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Rameshwaram Cafe Blast: NIA Arrests Fourth Accused, an IT Professional from Hubballi

According to the National Investigation Agency, the accused was earlier convicted in a 'Lashkar-e- Taiba conspiracy case' in 2012.
Rameshwaram Cafe in Bengaluru just before the blasts. Photo: X/@PranavMatraaPPS

Mumbai: On the evening of Friday, May 24, the National Investigations Agency (NIA) announced that they had arrested Shoaib Ahmed Mirza, a 35-year-old IT professional in the Bengaluru’s Rameshwaram Café blast case. Mirza’s arrest came after the agency’s multi-state raids carried out on May 21. Mirza, a resident of Hubballi in North Karnataka, was picked up along with his elder brother, Aijaz, also an IT professional from Hubballi. The duo was illegally detained for over 35 hours before being released late on May 23. While Aijaz was allowed to return home, Shoaib was finally shown as legally arrested on May 24.

The NIA court in Bengaluru has granted Shoaib’s custody to the agency for seven days. Aijaz, on returning to Hubballi, told The Wire that the NIA had initially told them that they were only to be questioned for a few hours and would soon be allowed to return. The Wire, on May 22, had reported about how the brothers were served notices under Section 160 of the CrPC, which only empowers the police to require the attendance of witnesses, yet were detained in the NIA office in Bengaluru for over 35 hours.

According to the press release issued by the agency on May 24 night, Shoaib, who was earlier arrested and convicted in a 2012 ‘Lashkar-e- Taiba conspiracy case’, had allegedly gotten involved in another similar act on his release. The NIA press note claims that Shoaib had befriended Abdul Mateen Taha – one of the first persons to be arrested in the Rameshwaram café blast case – in 2018 and introduced him to an “online handler” suspected to be abroad. Shoaib is also accused of providing email id for encrypted communication between the handler and Taha. On April 12, the NIA had arrested Taha along with Mussavir Hussain Shazib – from their alleged hideouts in Kolkata, West Bengal. Both, originally residents of Thirthahalli in the Shivamogga district, have been named as masterminds in the case.

The NIA press note claims that Shoaib is the fourth person to be arrested in the café blast case, an incident that occurred on March 1 in Bengaluru and injured close to 20 persons. The agency has, however, only made three names public in the case.

Interestingly, the agency had first detained one Sai Prasad, a BJP activist from Thirthahalli in the Shivamogga district of Karnataka. Prasad was let off and soon after the investigation took a new turn.

Along with Shoaib, the NIA had also rounded up two doctors from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and one IT professional in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. Those men have been allowed to return to their respective homes.

In 2012, when Shoaib was only 22 years old and had freshly completed a postgraduate degree in computer applications, he was arrested for his alleged role in a Lashkar-e-Taiba module, accused of planning to kill Pratap Simha, a right-wing columnist and former Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Mysore. Aijaz, 25 at the time and employed with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as a junior research fellow, was also arrested. While five years later, Shoaib, along with 12 others, “pleaded guilty”, Aijaz was released from the case within six months. He was wrongly implicated, but the incarceration cost him his job as a scientist at DRDO. Currently, Aijaz works for an IT firm in Bengaluru and, like Shoaib, has been working from home since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

After his release in 2017, Shoaib not only secured an IT job but also launched a YouTube news channel called “Ittehad News Hubli” and focused on socio-political issues affecting the Muslim community as well as other local news from the region.

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