The four men from Kalyan, who have been missing since last month, may have allegedly been indoctrinated into jihad online as well as by a radical sect active in the Thane-Raigad corridor.
It is suspected that the four- Arif Majeed, 22, an engineer, Aman Tandel, 27, an engineering student, Fahad Maqbool Sheikh, 24, also an engineering student, and Shaheen Tanki, 25, a centre employee- have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq.
Sources in a state intelligence agency, which has been tracking the disappearances, said background checks of the four led them to the discovery of their proximity to the sect.
The sect has considerable presence in the Padgah-Borivli area and is suspected to be responsible for indoctrinating the men, who have no criminal records, sources said.
We have identified the local ideologues responsible for their [the men's] radicalisation. We suspect many more could have been brainwashed to fight for jihad and are trying to prevent any further exports," a source said, adding that the same sect is suspected to have sent at least 18 youngsters from across the country to the conflict zone.
Sources, however, said that they have no information of anyone else from the state having joined the ISIS. Meanwhile, the state's antiterrorism squad (ATS) has also joined the task of tracking down the backroom operatives responsible for the indoctrination of youngsters. "We are keeping a close watch on the situation and everything possible is being done to stop the trend," said Himanshu Roy, ATS chief.
Investigations have revealed that the four men were part of a 40-member group that left the city on May 25 on an Etihad flight to Baghdad.
On a pilgrimage to the holy shrines in Iraq, the group was to return to Mumbai on June 2. However, on May 30, the four parted from the group, and took a taxi to a city that had just fallen to the ISIS. They never came back,h the source said. According to the source, it is possible that they may not be involved in combat operations.
"They could be engaged in paid back-end jobs. Their technical expertise could be utilised by the insurgent group," the source said.