He “wanted to establish Islam’s superiority as endorsed by the terrorist outift ISIS” because he “was influenced by the notion of global jihad” that “those who don’t believe in Islam are idol worshippers or kafirs” and so “should be killed and sent to hell”.
This is the Uttar Pradesh police’s summary, contained in a chargesheet filed on August 26, of what motivated Ahmad Murtaza Abbasi to at Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath temple last April. Abbasi himself, in a video that a few days after the attack, purportedly claimed that he was driven by anger against the “harassment of Muslims” for protesting against the new citizenship law and the prohibition on Muslims wearing the hijab in Karnataka’s schools.
To reach their conclusion about Abbasi, his alleged links to ISIS and his purported motivation for the attack at the temple, which is led by chief minister Adityanath as the chief priest, the police relied on material collected from his devices, internet search history and social media activity. The evidence is collected in a 2,000-page chargesheet, submitted in a Lucknow court, which as also under the penal sections related to attempt to murder and promotion of enmity between different communities.
The electronic evidence allegedly linking Abbasi to ISIS includes his iPhone, MacBook, hard disk, and Gmail. On the hard disk, the police claim to have found “PDFs related to various editions of Dabiq and Rumiyah”, meaning the propaganda e-magazines by the media wing of ISIS, Al Hayat Media Center, which are for indoctrination and recruitment.
They also claim to have found images with captions like, “Just terror tactics knife attack”, “Ten videos selected from wilayat of the Islamic State”, and “The kafir’s blood is halal for you, so shed it”. The last caption is the headline of an published in Rumiyah about six years ago.
The hard disk also stored transcripts of speeches by Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, an ISIS spokesman by American soldiers in 2016, the UP police claim, as well as speeches by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American cleric accused of who was .
This material shows that Abbasi was “in touch with” ISIS sympathisers and fighters, Prashant Kumar, additional director general of police for law and order, on April 30. He didn’t elaborate how the mere possession of material related to an extremist group established Abbassi’s motive. In October 2021, hearing a challenge to the arrest of journalism student Thwaha Fasal for alleged Maoist links, the that merely giving support to a terrorist group as a member or otherwise wasn’t sufficient to invite an offence under UAPA.
Quoting the Thwaha Fasal judgement, Delhi advocate Areeb Uddin Ahmed told Newslaundry, “There have been many instances where the Supreme Court has clarified this point. The association and ‘support’ have to be with in the intention of furthering the activities of a terrorist organisation.”
On Abbasi’s iPhone, the police claim to have found bookmarked web pages and search history showing that he had visited articles on ISIS, , the M4 carbine, and anti-tank missiles. The chargesheet also mentions articles influenced by “radical Islamist ideology” and written mostly by Ahmad Musa Jibril, who allegedly “” the 2017 London Bridge terror attack.
After trawling Abbasi’s social media activity, the police claim that they found him to be “a follower of ISIS supporters and sympathisers” such as @shamiwitness, meaning the pro-ISIS handle allegedly run by , a Bengaluru engineer who was arrested in 2014 under UAPA for “aiding and abetting” a terrorist organisation. Noting Abbasi’s “online association with Biswas”, the chargesheet claims that “the accused, via tweets and retweets, was trying to propogate jihadist ideology as espoused by ISIS”.
Biswas’s Twitter account was shut down soon after his arrest in 2014, so the police have travelled further back to find a 2013 comment posted by Abbasi on a forum called Islam Awakening to establish his alleged terror links. The comment, replying to a thread on “Musa Cerontnio: Great Islamic Empire in Politics, Jihad and Current Affair”, reads: “I thought terrorism (as it’s understood by the West today) is the foreign policy of the Islamic State for the wrongdoers. Goes without saying.” By “wrongdoers”, the police claim, Abbasi “refers to non-Muslims”.
In addition to the electronic evidence, the chargesheet details some of Abbasi’s monetary transactions that the police declare that they found suspicious. It mentions an email sent to Abbasi on July 23, 2020 by the online payments platform PayPal informing him that his account has been restricted “for sending payments which were suspicious”. The police claim to have received from PayPal a list of 14 accounts which Abbasi had sent money to. There’s a possibility that these payments were “linked to terrorist financing”, but “this is not confirmed, it’s only a suspicion”.
Abbasi, the chargesheet alleges, transferred Rs 6,69,841 to groups affiliated with ISIS in Germany, Sweden, America, Britain, Canada, Australia between 2018 and 2020.
A person close to Abbasi’s family confirmed he had indeed sent money abroad. “He would ask his father to donate money for the construction of mosques in foreign countries,” he said, explaining how Abbasi found the money. But this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, declined to elaborate how much money Abbasi transferred out and whether it was actually used for the stated purpose.
On these monetary transactions, Supreme Court lawyer Abu Bakr Sabbaq told Newslaundry there was a “possibility” that Abbasi had been sending money abroad to people known to him.
“But in this case, the intermediary [PayPal] declined to process the transaction,” he said. “So, as a matter of investigation, it needs to be established whether the accounts that money was being sent to were compromised in any way.”
He added, “Mere association cannot be grounds for an offence under UAPA as long as you are not part of a conspiracy.”
Abbasi, who graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from IIT Bombay, worked at the Nayara Energy Refinery in Jamnagar in Gujarat, until April 2018 when he had a psychotic episode. He had been suffering from mental illness since he was 12 years old, the person close to his family claimed, and underwent psychiatrist treatment after the 2018 episode.
At the last hearing in his case, on September 9, Abbasi’s lawyers filed a discharge petition under of the penal code and of the CrPC that allow for relief on grounds of unsound mind. His lawyers have claimed Abbasi’s attack on the security guards was a consequence of his mental health problems which include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Dr Arun Khatri, the psychiatrist who treated Abbasi in Jamnagar, declined to comment citing patient confidentiality and the court proceedings.
But Dr Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad, a psychiatrist in Gorakhpur who has seen Abbasi’s medical records, confirmed that he was afflicted by mental illness. “This person was on heavy tranquillisers for a year,” he said, “though he was irregular with medication.”
Prasad expressed concern about the police’s handling of the matter. “They have produced a certificate from a local doctor, an orthopaedic surgeon,” he explained. “They should have gone to a medical board to establish the mens rea.” Mens rea means the intent behind committing a crime.
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