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Coimbatore ‘bomber’ was ‘hot-headed, eccentric & learned to make bombs from YouTube videos’

Investigators examining different theories. One of them is that Jameesha Mubin was headed to a nearby shopping area with a large textile store, but got spooked after noticing a cop.

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Coimbatore: Jameesha Mubin, the 29-year-old engineering graduate who died in the Coimbatore car blast Sunday, was in “poor health” and seemed to have been “willing to take a risk”, said top sources in the Coimbatore police.

“Investigations have shown that he was in pretty poor health, had been operated on both his eyes, and had heart issues. So he could have decided to end his life,” one of the sources told ThePrint.

Earlier reports had suggested the Whatsapp status of Mubin — who was killed when an LPG cylinder in his car exploded in front of the Kottai Eswaran Temple in Ukkadam area implied that he was aware he was going to die in the incident.

“Normally the behaviour of a suicide bomber is to create maximum damage to the target. Here Mubin had kept a lot of the raw materials (potassium nitrate, aluminum powder, sulphur and charcoal) at home and not carried the entire thing in his car,” said the source.

“To ensure no other consignments were transported, we are now concentrating on (Mohammad) Azhar and Afsar (Khan), Mubin’s cousins,” the source further said. Both these men are now in custody.

Sources in the Coimbatore police also said that one of Mubin’s associates, “ISIS sympathiser” Feroz Ismail, had travelled to Kerala to meet Mohammed Azharudeen, who was allegedly part of the “Coimbatore/Kerala ISIS” module and had been arrested in connection with the 2019 Sri Lankan Easter bombings. He is currently lodged in a prison in Kerala.

Ismail was arrested by the Coimbatore police Tuesday.

A shattered glass pane near the blast site | Photo: Sowmiya Ashok | ThePrint
A shattered glass pane near the blast site | Sowmiya Ashok | ThePrint

The Sunday blast took place at around 4.10 am. The Maruti 800 in which the LPG cylinder exploded allegedly belonged to Mubin, who was in the vehicle at the time. He was the only one killed in the incident.

Police initially arrested five people and booked them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A sixth arrest was made Thursday, the same day the Union Ministry of Home Affairs handed over the probe in the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The NIA FIR also mentions Mubin as an accused.

The circumstances leading to the death of Mubin who was questioned by the NIA in 2019 over alleged ties to a radical network linked with the Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka had led to investigators suspecting a possible angle of terror plot.

Mubin was believed to have been in touch with the network related to Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the Easter bombings.

“Whether Mubin was acting alone or through a handler is definitely a matter of investigation,” Coimbatore City Police Commissioner V Balakrishnan told ThePrint.

Coimbatore police sources said that though Mubin had not met Azharudeen, “his close associate Feroz had done so”, adding that “maybe through him (Feroz), he could have been getting instructions”.

The sources further that the two men had travelled to Kerala together on occasion. “Mubin had gone for medical treatment and Feroz had gone to meet two prisoners in Kerala.”

While Mubin’s neighbours avoided answering questions about him when ThePrint visited the area Thursday afternoon, the blast has set off a political war of words in Tamil Nadu.

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‘Eccentric, hot-headed’

In Coimbatore’s Ukkadam area, where Mubin is said to have resided with his wife and children, and where the car he drove on the eve of Diwali exploded, his former employer Shahul Hameed, who runs a second-hand bookstore, described him as “eccentric” and “hot-headed”.

Hameed also denied having knowledge of Mubin ever having been a part of any religious community in the Ukkadam area.

“He (Mubin) didn’t talk much to people and wouldn’t smile at anyone,” Hameed told ThePrint.

The house where he lived | Photo: Sowmiya Ashok | ThePrint
Jameesha Mubin’s house in the Ukkadam area | Sowmiya Ashok | ThePrint

The bookstore owner added that he had employed Mubin for a year to manage one of the outlets of A.S. Bookshop, but he was let go after he allegedly came under the NIA radar in 2019.

That year, Mubin and a few others in Coimbatore were questioned by the NIA as they had reportedly attended one of the sermons held by members of the suspected terror module led by Azharuddin. While the latter was arrested for his ties with Easter bombings mastermind Hashim, Mubin was let off due to lack of evidence against him.

When ThePrint visited Haji Mohammed Street, where Mubin and his family lived, wary neighbours quickly closed windows to avoid having to answer questions about him. The family living on the ground floor of the building, where Mubin is said to have rented a house on the terrace, also bolted the side entrance leading to Mubin’s residence.

“We have been told by the police not to speak to anyone,” the house owner told ThePrint, not wanting to be named.

He added: “All I know is that there are still items remaining at his house and we have been told not to touch them till the investigations are over.”

In and around the blast site, which is on a narrow street between two temples, ThePrint noticed a group of men at around 1 pm Thursday, some wearing saffron shawls, posing for a photograph in front of the temple.

“In the past few days, many men from Hindu Munnani and other Hindutva outfits have come to visit the spot and take photos,” said a vendor in the area, who did not wish to be named.

Political war of words

Meanwhile, the Coimbatore car blast case has become a political issue.

Murasoli, the mouthpiece of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in an editorial Thursday warned BJP state president K. Annamalai not to drop “verbal bombs” for scoring a political advantage in Tamil Nadu.

“BJP is a kind of party that waits anxiously for violence to unfold anywhere in the country so that it could get political gains,” the editorial read. “The BJP has attempted to gain political mileage out of the Coimbatore incident. But, the state police has responded fittingly (to the BJP) by acting swiftly and promptly.”

The editorial came hours before Tamil Nadu Electricity Minister Senthil Balaji said that the NIA must first probe Annamalai since he spoke about the incident with the aim to politicise the issue, before the police disclosed information to the public.

On Thursday, Annamalai tweeted: “There was a specific threat alert given by central intelligence agencies to the TN Govt on Oct 18th, 2022. This is five days before the ‘suicide bombing’ incident.”

Police sources meanwhile said this was an “absolutely false” claim.

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Among theories, an ‘accidental explosion’

Investigations by the Coimbatore police have revealed that Mubin’s knowledge about bomb making wasn’t sophisticated, sources said.

The car had two LPG cylinders and three drums with “low grade” explosives with “metal rings”, they further said, adding that the shrapnel, nails and marbles, however, had not been mixed into the explosives.

According to the sources, Mubin had learnt to make bombs from YouTube videos and purchased items on e-commerce sites.

“He did not have any switch mechanism or trigger to set the bomb off. The interesting thing is he used isopropyl alcohol to increase inflammability of the explosives,” said the source quoted above.

Eswaran Kovil Street, where Mubin worked. at a bookstore till 2019 | Photo: Sowmiya Ashok | ThePrint
Eswaran Kovil Street, where Mubin worked at a bookstore till 2019 | Sowmiya Ashok | ThePrint

Investigators are examining different theories related to the blast, ThePrint has learnt. Among the theories that the Coimbatore police has been working with is whether Mubin intended to target the temple at all, sources said.

“The counter points against this theory are that if the temple was the target, he would have planned to cause maximum damage,” said the source, adding, “there was a temple portico, he could have driven the car into the portico, and set the blast off or he could have parked the car closer to the wall and blasted it off. He didn’t do either. So, it gives credence to the theory that it could have been an accidental explosion.”

Another theory is that Mubin was headed to a nearby shopping area which houses a large textile store but was spooked after he noticed a beat constable on the Eswaran Kovil Street, said sources. “If that is the case, he was not sure whether to blast the temple or go somewhere or since he saw the police (an assumption), he decided to blast it off there itself.”

Meanwhile, back at Ukkadam, police barricades still mark the spot where the blast took place. Vendors and residents ThePrint spoke to said that after the blast, a peepul tree at the spot was charred and soot landed on the temple tower, which the police washed down and cleaned after the incident.

(This report has been updated to correct the time of the blast and name of street Mubin lives on)

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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