14 more apprehended in Gujarat over targeting of interfaith couples, were part of WhatsApp group

500 people had joined a WhatsApp group named 'Hussaini Army' created by some of the accused a few months back to indulge in moral policing, police said.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

VADODARA: Days after the arrest of three persons in Gujarat's Vadodara city for allegedly targeting interfaith couples, harassing them and uploading their videos on social media, 14 more have been apprehended in connection with the case, the police said on Thursday.

Of those 14 apprehended on Wednesday, five were arrested and nine were kept under detention for further questioning, said a release by the Vadodara police.

A preliminary probe has revealed that 500 people had joined a WhatsApp group named 'Hussaini Army' created by some of the accused a few months back to indulge in moral policing, which could cause enmity among religious groups, the release said.

The group was then relaunched as 'Army of Mahdi' by the accused, it said.

Considering the sensitive nature of the case, city police chief Anupam Singh Gehlot handed over the probe to the crime branch on Thursday, said officials.

Those arrested on Wednesday are Aqib Ali Saiyed, Mohsin Pathan, Noman Shaikh, Abrar Khan and Moin Shaikh, all from Vadodara city, said the release.

They were active members of the WhatsApp group 'Army of Mahdi'.

On August 28, three administrators of the group --- Mustakim Sheikh, Burhan Saiyad and Sahil Sheikh ---were arrested after a video of an interfaith couple went viral on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

A probe showed that the gang would target such couples and share their videos on 'Army of Mahdi' as a warning.

The main accused first created a group called 'Hussaini Army' that had nearly 500 members, said Gehlot.

"Their aim was to keep a watch on women of their faith if they are seen with men from other faiths. Members used to track the couple's movements using their vehicle number and pass on that information to other members who live in the area from where the couple would pass," he said.

"After intercepting the couple, they would thrash them in the name of moral policing and make their video viral. They would call the woman's parents to blackmail them (to force the woman to end the relationship). Such groups were also active in Anand, Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar districts," said the senior police official.

The videos shared by the accused could lead to lynching and communal clashes, he said.

The police said the accused would keep a WhatsApp group active for 3-4 months and then delete it before starting a new group having several people as its members.

After deleting the 'Hussaini Army' group, the accused created 'Army of Mahdi', which was deleted recently to create another group named 'Lashkar-E-Adam' having 254 members, said Gehlot, adding that over 70 members were already traced and questioned by the police so far.

The police have registered a first information report (FIR) against the arrested eight under Indian Penal Code sections, including 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (making statements conducing to public mischief) and 201 (destruction of evidence).

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