A low intensity explosion in an autorickshaw on the outskirts of Mangaluru city in coastal Karnataka that took place on Saturday evening, which was initially believed to be due to a technical glitch in the vehicle, has now turned out to be an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast that is suspected to have been “an act of terror with intention to cause serious damage,” Praveen Sood, Director General and Inspector General of Police, Karnataka, confirmed this on Sunday morning.
Investigating agencies suspect that the group behind last month’s car bomb blast in front of a Coimbatore temple are also behind the Mangaluru blast, with a senior agency official confirming that prima facie evidence indicates a link between the two explosions.
The Mangaluru autorickshaw passenger who was carrying the IED, which was rigged in a pressure cooker kept in a bag, was injured in the blast, and has now been identified as 24-year-old Mohammed Shariq. He is a resident of Thirthahalli in the Malnad region of Karnataka and a wanted terror-accused who has been on the run for many months now.
Police allege that he has Islamic State leanings and is an associate of a prominent member of Al Hind, a Karnataka and Tamil Nadu-based Islamic State-leaning terror module busted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 2020. The NIA and Karnataka Police have been looking for him at least from September 2022.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has expressed concern over the terror incident in the State and assured people of launching a crackdown. The case is likely to be transferred to the NIA soon.
Having suffered over 40% burns, Mr. Shariq is being treated at an Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Mangaluru and is reportedly not in a position to talk. The autorickshaw driver, Purushottam, has also suffered burn injuries and is being treated.
On Saturday evening, there was a very low-key blast sound from the autorickshaw followed by fire and smoke, eyewitnesses said. “Preliminary investigations have pointed to low-intensity explosives like phosphorus used in matchsticks or gunpowder being used. The bomb was very crudely made in a very amateur way with two cells. Nuts and bolts were also found in the cooker,” a senior police officer said.
Police suspect that the bomb accidentally went off on the way to its intended destination. “Shariq carried the IED-rigged cooker from Mysuru to Mangaluru, probably in a bus, and later boarded the autorickshaw on Saturday. The travel would have caused friction, which would have heated up the explosive material, probably triggering the explosion,” a senior police officer said.
Investigations had uncovered that they were radicalised by Mohammed Shariq and they had learnt making bombs through PDF files, videos and several materials sent to them by Shariq. The duo had prepared an IED and tested it successfully on the banks of Tungabhadra, police had alleged. However, Shariq had fled from his residence and had been absconding till date.
Mohammed Shariq and Maaz Ahmed were earlier arrested by Mangaluru City Police in 2020 over graffiti they wrote on the walls of two buildings in the coastal city, in support of Lashakr-e-Taiba and Taliban, and were later released on bail. Maaz Ahmed was again busted in the terror module case in Sepetmber 2022, even as Shariq the prime accused in the case was at large.
Using a forged Aadhar card of a person who had lost his card in Hubballi, Mr. Shariq had rented a room on the outskirts of Mysuru, a month and a half ago. Police teams that raided the house on Sunday recovered explosive materials, similar to those used in the IED, Karnataka police said. Mysuru police have detained a resident of nearby T. Narsipura, with whom Mr. Shariq was regularly in touch.
The accused was using a SIM card, which turned out to have been procured in Coimbatore using the credentials of his Udhagamandalam-based associate Surendran, now detained by Tamil Nadu Police. Investigations have now revealed that before shifting base to Mysuru, Shariq was in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, including Coimbatore.
Tamil Nadu Police are now probing his links in the State, including his possible connection to Jameesha Mubin, who was killed in the blast of a car laden with explosives in front of Coimbatore’s Kottai Eswaran temple on October 23. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has already taken over the Coimbatore probe, Mr. Mubin was inspired by the Islamic State and had planned to carry out a suicidal attack and “cause extensive damage to symbols and monuments of a particular religious faith”.
The NIA had earlier conducted searches at 43 locations in Tamil Nadu’s Chennai, Coimbatore, Thiruvallur, Tiruppur, Nilgiris, Chengalpatu, Kanchipuram and Nagapattinam and one location in Kerala’s Palakkad.
Six accused persons have been arrested in the Coimbatore case so far. The accused persons had conspired with Mr. Mubin to source different chemicals and other ingredients for configuring IEDs.