Hoax caller from 'Peshawar' sends ATS on wild goose chase
Dubai-based Pakistani man, clearly aware that Mumbra residents are under scanner for suspected ISIS links, calls Thane ATS to say his wife's brother is sheltering four jihadis planning to blow up Mumbai schools
A Pakistani national from Dubai gave Thane and Navi Mumbai policemen — as well as a 40-year-old Mumbra man — two sleepless nights with his prank calls last week.
Nadeem Shaikh, who was picked up by the ATS for questioning, feels this was a revenge plot by his brother-in-law
The hoaxer, identified as Hafeez Rehman, called the Navi Mumbai police control room on January 29 to ‘warn’ that Mumbra resident Nadeem Shaikh was sheltering four jihadis who have entered India to carry out a massacre in a city school. Rehman made two calls each to the Navi Mumbai and Thane control rooms.
Turned out Rehman is a Pakistani national living in Dubai and married to Shaikh’s cousin. With Shaikh advising his cousin, Shabnam, to snap ties with the abusive Rehman and return to India, the Pakistani wanted to teach his brother-in-law a lesson. And with Mumbra being in the news for some of its residents’ alleged links to the ISIS, Rehman thought the best way to fix Shaikh was to paint him as a jihadi.
With the call coming just days after the arrest of a man living in the very same colony as Shaikh alleged to be the ISIS’s main recruiter in India, the police went into a tizzy.
They put Shaikh under surveillance for all of Friday, before detaining him on Saturday. Only when they told him the name of the caller did Shaikh realise what his devious brother-in-law was up to. He explained the family situation to the police, who have let him go but kept him under observation. The police have made a diary entry of the incident and are exploring what action they can take against Rehman.
The drama began at 2.41 pm on January 29, when the Navi Mumbai control room received a call. Police Naik RJ Gawde answered the call.
“Me aapko bahut important baat batane wala hu,” said the caller. “Ye baat aapko koi nai bata sakta. Aapke koi adhikari rahenge to unko phone do.” (I have some important and exclusive information. Give the phone to some senior officer.)
Gawde connected the caller to Assistant Police Inspector Santosh Sawant. The caller identified himself as Hafeez Rehman from Peshawar in Pakistan and asked Sawant if he followed Urdu. When Sawant replied he knew Hindi, the caller continued in Hindi.
“Hafeez Saeed ko pehchante ho?” he asked. “Saeed ne chaar jan India bheje hai, jo ek school mein kuch kaand karne waale hai. Woh Mumbra me rehnewale hai.” (Hafeez Saeed has sent four people into India and they are going to attack a school and will be staying in Mumbra.)
As the cops alerted the ATS, the control room received another call from Rehman at 2.45 pm. This time he told them he was speaking from Multan.
“Muje wireless se pata chala ki wo Pakistan ki border cross karke India aae hue hai,” he said. “Wo Mumbra Amrut Nagar ki Naseem Baug building me Nadeem Shaikh ke yahan ruke hue hain.” (The jihadis have crossed into India. They will stay at Nadeem Shaikh’s home in Mumbra.)
A few minutes later, the Thane control room also received similar calls. All the calls were reported to the ATS who immediately activated their local assets in Mumbra.
Why so serious?
The ATS took the call very seriously as, only on January 22, a joint team of the National Investigation Agency and the ATS arrested Mudabbir Shaikh, 34, from his Amrut Nagar residence in Mumbra.
Mudabbir had told his interrogators that he was the recruiter for ISIS in India and was operating from his home for the last three years. He was called ‘the Amir’ and was direct touch with the Iraq-based Yusuf Al Hindi.
The ATS officers first put the house under surveillance on Friday and on Saturday detained Shaikh, a father of two who works as a manager at the Shaadi Mahal wedding hall five minutes from his home.
“After we received the calls, we asked our local network to keep a watch at the address,” said a senior Maharashtra ATS officer. “We also started gathering information about Shaikh, as we doubted that if they are going to attack on school they would be heavily armed. We thought they could attack us also if we stormed the house. Our first suspicion was this was an ISIS module in Mumbra put together by Mudabbir.”
On Saturday, the ATS decided to detain and interrogate Shaikh.
"We interrogated him thoroughly, but he was not ready to accept anything,” said the officer. “We then switched tactics and tried to gain his confidence to see if he would reveal anything. When we mentioned the caller’s name, Shaikh was shocked and told us everything about the domestic dispute between his cousin and her husband.”
The ATS checked Shaikh’s call records and nothing suspicious was found. He also arranged for the officers to speak to his cousin, who corroborated his version. They also questioned his neighbours who told them Shaikh was a pious man who kept to himself and was not on any social media. Finally, they found that the hoax call too came from the Dubai locality where Shabnam lived.
“Shabnam and Rehman were happy and have a child,” said the officer. “But a few months ago, he started getting violent and she used to tell Nadeem about it. Nadeem told her to register a case and return to India.
When Rehman learnt about this, he wanted to teach Shaikh a lesson. He thought the police will arrest Shaikh and torture him. We released Nadeem after taking his statement and are keeping a watch on him.”
When mid-day visited Shaikh on Tuesday, he was out. When we called him, he confirmed his detention but didn’t want to elaborate. “I was helping my cousin Shabnam to return to India as her husband was harassing her,” Shaikh told mid-day. “Rehman wanted to teach me a lesson and called the control room with false information. Everything is sorted now.” added Shaikh assure for an interview with the reporter, but switch off his phone later.
As for Rehman, the police have made a station diary entry about the hoax call and are considering registering a case against him.