them and train them in bomb-making.
Four-point programme
An ATS officer said those recruited in the Ansar ut Tawheed Fi Bilad Al Hind were given a four-point programme — to spread the ideology of ISIS and gather support, to create more recruits, to send as many fighters abroad as possible and to be prepared for the eventuality of an attack.
“All the youngsters arrested by ATS and the NIA were trained online,” the officer said.

Update (24/1): 
A court in Mumbai on Sunday remanded a man, who was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) for allegedly "recruiting" boys from suburban Malwani for terror outfit ISIS, in police custody till January 30.

Rizwan Ali was arrested yesterday from Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, an ATS official said. "The 23-year-old was presented before a holiday magistrate here who remanded him in police custody till January 30," he said.

The ATS sleuths suspect that he allegedly radicalised and guided Ayaz Sultan who left the country reportedly to join ISIS last month. ATS informed the court that Khalid, who was picked up from Kushinagar district in Uttar Pradesh, was very active on social media, and they have recovered his iPad and are in the process of retrieving all the social media chats from it.

In the court, when magistrate Amit Launkar asked Khalid if he has anything to say, he only said that he has "committed a mistake". The ATS had registered a case against a former BPO employee Ayaz who is missing from his residence since October 2015.

Ayaz and three other youths reportedly left home to join ISIS after being allegedly radicalised by Khalid.

Update (01/1):

MUMBAI: The family of the Malwani resident Ayaz Sultan (23), who is suspected to have joined terror organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Kabul, said they now fear that the chances of his return now appear slim in the wake of a case being registered against him by the state's anti-terrorism squad. The family had earlier said that Sultan wanted to return home.

The anti-terrorism squad on Wednesday lodged a criminal case against Sultan under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. In a related development, the police squad has summoned other youngsters from Malwani whom Sultan had allegedly instigated to join the terror outfit. However, these five youths had not left the city.

Sultan had left home a couple of months ago. His passport details, said officials, have shown that he took a flight from Delhi airport for Kabul. Three other youths—Noor Shaikh, Wajid Shaikh and Mohsin Shaikh—also left in December. While Wajid and Noor chickened out and returned last week; the whereabouts of Mohsin are not yet known.

A source close to Sultan's family said that he had maintained contact with them on WhatsApp. "We were trying to convince him to return, especially after he said he wanted to come back. Sultan has learnt about the case against him. Now, chances of his return are slim," said the source. The source added that Sultan's father is a Pakistani and is now in Pakistan. Sultan stayed with his mother and sister in Malwani while his elder sister, who is married, lives in Kuwait with her husband.

"We don't know why people are trying to maligning our reputation," said the source. The other five youths allegedly indoctrinated by Sultan were subjected to sustained interrogation, said police sources. "They were allowed to go after their statements were recorded," said an officer.

"They will be our witnesses in the case," said an officer.

Update (30/12):

Ayaz asks mom for money to return home  

The youngest of the missing Malwani four suspected of being radicalised by the Islamic State, Ayaz Sultan (23) now wants to return home but fears that he will be put behind bars like Areeb Majeed, an alleged ISIS recruit from Kalyan who later returned to India. Ayaz’s family claims he has been in constant touch with them through WhatsApp and has asked for money so he can come back. However, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) suspects this may be an attempt to mislead investigators.

Ayaz had left his home in Malwani on October 30, saying he had to go to Pune for a job offer from a Kuwait-based company. Ayaz took his money, belongings and passport and never returned. The ATS and other agencies said he left the country. On December 15, three more men from Malwani left their homes and were also suspected to have joined ISIS.

A few days before the news of their departure broke in the media, Ayaz had spoken to his sister on the phone and had told her that he is in Iraq and safe. Later, however, he was careful to converse with them only on WhatsApp over a WiFi connection, so he could not be tracked.
His mother, Raziya, said, “I do not know where my son is; he never tells us his location. I know he wants to come back but is afraid that he will be harassed by the Indian Police upon his return.” She said he feared that he would meet a similar fate like Majeed, who was arrested under Section 125 (waging war against any Asiatic Power in alliance with the government of India) of IPC.

Ayaz’s sister Shaina said she is currently in contact with him on the same messaging platform. “He was online today (Tuesday), but did not talk. Whenever he is online, we try to talk to him. Now I just want him back and want the Indian government to help,” said Raziya, adding that Ayaz had even asked her for money once, but she had refused saying she was the only earning member in the family now, and even taking care of basics had become difficult.

Update (27/12):

I will be back soon: Missing Malwani man to family on WhatsApp

"I am safe. I cannot disclose my location. All allegations against me are false and I will clear everything once I return," Ayaz Sultan is believed to have told his family while chatting with them on WhatsApp on Friday night. Sultan, 23, is one of the men from Malwani who had gone missing in the last two months, and is suspected to have joined the ISIS. On Friody, he told his family that the allegations levelled against him were incorrect. However, the state ATS is not buying his claim.  

On December 21, mid-day reported that Sultan, along with two others from Malwani — Mohsin Sheikh (26) and Wajid Sheikh (25) — had been reported missing. It is believed that Sultan helped get the others radicalized with help from a Muslim cleric and Indian agent. He was the first among them to leave home. Mohsin and Wajid were later nabbed in Sangli and Pune.

On Friday night, his family says they saw him online on the WhatsApp and sent him several messages — "Where are you? ATS and media is coming every day and harassing us that you have join Jihadi group (sic). People are telling you have join ISIS, where are you? Are you safe?" The family says that blue ticks notified them that Sultan had seen their messages. When the family mentioned that Mohsin and Wajid had held him responsible for their radicalisation, Sultan responded: "All is false, I have joined no terrorist group. I will be back soon. I will clear all things." Before the three were reported missing in the media, Sultan, his family says, had called his brother-in-law wishing to speak to his sister. As per her statement, he told her, "I have reached Iraq, I am safe, don’t worry about me." He hung up after asking about family members.
Update (26/12):

A new twist has emerged in the Anti-Terrorism Squad’s (ATS) investigations into the case of the missing Malwani men. The ATS suspects that the 17-year-old Pune girl — named ‘Radical Gun’ in jihadi chat rooms — was in touch with one of the Malwani four, and could have been instrumental in radicalising him.

An ATS officer said, “Sirajuddin had given her a list of a few people. We even went through an online list of the girl’s group. We were shocked to find a name resembling that of one of the Malwani four, Wajid Sheikh. We suspect that it is the same Wajid who went missing, and was traced by our ATS team in Pune. We are currently verifying this, but both Wajid and girl are tough nuts to crack.”

The officer added, “Sirajuddin had tasked the girl with radicalising others. He had one lakh followers on Facebook. The girl was promised that she would go to Syria by 2017, where she could pursue medical studies and help ISIS. She was very good in putting forward the ideology, and had radicalised several youths.”

“We are trying to solve the mystery behind the Pune angle. She was part of a highly complex network of ISIS sympathisers,” said the officer.

Update (25/12): With the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) having found another of the missing Malwani men suspected to have been recruited by terror organisation Islamic State, two important details in the case have come to light.
Ayaz Sultan told his friends they would be considered infidels if they didn't join ISIS

The two men nabbed so far have pointed the investigators to their Chennai handler, and have also revealed how they were bullied and threatened into joining ISIS by the youngest in the group, Ayaz Sultan (23), who was the first to be radicalised and leave home on October 30.
A day after they caught one of the Malwani four (Wajid Sheikh, 25) from Wakad in Pune, on Wednesday evening, the ATS nabbed a second man — Noor Mohammad Shaikh (32) in Miraj, near Sangli.
In the wee hours of last morning, he was brought to Mumbai and allowed to meet his family, before being taken to the ATS office for questioning.

The 'kafir' threat

Wajid and Noor told the ATS officials that they had been brainwashed by Ayaz, who would intimidate them with the threat of being called kafir (infidel).

“Ayaz would threaten his Malwani friends, saying that if they backed out and didn’t join ISIS, not only would they be declared kafir (infidel), ISIS would destroy their families, since they would become kafir by extension,” said an ATS source.
Chief recruiter
As mid-day had reported, Ayaz was the first of the Malwani four to leave home on October 30, telling his family he had to go to Pune for a job. Officials said Ayaz’s father is a Pakistani national, while his mother is Indian.
Ayaz himself was born in Pakistan, and that was where he went upon leaving home. But he continued to radicalise men in Malwani, and cops suspect he brainwashed at least 10 men.
“Even after Ayaz left the country, he was in constant touch with all the men. He had been radicalised completely through the ISIS chat rooms and online agents. He had been brainwashed so thoroughly that he began to recruit people as well. He played a key role in brainwashing his friends,” added the source.
Chennai agent
Ayaz also kept in touch with the Indian agent who was guiding and helping the men get out of the country. ATS is now looking for this person.
“After the three men (Wajid, Noor and the still missing Mohsin) left home on December 15, they first went to Pune, where the agent provided them with new mobile phones and SIM cards. The trio had been strictly instructed by the agent to leave their mobile phones at home,” said an official, adding that they then travelled through Hyderabad and Belgaum before reaching Chennai, where the agent was in the process of making bogus passports and Aadhar cards for them.
After the news broke of the men going missing because of suspected ISIS recruitment, the agent got nervous and the plot began to unravel

Update (24/12)

Missing Malwani four extensively researched ISIS online

Investigations into the Internet history of all three men have revealed that the group was searching extensively on the ISIS. The group had planned their disappearance and had deliberately left their mobile phones at home to avoid being traced.

Speaking to mid-day, a senior ATS officer said, “We are taking help of the cyber team. They have revealed that the four men searched for a lot of jihadi websites (ISIS and other organisations) on the Internet. They were even part of WhatsApp and Facebook groups. The mobile phone we recovered has a lot of ISIS videos, pictures and literature. Wajid’s wife also told us that they used to fight lot as Wajid had turned deeply religious and radical; he wanted to do something for Islam.”

Easy money
An ATS officer said, “When Wajid left he took some of his wife’s jewellery and sold it. He received Rs 18, 000 after selling it. The other men also took money from home. All the missing men were moving towards radical thinking.” The ATS is not trusting Wajid’s statements at the moment, because he continuously keeps changing them.

The Pune ATS nabbed Wajid yesterday afternoon in Wakad, Pune, while he was travelling in a bus. Special Inspector General (IG) ATS Niket Kaushik said, “We had specific information regarding Wajid travelling on that bus in Pune, after which he was nabbed. We are not relying on his statements. The Mumbai ATS unit will interrogate him.”

‘Latur reports baseless’

Kaushik added, “Reports that Wajid went to Latur and other places for a job hunt are baseless. All the men had made plans and left their homes. They had left mobile phones home so that they could not be traced.”

Kaushik said, “We are investigating the case and taking help to locate the other missing men. We have not given a clean chit to Wajid, investigations are on, and he will be called for questioning as and when required.”

In Pune, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ATS) Bhanupratap Barge said, “All of them knew each other since they stayed in the same area and visited the same mosque. The trio hatched a plan to leave together. Ayaz used to brainwash the other three by showing them ISIS clippings.”

He added, “From the basis of Sheikh’s statement, it seems that Ayaz was radicalising and brain washing the others. We are worried about other youths. Sheikh had left from home with R18, 000 with the others on December 15. On Tuesday night, we recovered only Rs 10,100 from his pocket.”

No clean chit

Wajid was brought to Mumbai on Tuesday night, after which ATS reunited him with his family. He was sent home in the wee hours of yesterday, after he completed certain official procedures. The ATS picked him up for questioning later in the morning.

Wajid told investigators that he and the others had left home because Ayaz’s family members were harassing them by asking them about his whereabouts.
All three gave different versions on why they were leaving to their family members. An ATS officer said, “The reasons and statements are not reliable at all. All three had planned to leave home in advance.”

According to ATS sources, after leaving from Mumbai, Wajid, Mohsin and Noor went to Pune and travelled to Hyderabad, Belgaum and Chennai. The trio were staying at a lodge, and came to know through media reports that the police was looking for them. They decided to flee from Chennai.

Addressing the press, ACP Barge said, “Mohsin told the others that he was going to book train tickets and left the lodge. He did not return after several hours. Later, Wajid and Noor decided to leave by bus. When they reached the bus stand, Noor told Wajid that he was going to look for Mohsin, and never returned.” Wajid boarded the bus to Bangalore alone. He later changed to a connecting bus to Mumbai from Bangalore.

He added, “In the meantime, we came to know from our informers, that Sheikh was on his way to Mumbai on a private luxury bus from Bangalore. So, our sleuths, lead by inspector Sunil Tambe and S Gokule had laid a trap in the area. They intercepted the bus at Katraj road in Pune, where the bus had a halt.” Wajid was picked up from the bus.

Wajid’s divine intervention
“During interrogation, it was revealed that Wajid was confused about the spiritual thought portrayed by the ISIS and decided to meet a cleric to clarify his doubts,” Barge said.
Wajid met two clerics. One of them explained the real meaning of jihad to him, and told him that the ISIS was not preaching the truth. Then, Wajid met another cleric, who fed him a radical, extremist point of view.
“We are happy that the cleric he spoke to was a good one. Wajid was enlightened by the thoughts of the cleric who asked him to follow the good path. But still, we are appealing to his other friends through the media to come and meet us. We will help you. There is no problem (in approaching us) and no one is penalising or accusing you.”

Update (23/12)

Noor Mohammad Shaikh


Days before he left home, Noor Mohammad Shaikh – the fourth Malwani resident suspected of leaving India to join a terrorist outfit — had told his family and colleagues that he had got a job in Saudi Arabia. A day after he left, he called his wife from Pune but someone forcefully took away his phone and switched it off. Police officials are now tracing the call records.

His wife Rahimunissa Shaikh who said she had sensed that her husband was in some problem. She revealed that he had planned to leave home several days ago. 32-year-old Noor worked as daily wage labourer.
“My husband was a family oriented person. Yes, he had become increasingly silent and extremely religious, but I never thought that he would leave home. We have been married for ten years and have four children. He was the breadwinner of our family. I am extremely worried about him,” said Rahimunissa.

Noor’s boss Naem Shaikh, a contractor, said, “He had been working for me since several months. His last day working for me was on December 13. He told us that he had got a job in Saudi Arabia. He asked me to give some work to his wife and take care of his children and give them money, if needed. All the workers wished him luck.”

Recollecting the events on December 15 — the day Noor left — Rahimunissa said, “In the afternoon, everything was fine. I could not even sense from his expression that he would leave home and never come back. After lunch, he went out with a friend, saying he was going to have tea with him. The friend returned, but Noor never did. I looked for him everywhere.”

She added, “The next day he called me from a new number and said that he was in Pune. He said he misses the children and me and will soon come back. I was just trying to speak to him when someone in the back started yelling, ‘I told you not to use the phone. You are supposed to have no attachments.’ Two more people joined in and disconnected the call.”

“He cannot live without us. I just want my husband back. What will happen to my four children? I just hope he returns home soon, said an inconsolable Rahimunissa, adding, “On Monday, ATS officials came to our house and confiscated his phone and other items.”

 Update (23/12

Abdul Wajid Shaikh (25), who was missing from Mumbai’s Malwani area amid speculations that, he along with a few others, may have left homes to join ISIS, was traced by the Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) in Pune on Tuesday late evening.
The ATS Pune unit, on Tuesday, around 10 pm detained him in Wakad near the Pune-Mumbai expressway. Recently, the three youths from Malwani had gone missing from the area.

An ATS officer from Pune, speaking to mid-day on condition of anonymity, confirmed, “We have detained Wajid Shaikh in Wakad and will be sending him to Mumbai for further investigations and inquiry. For the last three days, we were working and shadowing his movement. After confirming his identity and tracing his suspicious movements, we nailed him.” Shaikh is married, and worked in call centre. He had gone missing from his home, after stating that he had some visa work and wanted changes in his Aadhar card, on December 16. His father is Pakistani and mother is from India. “ATS Mumbai will inquire and probe the case and his role in ISIS will be clear,” added the officer.

 3 Mumbai Men 'Suspected' To Have Joined ISIS, Says Police

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