The Kerala police hope to get vital clues regarding the disappearance of many young men and women from the state in suspicious circumstances last month following the arrest of Arshi Qureshi, an employee of controversial preacher Zakir Naik's Islamic Research Foundation (IRF).
The family members of some of the 21 missing people, which include four women and three children, from Kasargod and Palakkad districts, had expressed suspicion that they had joined the dreaded Islamic State.
Qureshi was arrested from his house at Navi Mumbai jointly by the Kerala Police and Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad on Thursday on a complaint filed by the brother of Merin alias Mariyam – a woman who went missing with her husband Bestin Vincent alias Yahia – that he had radicalised them.
Ernakulam Range Inspector General of Police S Sreejith said the Kerala police team that nabbed Qureshi was questioning Qureshi at Mumbai. He indicated that the police had received information about the links of Qureshi with terrorist outfits.
He told the Firstpost that the initial interrogation had revealed that Qureshi may also have a role in the disappearance of others from the state. He said Qureshi was not alone behind the radicalisation.
This is considered as an indication of the involvement of either IRF itself or some of its other associates in the process. Naik, who is under the surveillance of the intelligence and security agencies following the terror attack in Dhaka on 1 July, had denied inspiring any act of terror and described himself as a “messenger of peace”.
It may be recalled that Mariyam’s brother Ebin Jacob had reportedly mentioned in his complaint that Yahia and Qureshi had taken him and his sister to Zakir Naik at the research foundation. Ebin was not immediately available for more details.
His father Jacob refused to talk to Firstpost saying that they were not in mental state to talk to anybody about the issue. Jacob said that they had shared all the information available with them to the investigating team and they had nothing more to share with the media.
The senior Kerala police officer indicated that more people in Mumbai were under the police scanner. This is the reason why the Kerala Police, who had taken Qureshi’s transit remand from a court in Mumbai, have deferred their plan to bring Qureshi to Kerala on Friday.
Sreejith said that Qureshi would now be brought to the state only after completing the investigation into his activities in Mumbai. He has refused to give further details about the investigation saying that it would affect their probe.
“The media reports about Qureshi’s arrest have already alerted many who are under our scanner now. We don’t want them to go out of our surveillance after we share more details with the media,” said the senior Kerala police officer.
Aluva Deputy Superintendent of Police YR Rustam, who heads the team camping in Mumbai, denied the claims of IRF spokesman that Qureshi did not know any of the people reported missing from Kerala. He said that Qureshi was not innocent as made out by his employers.
Rustam said Yahia and Mariyam were under his sphere of influence. However, the police officer refused to say anything about his alleged links with the Islamic State or other terror outfits.
“It is too early to reach any conclusion about his connections with any organisation at this stage. The investigation is going on. We will be able to say something definite only after completing the investigation,” he added.
Qureshi, who is a native of Mumbai, came under Kerala police scanner following the complaint filed by Ebin with the Palarivattom police. Following the complaint, the missing person’s complaint was brought under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Quresh included in the case.
According to Ebin’s complaint, Yahia got his sister converted to Islam and married her after she was radicalised with the help of Qureshi. Yahia, who hails from a Christian family in Palakkad district, had embraced Islam earlier under the influence of Qureshi.
Yahiya’s brother, Bexon Vincent had also converted to Islam and married a Hindu girl named Nimisha from the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. Both the men and their wives are among the 21 people who have been reported missing. Nimisha was pregnant when she left Kerala.
Ebin’s complaint said Yahia and Qureshi had taken Maria to various religious classes despite her objection. The complaint said that Qureshi had taken strong stand on the IS and shared its ideology with him. He said that Qureshi had also forced him to convert to Islam, but he resisted the pressure.
The family lost communication with Maria after she informed them a month ago that they were going to Sri Lanka for a prayer meeting. The complaint said that Mariam was under pressure from the duo to join IS. She did not want to continue in Mumbai and had expressed her desire to return to her home at Kochi.
Kerala Police hope that the interrogation of Qureshi may help them get definite clues regarding the whereabouts of the missing people. The police have been groping in the dark in the absence of actionable leads.
Investigations by various agencies so far revealed that 17 of the 21 missing persons had travelled till Iran on tourist visas. They went off the radar after reaching Tehran. The government of India has sought the help of Iranian government in tracing them.
The investigation revealed that one group had gone to Tehran via Muscat and the other via Dubai. The investigators believe that they took different routes to dodge any suspicion though they had gone on tourist visas accompanied by family members. The investigators think that they may have reached Afghanistan, which shares its border with Iran, or Iraq.
The investigation was based on the information shared by the family members about the messages they received from the missing persons. All conveyed identical message that they had reached their final decision. None of the family members had any information about the people behind their radicalisation.
Hence, the police consider the arrest of Qureshi as a major breakthrough in the investigation into the IS links of the missing Keralites.