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Small World

The nuke material hawkers who were not

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A dangerously armed terror group busted by the police turns out to be a bunch of grandstanding conmen

The crime branch in Bengaluru recently came across three men on the internet who claimed to possess a chemical, red mercury, touted as something used to make nuclear bombs. This chemical, they said, had been procured from the now defunct terror group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In all, the three claimed to possess 3.6 kg of the stuff, allegedly valued at Rs 150 crore in the international market. When Crime Branch cops, posing as buyers, approached the trio, they were shown PowerPoint presentations to illustrate how the chemical could be used to make dirty bombs. The cops, certain they were close to busting a big terror network, hatched a plan to apprehend the three.

It turned out that the three were simply real estate agents from Tamil Nadu trying to make a quick buck. Red mercury, unknown to the Crime Branch officials, is a well-known hoax substance— with rumours of its use in nuclear bombs doing the rounds since the 1970s, when Soviet nuclear experts apparently produced it. The group did not even possess this mythical compound.

The three demanded Rs 5 lakh of the undercover policemen for a sample of red mercury. The cops later took the three into custody and sent the sample for testing to a Bhabha Atomic Research Centre unit. The object was found to be nothing but a solid slab of aluminium that weighed some 8.9 kg and was worth around Rs 7,500.

Says Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Abhishek Goyal, “We are looking for the kingpin [of the group], Jai Singh, from Hosur [in Tamil Nadu] whose brainchild it was to pack a slab of aluminium into a cylinder, making it look as if some dangerous chemical was stored inside it.’’ The three ‘terrorists’ arrested were identified as Manigandan and Mohammed Haneef, both residents of Hosur, and Nagaraj, a resident of Hoskote in Karnataka.