Sri Lanka blasts: NIA arrest of Kerala youth 'inspired' by NTJ chief raises no eyebrows as terrorist recruiters find fertile ground

National Investigation Agency (NIA) raids at the homes of three people in Kerala following a Sri Lankan government statement that the mastermind behind the Easter blasts had links to south India have not raised any eyebrows in the state.

TK Devasia May 01, 2019 08:00:36 IST
Sri Lanka blasts: NIA arrest of Kerala youth 'inspired' by NTJ chief raises no eyebrows as terrorist recruiters find fertile ground
  • The NIA raided the homes of two persons in Kasargod and one youth in Palakkad on Sunday after they were found following Zahran Hashim, who is believed to have masterminded the Lanka attacks, on social media networks

  • Following the raids, the NIA sleuths have taken into custody Riyas Aboobacker from Kollangode in Palakkad and asked Ahammed Araft and Aboobacker Siddique from Kasargod to appear before the NIA office at Kochi

  • Kerala is a major hub for the Islamic State recruitment. According to police, more than 100 people from the state have joined the outfit

National Investigation Agency (NIA) raids at the homes of three people in Kerala following a Sri Lankan government statement that the mastermind behind the Easter blasts had links to south India have not raised any eyebrows in the state. For the past couple of decades, Malayali names have been cropping up with some regularity with regard to terror attacks. The Malayali connection to blasts outside the country started coming under the scanner of authorities after the 2015 Paris theatre attack which killed over 100.

A French anti-terror investigation agency grilled Thodupuzha resident Subahani Haja Moideen in December following an NIA revelation that he knew the ultras who carried out the attacks at the theatre in the French capital. Subahani, who was arrested from Tamil Nadu by the NIA in 2016 in connection with a plot targeting judges and tourists in the Kerala, is now lodged in Viyur Central Jail in Thrissur district. He pleaded ignorance about the Paris blast plot. The NIA raided the homes of two persons in Kasargod and one youth in Palakkad on Sunday after they were found following Zahran Hashim, who is believed to have masterminded the Lanka attacks, on social media networks.

Sri Lanka blasts NIA arrest of Kerala youth inspired by NTJ chief raises no eyebrows as terrorist recruiters find fertile ground

Representational image. AFP

Following the raids, the NIA sleuths have taken into custody Riyas Aboobacker from Kollangode in Palakkad and asked Ahammed Araft and Aboobacker Siddique from Kasargod to appear before the NIA office at Kochi. During the search, a number of digital devices including mobile phones, SIM cards, memory cards, pen drives, DVDs of preacher Zakir Naik and untitled DVDs, CDs with religious speeches, books of Naik and Syed Kutheb as well as diaries with handwritten notes in Arabic and Malayalam were seized, according to an NIA statement.

Even though the NIA could not establish any direct link between the three and the suspected Lankan blast mastermind, a leader of the Sri Lankan National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), the NIA has found evidence linking them to the Tamil Nadu-based Thowheed Jamath, which denied any connection with the Sri Lankan outfit. However, the NIA is not ready to accept the denial given the Sri Lankan government's statement that Hashim spent a lot of time in south India. Moreover, the Islamic State circulated the video claiming responsibility for the blasts in Tamil and Malayalam languages in addition to Arabic and English.

State intelligence has also been collecting details of those associated with Thowheed following the Islamic State communique. They found 60 people from Vandiperiyar, Perumbavoor, Thrissur and Palakkad who allegedly attended meetings organised by Thowheed Jamath in 2016 in Madurai and Namakkal. The NIA is looking for the links of the three suspects from Kasargod and Palakkad with Islamic State sympathisers. An Indian Express report quoted NIA IG Alok Mittal as saying they suspected three persons of having links with 21 youths who left Kerala in July 2016 to join Islamic State. Curiously, 17 of them from Kasargod and four from Palakkad.

The report said one of the three was found to be in touch with Abdul Rashid Abdulla, a Kozhikode youth who joined the Islamic State in 2016. Rashid was found luring people to join Islamic State even after he left India. He attended a course on Islam in Sri Lanka before joining the jihadist outfit. The names of Aboobacker and Arafat were also mentioned by Shaibu Nihar of Koduvally in Kozhikode district after he was arrested from Kozhikode airport on his return from Qatar on 10 April in connection with a case related to facilitating the travel of some people to Syria. The two will be questioned on the basis of the information provided by Shaibu, who is in judicial custody.

The state police have taken the suspicion of Sri Lankan authorities over the links of the blasts accused with south India, especially the nexus between terrorism and international drug trade seriously since many of the people from the state who have joined the IS had either attended courses in Sri Lanka or gone via Colombo. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena had claimed that the suicide bomb attacks that rocked his country on the Easter Sunday were a reprisal for his hard campaign against drug trafficking, which, he says, is the main source of funding for terror groups.

Rising drug smuggling and its usage have been a big headache for the state. State Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh said the state was becoming a hub for transporting drugs to national and international markets. He said his department seized drugs worth Rs 700 crore in the last two years. The radicalisation is viewed with surprise by Kerala watchers since the state has been one of India’s most diverse and its people the most educated. Though seeds of extremism were sowed in the state by cleric Abdul Nassar Madhani with the launch of a radical outfit called Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) as a counter to the RSS following the foundation stone laying of Ram temple at Ayodhya in 1989, terror raised its ugly head after the demolition of the Babri mosque.

The demolition led to the emergence of several organisations such as Al-Ummah, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Development Front (NDF), Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which made their presence felt through acts of violence. The first organised attack came five years to the day the Babri Masjid was demolished — 6 December, 1997 — when bombs ripped through a train compartment of the Chennai-Alappuzha Express train at Thrissur station. Though no such terror strike has taken place in the state since, many were found involved in blasts in Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and other cities. Many of them, including Madhani, are in jail in connection with these cases.

The Islamic State targeted members of these outfits mostly when they started recruiting people from India in their mission to reestablish an  'Islamic Caliphate' across the world. Islamic State recruiters operated mainly through religious centres, offering the dream of heaven. Kerala is a major hub for Islamic State recruitment. According to police, more than 100 people from the state have joined the outfit. Of these, 21 were from Kasaragod and 38 from Kannur. Since 2016, sixteen have been killed in raids by US and other forces fighting the Islamic State in various countries.

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