Mangaluru police on Saturday arrested four people, believed to be right-wing activists, who allegedly stabbed a 23-year-old Muslim man for travelling with a Hindu woman in a bus in coastal Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district earlier this week.

The suspects have been identified as Balachandra (28), Dhanush Bhandary (25), Jayaprashanth (27) and Anil Kumar (38). Dhanush is already facing four cases of murder, said police.

A senior police official familiar with the case said that the four men were associated with a right-wing organisation. The official, who did not want to be identified, refused to give more details.

Mangaluru police commissioner Shashi Kumar said that four teams were formed to nab the accused soon after the incident on Thursday.

“We are investigating who instigated them to assault the duo. We are questioning the arrested men at present,” the commissioner said, adding that there may have been at least four similar attacks in the region in the past four months. He did not give details about the attacks.It is not clear if there is any link between Thursday’s attack or the previous incidents.

The man — identified as Anwar Mohammed — and the 23-year-old woman, who knew each other from school, were travelling in an overnight bus from Mangaluru to Bengaluru when the group of men stopped the bus and attacked the two.

While the man has been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) of a private hospital in Mangaluru, the woman, whose identity was not released by the police, also suffered minor injuries. An FIR has been registered for attempt to murder (IPC section 307) among other sections at the Kankanady police station in Mangaluru.

After the attack on Thursday, a WhatsApp message doing the rounds claimed Bajrang Dal activists stopped the duo from travelling. “Ongoing Operation by Bajrang Dal Today (Thursday). A Hindu young woman who was fleeing with a Muslim man was travelling from Mangaluru to Bengaluru. Bajrang Dal activists stopped the couple near Pumpwell,” read a message.

Separately, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) leader Sharan Pumpwell also claimed on Friday the group’s men intercepted the couple as it was a case of “love jihad”, but that a mob gathered and turned violent.

Police said they are investigating both claims.

The incident comes in the wake of several Bharatiya Janata Party-led states in the country, such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, introducing laws regulating inter-faith marriages that are termed by right-wing activists as “love jihad”.

In recent weeks, senior BJP leaders have also promised to bring out similar legislations in other regions, including in poll-bound Kerala and Assam, where assembly elections are ongoing.

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