City sandalwood smugglers caught in midnight drama

City sandalwood smugglers caught in midnight drama

The Cubbon Park police opened fire on a 30-year-old rowdy sheeter while he attacked policemen after he jumped out of the police vehicle while he was being escorted to Cubbon Park police station in the wee hours of Tuesday. The rowdy identified as Mujahidu

For almost a year, theft of sandalwood trees in the high security areas of Central Bengaluru had given the city police jitters. But, on Tuesday, braving the odds, not only they nabbed the gang, but even shot at  Mujahidullah (36)— the key member of the gang, when he tried to assault the police in an bid to escape.

While the repeated incidents of sandalwood theft from CID office, Raj Bhavan, Vidhana Soudha and the IISc had left the cops worried, the theft of a tree from the residence of the HC Chief Justice rubbed the salt on the wound. Determined to crack the case, Bengaluru Police Commissioner T Suneel Kumar formed a special team headed by DCP (Central), D Devaraj.

Probing the case, the team examined the data on sandalwood thieves involved in cases so far. On finding that Mujahidullah and his brother were released from jail three months ago, the police verified the call records and found that Lakshmana alias Kullia (32), Ranganathan Shekhar (35) and Ramaswamy (40) — all members of the same gang were in constant touch with the brothers. Taking them into custody for further interrogation, the police exposed the network.

Subleased the work

The police officials revealed that the entire team divided itself into three groups and distributed the work among them. “While one team identified the trees, the other managed to cut and transport them. The Mujahidullah brothers would then sell the stolen trees to inter-state smugglers,” a senior official revealed. Interestingly, Lakshmana and Ramaswamy were part of the 15-member team that worked with the BBMP Forest Cell contractor, Sampangi to cut up the uprooted trees.

“While cutting old trees, the Forest Cell would identify sandalwood trees in the vicinity and inform the Mujahidullah brothers. The brothers paid the Forest Cell Rs 10,000 for each tree,” a cop revealed. Subsequently, the brothers would summon Ilayaraj, Maada, Rajendra, Satyaraj, Govindswamy and Shivalinga to Bengaluru from Tamil Nadu for cutting the identified trees with logistical support.

“During the day, the gang would study the security arrangements and discover a route to sneak in. On the same night they would cut the trees in less than a few minutes,” yet another official explained. The Cubbon Park police are on the lookout for Amjadullah, father of Mujahidullah, and Imdadulla, along with six others who are absconding.

Tried to attack cops

After arresting the brothers near Chikkaballapura, the cops were returning to Bengaluru. At around 1:30 am, as they were passing through Cubbon Park, Mujahidullah pushed head constable Krishnamurthy from the moving vehicle and escaped. He was chased by inspector Ayyanna Reddy along with PSIs Rahim, Raghavendra and Suresh.

Hiding near a bamboo grove, Mujahidullah attacked PSI Rahim. Instantly, Mujahidullah was shot on the leg by inspector Reddy.

“As there were several cases against me, I was sure that I will not get bail. As we were nearer to the station I was scared and tried to escape by pushing the cops from the jeep,” Mujahidullah reportedly said in his statement later.

According to the police, Mujahidullah is building a house in Yelahanka worth Rs 1 crore, the money earned from sandalwood business. “He is said to be involved in 50 sandalwood theft cases in the last few years and we are investigating further,” D Devaraj, DCP (Central) said.