Police probing if youths behind Mangaluru, Coimbatore blasts were linked over encrypted messaging apps

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Investigation by the Karnataka Police into a minor blast that occurred in an autorickshaw in the state’s Mangaluru region on November 19 is looking for possible social media connections between suspect Mohammed Shariq, 24, who was injured in the blast, and Jamesha Mubeen, 25, who was killed in an explosion in a car in Coimbatore on October 23 this year, sources said.

With investigations revealing that Shariq was in the Coimbatore region for nine days at the end of August and in early September before going to Kerala for nearly two weeks, police agencies are probing possible physical and virtual linkages between the two youths in the separate blasts.

“There are indications that the youth involved in the Coimbatore case and the youth in the Mangaluru case were in groups on encrypted messaging apps like Telegram, Wire, Element and Signal, and were possibly connected initially through these groups,” a police source said.

Since the Mangaluru blast – in which an IED that Shariq was carrying in a bag exploded while he was traveling in an autorickshaw to a yet-to-be identified location – the police have seized mobile devices that were in Shariq’s possession to analyse his communications.

In some of the groups on encrypted messaging apps like Element, Telegram, Signal and Wire, there were several people from various parts of the country and the sub-continent allied to the ideology of groups like the Islamic State and there is a possibility of Shariq and Mubeen being common members of some of these groups prior to the blasts, sources said.

An attempt is being made to find out if the youths involved in the two blasts on October 23 and November 19 in Coimbatore and Mangaluru, respectively, were in touch on messaging apps and this is yet to be established, sources in a central agency said.

Shivamogga connection

Prior to his involvement in the Mangaluru blast, Shariq was known to use encrypted messaging systems for communications with close associates involved with him in an alleged terror plot in Shivamogga. “Shariq used to send PDF Files, video/audios and their links related to extremism, radicalisation, works of ISIS and other terror organisations, etc through messenger apps like Telegram, Signal, Instagram, Wire, Element, etc to Yasin (who was arrested in the Shivamogga terror plot case),” the police said in a statement in September this year following the arrest of two youths.

The Karnataka home minister and a senior police official have stated that Shariq made multiple visits to Coimbatore while being on the run from Shivamogga since August 20, when local investigations revealed that he was involved in testing an IED with associates Syed Yasin, 22, and Maaz Ahmed, 22.

Youths in the Shivamogga case were also found to be members of channels run on Telegram by the official media centre of ISIS Al-Hayat, the Shivamogga police said in September.

The trail to Shariq and his associates and their possible involvement in subversive activities were discovered by the Shivamogga police during the probe of a case of communal stabbing in Shivamogga city on August 15. An individual arrested in the stabbing case was found to be closely linked to Shariq.

At the time, the Shivamogga police found that the youth Mohammed Jabi, who was arrested for the stabbing, was using the Threema messaging service to communicate with his associates, but the police were not able to view the details of the communications on the end-to-end encrypted service, said police sources familiar with the developments in the Shivamogga cases.